El Mago, Merlin, The Magician – David Silva is all of these and more – but it was Pep Guardiola who astonished Manchester City fans by pulling the proverbial rabbit out of the hat against Crystal Palace.
The City boss created his own illusion of smoke and mirrors when The Wizard from Gran Canaria suddenly appeared on the team sheet…as if by magic.
Silva, City’s most influential player and, in many people’s opinions, the best ever to wear the club’s sky blue, had all but been ruled out by injury at the pre-match press conference, along with fellow favourite, Sergio Aguero.
As the match day line ups were broadcast on the City Square big screens, the ripples of delight and surprise were palpable – no longer was it a case of Gabriel Jesus being City’s saviour – here was ‘Spanish Dave’ making his 200th Premier League start.
It was another Gabriel – Arsenal’s less than angelic Gabriel Paulista – who had cynically made El Mago disappear a fortnight previously at Wembley.
The dirty Brazilian defender scythed Silva down in the opening minutes in the FA Cup semi final, ultimately forcing City’s creative playmaker off injured after just 20 minutes.
In that moment, City’s FA Cup Final aspirations effectively went up in a puff of smoke and, without Silva’s silky sublime skills, City failed to pick apart not just the gruesome Gooners, but also the Trafford Troglodytes and most recently, the Neanderthals of Middlesbrough – thankfully, soon to be relegated.
Just 120 seconds into the lunchtime kick off and Silva was sprinkling his stardust on the Etihad turf, shattering Sam Allardyce’s ‘crystal’ all over the shop and slotting in his 50th City goal.
With two Premier League titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup on his CV and two years – hopefully more – to run on his City contract, Silva is set to be City’s most ‘decorated’ player.
As Pep’s City Revolution really kicks into gear in 2017/18 and beyond, who would bet against the midfield maestro adding to his haul of domestic honours…and then there’s the small matter of Champions League glory.
Internationally he’s achieved more than any City player in history as a World Cup winner and twice lifting the European Championship trophy.
It’s always going to be subjective and nigh on impossible to truly compare, like for like, City’s greatest over the years.
Colin Bell – The King – would be the pick of many who had the privilege of seeing him in the glorious Mercer–Allison era, but an increasing number are now acknowledging Silva as the superior player…especially, when you consider the very best may yet lie ahead. Others make compelling cases for Yaya Toure or Sergio Aguero to be considered.
The mere presence of Silva gave the team, and fans alike, a massive boost as City romped to a 5-0, five star performance, with five different goal scorers.
Vincent Kompany’s renaissance continued with a fifth consecutive start and a stunning strike for City’s second goal.
There are many who feared Captain Fantastic’s City career was over after a litany of injuries, comebacks and false dawns, but here he is, commanding the back line and providing inspirational leadership.
Who’s to say Pep hasn’t himself played a blinder by keeping Kompany back all those weeks, despite the declarations that Vinny was fit and available for selection?
Guardiola has, only today, said City will be seeking a new centre back in the summer as part of the overhaul of the defence, but that won’t be to replace Kompany, more likely to play alongside him.
What a mouthwatering prospect – a back three of Kompany, Stones and someone of the calibre of Leonardo Bonucci or Virgil Van Dijk.
That might seem harsh on Nicolas Otamendi after he produced his best display of the season.
The Argentine was rewarded in the dying seconds with his first goal of campaign after producing a Man-of-the-Match standard performance, sealing the win from Kevin De Bruyne’s 15th assist of the season.
KDB, now playing a deeper lying midfield role, managed to get himself back among the goals – only his sixth of 2016/17 – but bear in mind he is probably the unluckiest player in England this season, having hit the ‘woodwork’ nine times.
De Bruyne also has the most assists in Europe’s top five leagues since 2014/15 with 44 one more than Lionel Messi and two more than Luis Suarez! Not too shabby.
Raheem Sterling weighed in with his 10th goal of the season to take City’s league tally to 70 – just two behind Chelsea and one shy of Tottenham – and this from a team universally acknowledged as being profligate in front of goal.
Perversely it bodes well for a City side that will be better schooled in Pep’s tactical requirements, and stacked with superior personnel in the future.
Prior to kick-off the ‘pundits’ were talking up a Palace side which had beaten Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal in recent weeks.
Once the 5-0 demolition was complete there was a strangely predictable change of emphasis from the so-called ‘experts’ – an injury depleted and weakened Palace, had simply given City ‘too much room’ and failed to ‘…let David Silva know they were there…’
What a pathetic sentiment, albeit one that worked so admirably for Arsenic Whinger at Wembley two weeks beforehand.
So much for the beautiful game.
Fixtures against Leicester, WBA and Watford are now all that stand between automatic qualification for the Champions League – three wins and the Sky Blues are home and hosed.
Anything less than Champions League qualification – especially from hereonin– would be nigh on unforgivable. Undoubtedly there have been disappointments in Pep’s debut season, but there’s every reason to believe they will be dwarfed by the achievements yet to come.
Nine more points will provide the necessary platform – that’s when the magic really begins.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu