A criticism Bernardo Silva is often faced with centres around his lack of output, but what he offers to the team is much more beneficial than his lack of output – he is a tactical Messi that enables City to dominate games technically & utilise Pep’s tactical qualities.
Manchester City build play in a 4-1 shape with the fullbacks deep and a single pivot linking the defence and attack. The level of technical quality required to build play in this expansive manner is off the charts, but City are arguably the most technical team in the sport.
Within that build-up phase, Gundogan and De Bruyne have license to drop deep from their typically advanced positions in the half spaces between the lines to contribute to build-up. However, the biggest X factor in Manchester City’s build-up is their false 9, Bernardo Silva.
Pep is famous for his tactical innovations, & rightly so, particularly considering how often he utilises them. The latest usage of Bernardo as a false 9 in this City team is a prime example of that – one of their primary roles is to drop deep to create an overload in the build-up
This is such a problematic feature to deal with because the solution for pressing teams is to A) allow the CB to follow Bernardo all the way up the pitch which creates a gaping hole in the centre of defence or B) leave him and City have an overload in the build-up.
Again, even if the CB follows Bernardo all the way into the build-up, good luck taking the ball off of him. I’d argue Bernardo Silva is the most difficult player in the entire Premier League to dispossess. He is one of the few players in the history of the sport to sit VVD down.
Bernardo’s low centre of gravity combined with his innate ability to seamlessly turn at any angle with complete fluidity is Messi-esque. This press resistance in tandem with his immaculate passing technique along with his temperament on the ball enables City to control possession.
So, when City keep the ball and play out of the oppositions press, they can either A) sustain pressure & create via their superb positional play between the lines or B) exploit the opposition in transition. They prefer sustaining attacks, so often utilise the former tactic.
Within these offensive moments, City create in a very similar fashion to Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal, and it’s clear where Arteta derived his elite positional play in the final third from. City overload the left and create isolations on the right, just like Arteta’s Arsenal do now.
City’s left back has license to roam forward, combine and interchange on the left hand side. Alternatively, Cancelo/Walker do not have such positional freedom. Again, much like Tierney & Tomiyasu. Cancelo inverts to free the passing lane to Mahrez & maintain compactness centrally.
So, when considering that City have an elite attacking structure combined with elite quality, it’s clear that they will score goals. However, what about the balance in attack with a ‘to feet’ player in Bernardo in attack? Do they lack penetration in settled attacks? Not at all.
In the same vein as Firmino at Liverpool, Bernardo drops deep to link play between the lines which again creates awkward decisions for the centre backs to make. Do they follow him & open up gaps or allow him to receive and turn in dangerous areas? It’s so difficult to deal with.
Below, Vestergaard comes out to deal with Bernardo who receives possession between the lines. However, De Bruyne attacks the space beyond the last line in which Bernardo has created. A couple of seconds later, City score.
So, within settled attacks vs a low block, City can score through combinations on the left, 1v1s or overlaps on the right, and runs through the centre of defence or link play when Bernardo drops deep, AND pullbacks into the box from runners from deep i.e. Gundogan, Sterling, etc.
Gundogan’s increase in goalscoring compared to his time at City is due to a change in the role of the player. Previously, within Pep’s City teams, the centre forward would be the finisher of moves i.e. Jesus/Aguero. Now, it’s runners from deep – Gundogan was asked to offer this.
City are arguably the best team in the world at breaking down low blocks due to the plethora of qualities they have in attack combined with their compactness in defensive transition. Their technical level combined with Bernardo’s role enables them to force teams back so often.
As such, this is why City win game after game with relative ease. They are virtually impossible to deal with in terms of preventing them from sustaining pressure on your goal. City even do it to the likes of PSG, Manchester United, Chelsea, and even Liverpool throughout games.
So, although Bernardo doesn’t directly contribute to goals (although he does on occasion), he enables City to dominate games from a technical perspective which sees the entire XI flourish. His role is a selfless one as his individual numbers suffer for the betterment of the team.