Man City look for Bernardo to hit the heights
Manchester City host struggling Southampton in the Premier League on Saturday with Pep Guardiola hoping that Bernardo Silva maintains his recent return to something approaching the peak of his powers.
Portuguese playmaker Silva was among the most feared players in the Premier League last season as City won all three domestic trophies.
The 25-year-old helped City supporters forget a long-term injury to Kevin De Bruyne, scoring 13 goals and adding 14 assists as his side re-wrote the English football record books.
The opening months of the new season have painted a very different picture for Silva and City, however, not least after he found himself embroiled in a racism controversy.
Silva has been charged with misconduct by the FA after posting a picture of teammate Benjamin Mendy next to a mascot for a Spanish snack brand which invited accusations that he was guilty of racial stereotyping.
The issue became even more complex when Guardiola and City star Raheem Sterling made impassioned verbal defences of the player, who could face a suspension when his case is heard by an independent regulatory commission.
And reports, citing sources close to Silva, have claimed that the articulate Portuguese, who is fluent in English, has been adversely affected by the controversy and accusations.
That has certainly appeared to be the case when comparing his form with that of last season, although the return of De Bruyne, and some influential cameos from a rejuvenated David Silva, have reduced the pressure on Bernardo to be quite so dominant.
Indeed, Bernardo has only started six of City’s 10 league games to date, with De Bruyne and Silva both making two more starts than their team-mate.
That has been due, in part, to Guardiola opting to reduce his early-season workload after Bernardo starred for Portugal in the Nations League this summer.
Twelve months earlier, the City manager requested Bernardo cut short his break after the World Cup in Russia to return to Manchester in readiness for the start of a campaign in which his form never dipped.
But, after 12 months of non-stop football, it appeared that Guardiola decided to use his asset more sparingly at the start of this season, with the Portuguese star’s form dropping off accordingly.
The one glaring exception to that was the recent 8-0 win over Watford, in which Bernardo scored a hat-trick, and, given the fact that Southampton followed last week’s 9-0 home defeat by Leicester with a 3-1 League Cup reverse at City on Tuesday, he will relish the chance to face such out-of-form opposition once more.
Guardiola, whose side are six points behind leaders Liverpool, was criticised for his unequivocal defence of Bernardo in the wake of the racism controversy and will hope his support is rewarded in the long-term.
Meanwhile, Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl is well aware of the threat posed by City, but he believes the humiliation against Leicester has refocused his players’ minds.
“After 9-0 there is no more discussion necessary. Everybody knows that in that way it cannot continue. And you could see that on Tuesday, it was a much better performance,” he said.
“I think it was the longest distance we covered this season, so this was exactly the reaction I wanted to see from my team.
“This was absolutely positive. They really invest a lot and to defend against such a team you need to invest to cover a lot of distance.”
Guardiola will check on the fitness of back-up left-back Angelino, who limped out of the cup tie with what looked like an ankle problem.
With Oleksandr Zinchenko a long-term injury absentee, French international Benjamin Mendy is City’s only specialist left-back as Guardiola contends with a long injury list in his defensive positions.