David Silva Offers Manuel Pellegrini Tactical Flexibility at Manchester City

Rob Pollard@@RobPollard_Featured ColumnistJuly 19, 2014

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 13:  David Silva of Manchester City celebrates scoring his team's first goal with team-mate Fernandinho (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield on April 13, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

During Manchester City's title-winning campaign last season, there were two periods of excellent form which ensured they just about got over the line in first place on the final day.

The first was a 20-match unbeaten run during December and January which saw Manuel Pellegrini play with two out-and-out strikers in a bold 4-2-2-2 formation.

The second was their excellent run-in where they usurped Liverpool, playing a slightly altered system that saw David Silva shifted to the No. 10 role just behind one main striker.

Which option Pellegrini will decide to start this season with remains unclear.

The former is incredibly difficult for back fours to combat if both main strikers are performing well, as Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero were during the months either side of Christmas, while the latter gives the irrepressible Silva a free reign to damage the opposition.

He, more than anyone else in the City squad, can win matches with his individual brilliance.

Scott Heppell/Associated Press

December and January saw City produce football their fans thought previously unthinkable. It was free-flowing, inventive and incredibly attacking, resulting in some remarkable wins: a 6-0 hammering of Tottenham, a 7-0 massacre at home to Norwich and a thrilling 6-3 win over Arsenal the highlights.

The power and vision of Negredo allowed Aguero to play on the shoulder of the last defender, causing havoc in behind with his pace. That twin threat caused defencesso used to facing one main striker after the relative decline of systems employing two up topa host of problems, and City, at times, looked unplayable.

However, when Negredo’s form collapsed and Aguero began suffering intermittent injuries, a change was needed.

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Edin Dzeko, whose performance level had increased significantly after an underwhelming first half of the season, led the line on his own, supported by Silva in the hole just behind. It was a subtle but significant alteration that maximised the Spaniard’s talents and gave City an edge they needed to pip their rivals to the title.

Silva is City's best and most creative player, and although he displays his excellence when starting on the left and drifting inside, his central role behind the striker offered him the kind of freedom he needs to perform at his most menacing.

His form was outstanding in the hole—by far City's best player in the final months of the season—and he, more than anyone, offered them title-winning brilliance at the time it was most needed.

His displays away at Hull, Manchester United, Arsenal and, in particular, Liverpool were some of the most masterful seen in a City shirt in recent memory. His status has now been elevated from being considered the best City player of the last decade to the best in the club's history.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

Simple logic suggests playing your best player in the position he enjoys the most makes sense, but if Aguero can return to fitness and play regularly, it presents a dilemma for the City boss.

The Argentine striker appears at his most deadly when playing alongside a physical forward he can feed off, but that confines Silva to a position on the left.

What's clear is that City have options. Tactical inflexibility threatened their title bid at times last season, with Pellegrini's rigidity in terms of formation sometimes making his side somewhat predictable.

Switching between his two favoured formations—as well as using a three-man midfield now that Fernando has arrived—may just give City the unpredictability they need to stay ahead of their rivals and pick up silverware again.

Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_


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