Hopes are never high for City fans in the build up to away fixtures at their notorious bogey ground of Anfield, and with key marksman, consistent big game performer, and perhaps the most vital player on the team, Kevin De Bruyne, out for the fixture, City fans would be forgiven for being elated at the prospect of escaping Liverpool with just one point.
In recent weeks however, City have not felt the absence of the Belgian due to the emergence of a new man into his position. Whilst Bernardo Silva may appear to be a direct replica of David Silva, (same name, small frame, wand of a left foot and Iberian nationality), Bernardo’s playing style in recent weeks has shades of De Bruyne in it.
Even though Bernardo arrived at City as a right-sided attacking midfielder, after dazzling the Etihad on the right flank of Leonardo Jardim’s 4-4-2, he has failed to encapsulate his Monaco form on the right-hand side since, and with the arrival of Riyad Mahrez, it seems clear that Guardiola wants to convert Bernardo into the attacking 8 role that De Bruyne and David Silva dominated during City’s record-breaking campaign last season.
This was hinted at during pre-season when Bernardo was apparently recalled early to the group for “special training.” Clearly it paid off; Bernardo has a strong case for being City’s best player so far this season, with MOTM performances against Chelsea, Arsenal and Fulham.
There has been a visible improvement from the ex-Benfica man compared to last year, both aesthetically and statistically. Bernardo has already reached 1/3 of his goal tally last season and is now producing 2.44 chances a game, proving that whilst De Bruyne’s absence hasn’t gone unnoticed (the Belgian was creating just over 3 chances a game last season), it has certainly been minimised by Bernardo.
Whilst De Bruyne recovers from injury, Bernardo Silva is the first name on the team sheet, at least in midfield. With the likes of David Silva and Phil Foden providing City with no shortage of creativity, it’s high praise, but it’s merited: Bernardo wields the element of unpredictability that stops City from becoming stale in midfield.
City’s best performances this season have all come when Bernardo has played in an attacking midfield position (Chelsea/Arsenal/Cardiff), and whilst Bernardo isn’t your traditional number 10, what he may lack in his playmaking abilities, he makes up for in magnetic close control which has earned him the nickname “bubblegum” from his teammates.
There’s no disputing that the experienced İlkay Gündogan and the ever-consistent David Silva are more complete number 8s than Bernardo, but they are controllers and playing those two together leaves City’s midfield with a very large Kevin De Bruyne-shaped hole; a hole that only Bernardo can plug with his dynamic forward runs.
The Lyon game was a prime example of how a David/İlkay midfield partnership could lead to creative stagnation through the middle, yet as soon as Bernardo was placed there towards the end of the game, he grabbed a goal and flipped the match dynamic on its head.
City fans may think there’s no logical explanation for their annual dip at Anfield, but this is simply not the case. Their 4-3 league defeat was the result of a series of defensive errors within a 10 minute period that could not control the relentless Liverpool press. Admittedly, Pep Guardiola tinkered too much for his own good; from playing Gündogan in a “false right winger” to harnessing Kyle Walker in a wingback role, his tactical experiments blew up in his face, like a foolish chemistry student who mixed potassium with water.
Now, Pep faces his largest test yet at Anfield, with the Reds on red-hot form, and with the Blues lacking their talisman in Kevin De Bruyne. Nonetheless, Silva netted at Anfield last year, and has contributed some key moments to City against the top 6 in the past year. Now, as he steps into the “KDB role,” he may turn out to be the missing key to a first Anfield victory in 15 years.