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The David Silva Problem: How Will Man City Replace the Aging Merlin?

As David Silva’s Manchester City career enters its latter stages, we look at how the Spanish wizard will be replaced in the short, and long term.

The Diminutive Talisman

Almost since the start of the Sheikh Mansour era for Manchester City, Spaniard David Silva has been pulling the strings offensively from the midfield. While he doesn’t show up on the scoresheet often, anyone who watches City consistently and closely can see how important he is for the smooth build-up of City’s attack.

Merlin’s effect is so strong that, in a poll conducted by the Blues’ social media team, he was voted City’s best ever player. Such a talisman surely will be hard to replace, and, to City supporters’ dread, his decline with age is on the horizon.

The David Silva problem has been thrust into the minds of Blues fans most prominently in the past two seasons. Not only is Silva growing older, a cause for concern enough taken alone, but he also has been battling the same or a similar set of injuries. While we have seen streaks, and sometimes extended spells, of top form David Silva, fans can’t help but hold their breath every time he falls to the pitch.

The David Silva Problem in one sentence: As the Wizard fades, who will step up and become his apprentice?

The Candidates

City have done well to maximize the likelihood that they can find a player that fills Silva’s role before he drops off too quickly or retires.  The attacking midfield options in City’s current squad are deep—the biggest names being Kevin de Bruyne and new boy Bernardo Silva.

Risen through the ranks of City’s youth development program are compatriots Brahim Díaz and Aleix Garcia, two midfielders whose greatest strengths are their passing and dribbling, which can leave defenders infuriated at times.

Who, then, from this long list of attacking midfielders, is the rightful heir to Silva’s position in the squad?

As of now, it seems that Kevin de Bruyne is the most likely to fill the role. His close control makes it difficult for defenders to pick his pocket and his supreme vision makes every player in sky blue a constant threat. He attempts passes some players might think were technically impossible, and his decision-making is lightning fast, making him completely unpredictable. All of these traits make him a most worthy successor to the Magician.

Yet the two players are, while sharing many of their best traits, vastly different. Kevin de Bruyne’s game relies on his constant goal-scoring threat, something largely absent from Silva’s playstyle. David Silva tends to take fewer risks, while de Bruyne’s favorite wide play is the high risk, high reward blind cross. At the end of the day, de Bruyne is just too different to be the next Silva. His role in the squad may exceed Silva’s in importance one day (maybe sooner than we’d like to admit!), but they will always be too different for a like-for-like swap.

Another way to solve this problem is to change the team’s dynamic in the attacking midfield. A player such as Silva is obviously hard to replace, so it is possible that Coach Pep is considering a different approach: find the best attacking midfielders you can, and changing the team’s strategy to best bring out their strengths. Considering Pep’s specific agenda and demanding tactics, this solution would seem to be rather attractive for the Spanish coach.

In the coming transfer windows, it is certain that we will see City continue take steps to accommodate Silva’s decline.

About Hank van der Goes

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