Bernardo Silva: The latest configuration to the game of Manchester City's most versatile player

2NDETCP Manchester City's Erling Haaland, right, celebrates after scoring with Manchester City's Bernardo Silva, left, and Manchester City's Nathan Ake during the English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Manchester City at the Emirates stadium in London, England, Wednesday, Feb.15, 2023. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

When it came to dealing with the threats of Bukayo Saka and Oleksandr Zinchenko against Arsenal, Manchester City head coach Pep Guardiola turned to one player: Bernardo Silva.

In both halves of Wednesday’s clash between the Premier League’s two title contenders, Silva was tasked with keeping Saka quiet down the left flank and after an hour switched to right wing. A formation change by Guardiola at 1-1 that would galvanise City and make them put the game to bed with goals for Jack Grealish and Erling Haaland.

It was an ‘aggressive’ performance, Guardiola said, one that saw Bernardo play left-back when out of possession and inverting into midfield alongside Rodri when City had won the ball back.

It is the latest configuration of Silva by Guardiola after his arrival at the Etihad Stadium from Monaco in 2017 as an attacking midfielder capable of playing in the middle or on the wing. Over the course of his stay, Silva has earned four Premier League winners’ medals and an FA Cup.

He is often a magnet for praise from Guardiola and was the subject of interest from Barcelona last summer. But, while City allowed Gabriel Jesus, Zinchenko and Raheem Sterling move to Premier League rivals, parting ways with Bernardo was not something that was on the table with Pep emphatically saying Silva would not be leaving a week before the summer transfer window deadline.

Using PFF grades and data, let’s take a look at how Bernardo fared against Arsenal and whether he has been the same attacking option this season compared to 2021/22.

How did Bernardo Silva grade in the match against Arsenal?

Silva was not exceptional, but he was still good in registering a challenge grade of 71.6 on an evening where he tried to silence Bukayo Saka, who did manage to get on the scoresheet through a first-half penalty.

The Arsenal winger is tied-2nd in PFF’s assists per-90 metric at 0.4 (min. 800 minutes played) and was restricted to one key pass and one chance created – in 15 other matches this season he has registered more in both categories.

Silva successfully defended two of four dribbles and finished the match with a 40% challenge win rate. It is the fifth time this season the Portuguese international has recorded a grade above 70.0.

Guardiola did admit his side had struggled to ‘make extra passes’ and that rings true to Silva’s passing grade of 60.1 and the rest of the City squad, with Jack Grealish the highest-graded passer at 65.6. The team’s two other most accurate passers this season, Rodri and İlkay Gündoğan, were drawn into grading lower than usual at 63.1 and 56.1.

For Silva, he attempted the third-fewest number of passes in a game this season (30) and was inefficient with a true pass (accuracy-adjusted) completion rate of 70%, far lower than his season average of 87.6%.

What does the data say about Bernardo Silva of 2021-22 compared to this season?

Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva
2H14C53 Manchester City's Bernardo Silva celebrates scoring their side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Picture date: Saturday October 16, 2021.

When a player has a grade of 90.0 or more this is termed as ‘Elite’ on the PFF scale and Bernardo was placed firmly in that category for his play last season. Joined for company by Rodri (95.8) and Kevin De Bruyne (91.1), Silva’s quality range of passing earned a 91.1 grade and was ranked 3rd in through ball pass completion at 72% (min. 40 attempts).

Silva’s through balls completed per-90 rate has regressed this season from 1.3 to 0.4, below the average of 0.52, and along with other factors this has seen his passing grade round out at 77.4. This is still a very respectable grade but his position rank lies at 26th compared to 4th a season ago.

He also benefited from how he was used in the in-possession formation of 3-2-2-3 often utilized by Guardiola last season, a key feature of his 170 possessions in the penalty area, more than Ollie Watkins (169), Harry Kane (164) and Ivan Toney (155).

By contrast, Silva has recorded 69 this term, which when filtered into a per-90 rate results in a lower level than last season – 3.6 to 5.0.

Does this mean Silva is doing more out of possession when the opposing team wins back the ball? No, not according to the data. He is involved in a similar number of challenges per-90 this season compared to last – 7.0 to 6.9 – and is near level in the frequency of pressures – 40.3 to 39.7.

Given how interlinked he is with Nathan Aké and Rodri, are those two players grading well?

Aké has been given more game time at the back for City in the wake of João Cancelo being in and out of the starting line-up upon his return from the World Cup, to then departing for Bayern Munich in January on loan.

It was Aké who switched to the traditional left-back position in a back four once Manuel Akanji replaced Riyad Mahrez, and Silva headed to an advanced role on the right wing to match up with Zinchenko – typically the kickstarter in Arsenal’s build-up phase.

The Dutchman is ranked 44th out of 94 defenders with a challenge grade of 74.7, which remains in line with his 2021/22 grade – 75.8.

Rodri has been as consistent as ever in a highly efficient way in the middle of the pitch, on par with his passing grade this season – 95.6 – as it was a year ago.

To find a better-graded passer of the ball outside of Premier League you have to travel to La Liga, the Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and Serie, where Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos (96.5) and Villarreal’s Dani Parejo (96.5), Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich (97.5), Paris Saint-Germain’s Lionel Messi (98.6) and Napoli’s Giovanni Di Lorenzo (98.0) are all enjoying high quality seasons.

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