Manchester City's midfield maestros
Although it’s only February, the Premier League title race is all but over. Just take a look at the standings: while seven points separate second place and fifth place, a whopping 13 points is the gap between table leaders Manchester City and second place Manchester United. City are running away with the league and it’s not even close. They are clearly the best team in England and have established themselves as a Champions League contender. Pep Guardiola’s side is one of the top three in Europe, if not the best, and are the cream of the crop in terms of quality.
City bolsters a team which is absolutely trashing their opponents, registering a goal difference of 55 thus far in league play, 22 higher than Manchester United. Although they aren’t so ruthlessly killing off their opponents like they did in the opening stages of the Premier League, City are still running like a well oiled machine.
Now there are a lot of different parts to this seemingly unstoppable City train. One major part has been Guardiola and his tactics. Another part has been the fullbacks and their ability to push up the pitch and overload opposing defenses. It’s also the growth of players like John Stones and the arrival of Emerson. But an even bigger, if not the biggest part of Manchester City’s success has been their midfield.
The trio of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, and Fernandinho have been spectacular this season and have been the cog which puts everything together for the Citizens. All three of them have been world class this season and each of them has a unique role within the team. Each player brings their own strengths and does what they are needed to. Each play a unique part in the dazzling display of City football.
Out of the trio, Fernandinho is the least attacking minded and is the one who is usually sitting back in front of the back line. He’s a destroyer and is responsible with helping in breaking up opposing counter attacks. Fernandinho proves another resistance to goal in the rare times City opponents gain possession. Although they have played well at the back, the City defense is prone to silly mistakes and Fernandinho is the one who helps clean it up. Fernandinho’s average tackles per game tally of 1.9 is one of the highest totals on this City team. Actually, if you only factor in City players who have played most of the season (25 games or more), his average is the top spot on the team. He’s been the perfect player to stay in front of the backline of Manchester City while also offering some offensive support when needed to.
After coming back to the Premier League, Kevin De Bruyne has showed that Chelsea made a huge mistake by selling him off. He’s been one of the best midfielders in all of Europe, forget just England. KDB has been on fire this season, registering 7 goals and 11 assists in just 26 appearances. If Manchester City’s deadly attack could be compared to a basketball team, De Bruyne would be the do-it-all small forward. Registering a pass success percentage of 83.4%, De Bruyne has shown the precision to pick out teammates in key areas along with being the link between the defense and offense. When Manchester City are in attack, he has been the man in control and dictates where the play flows. He’s also shown to be Manchester City’s set piece specialist, delivering some delicious crosses off set piece plays. In the past two years Kevin De Bruyne has taken the leap from young starlet to a top five player in the world. He’s been the catalyst to City’s attack while also being able to track back on defense. Showing defensive capabilities alongside players like Fernandinho and Silva are very important as KDB is able to give a little bit of everything in all parts of the field. He isn’t a prototypical box to box midfielder and that’s perfectly fine. In Guardiola’s system he doesn’t need to be. Kevin De Bruyne has been Manchester City’s best player this season and it’s not even close.
But while KDB might be their best player, David Silva is their most important midfielder and one on the pitch. If De Bruyne is small forward, Silva is the flashy point guard who is able to shift into the lane while also finding his teammates for easy scores. A wizard with a dynamite left foot, Silva is still going strong at age 32 and although his work rate isn’t exactly what it used to be, he’s still a huge offensive threat. He’s had an ok season in terms of stats, scoring 5 goals and dishing out 8 assists but his influence on this team is as important as ever. If KDB is the link between offense and defense, Silva is the architect to a lot of soul crushing City goals. His on the dot passing and ability to split defenses with timely runs has helped Manchester City take an even bigger leap offensively. He’s been able to find wingers like Sane and Sterling, who are converting more, for easier goals than years past. It’s been great to watch for anyone who loves attacking football. Silva’s health might not be on his side but when he’s in the City XI, they are exponentially better.
After a first year where he had to sort everything out, Pep Guardiola has got this City team working as one and under his control. He’s got everything figured out and City are rolling everyone in sight. A lot of it has been due to his midfield trio and the work they are able to put it. If all three are able to stay healthy, City go from really good to great and it could mean a lot as they progress further into the Champions League.