As Manchester City continued gunning for the Premier League title with a comfortable derby victory over Manchester United on Tuesday, David Silva and Fernandinho once again showed themselves to be the silent assassins.
The headlines belonged to Edin Dzeko, who caught United cold after 43 seconds before completing a deserved brace.
Somewhat inevitably, Yaya Toure got in on the act through his 21st strike of a phenomenal goalscoring season from midfield.
But, as with the majority of City’s finest performances this term, Silva and Fernandinho put their prints all over it with sleek precision.
Dzeko’s early opener at Old Trafford offers a prime example. The big Bosnian converted when Samir Nasri’s shot came back off the post for a goal with familiar roots.
Wary that an out-of-form United team’s best chance lay in seizing the customary derby intensity with an early assault, City declined to give their hosts that opportunity.
From kick-off, Silva applied pressure to Rio Ferdinand—who would endure a truly torrid evening—to win a throw-in deep inside United territory.
After receiving the throw from countryman Jesus Navas, the Spain playmaker completed three sharp passes, using a total of five touches, before bursting into the penalty area.
A magnificent last-ditch tackle from Rafael da Silva denied Silva but, with 35 seconds played, his instant ingenuity left United’s defence looking like it had been thrown into a particle accelerator.
Nevertheless, an intervention such as Rafael’s would normally allow a team valuable time to regroup. Fernandinho did not grant them the luxury.
Operating with a sharpness of thought no United player would touch all evening, the midfielder picked out Nasri with a supremely precise first-time ball.
City were dangerously placed in United’s penalty box once more. Rafael, seconds after his act of heroism, was flummoxed by the pass and ended up on his backside.
This short passage of play demonstrated what makes City great at their best and how Silva and Fernandinho shape that prime form.
The Blues’ intricate passing game must operate at a high tempo to be effective. The worst moments under both Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini have not been as a result of lacking possession, merely being sluggish with it.
Now, as long as Fernandinho and Silva are operating in tandem, this seems increasingly unlikely. They are the team’s irresistible heartbeat and bring out the best in those around them.
In Fernandinho’s case, Toure offers the best demonstration.
The towering Ivorian was converted into a support striker during his first season at Eastlands, scoring 12 times—including winning goals in the FA Cup semi-final and final.
Dropping back to form a formidable and initially title-winning midfield alliance with Gareth Barry, Toure scored nine and 10 respectively over the next two campaigns.
On the back of Fernandinho’s summer arrival, he has 21 already this term.
An increased aptitude for free-kicks and the acquisition of penalty duties serve to inflate these numbers, but Fernandinho allows Toure to play with the handbreak off.
According to statistics collected by Who Scored? Fernandinho averages three tackles, 2.3 interceptions and 1.8 fouls per game.
This is a considerable amount of dirty work and up from Barry’s corresponding—and impressive—figures of 2.1, 1.4 and 1.2 from 2012/13.
It is also evidence of the discipline and restraint with which a player possessing notable attacking talents has performed for the greater good.
Pellegrini’s preference for operating with two strikers means Silva’s job within the team can also, at times, be viewed as one of self-sacrifice.
Normally stationed on the left of midfield, Silva elusively drifts and weaves his way into positions of influence off an attacking duo, regularly turning in performances of the highest calibre.
But it is in the “No.10” or trequartista role where he is simply breathtaking.
Given a rare opportunity to play off a lone striker away at Bayern Munich in December, Silva netted his team’s first goal and masterminded a 3-2 comeback triumph over the European Champions.
Form and fitness problems for Pellegrini’s attackers saw Silva handed a central role in City’s past three league games. The result was three wins, 10 goals scored and none conceded.
A world-class goal—normally the only string missing from Silva’s considerable bow—launched a masterclass from the former Valencia man as 10-man City overcame Hull 2-0 a fortnight ago.
He rounded matters off by laying on Dzeko’s game-clinching second. An average of 3.5 per game means WhoScored? has Silva as the league leader on key passes this year.
The Manchester Evening News was quite right to award Silva a rare 10/10 for his display at the KC Stadium. It was one of the best individual showings of the Premier League era.
Silva flashed and fizzed inventively as Fulham were dispatched 5-0—Toure and Fernandinho responsible for four of those—before United fell helplessly under the spell of a player referred to affectionately by his team-mates as Merlin, via espnfc.com.
Of City’s nine defeats in all competitions this season, the Fernandinho-Silva axis has only operated in four. Two of those were against Barcelona and City led 2-1 up when Fernandinho was substituted at Cardiff.
As the Blues prepare for another crunch trip to Arsenal on Saturday, reports by The Guardian that Silva is carrying an injury should cause no little alarm. It might be the late 1000th-game present Gunners boss Arsene Wenger has been denied during a brutal week.