This is supposed to be all about Jack Grealish on his first return to Aston Villa – but, again, it’s hard to look past the magic and audacity of Bernardo Silva.
The Portugal international’s winning goal was something of a miracle: a lavish volley that made Pep Guardiola beam for the first time with his brilliance.
But the Manchester City manager was also buoyed by the fact that Silva tackled Tyrone Mings and Emiliano Martinez in the dying minutes of Wednesday night’s 2-1 win at Villa Park, thus preventing the hosts from launching a late attack.
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Later, when asked if Silva was among the Premier League’s top performers at the moment, Guardiola simply replied: “The best.”
When asked to confirm if he really is the best, the City boss nodded defiantly.
“When we scored 98 points, he was also the best,” added the Catalan, referring to Silva being beaten by Virgil van Dijk in the PFA Player of the Season and PFA Player of the Year awards. awarded by Virgil van Dijk in 2018-19
“He has a special ability to do what he wants with the ball. If you watched him two or three seasons ago you would see the same player you are seeing now.
“Really good goal, both pass and finish. He’s a player on another level, in every respect.”
Of course, Liverpool fans will disagree with Guardiola, either with claims that he is better than Van Dijk two seasons ago, or that he is currently outperforming Mohamed Salah, who has scored two more goals in the derby Merseyside on Wednesday.
Still, it’s impossible not to be mesmerized by Bernardo’s brilliance.
More than once, the Villa defenders thought they had been pinned down by him, just so the Portuguese could wriggle through his combination of quick feet and decisiveness.
More than once, the Villa defenders thought they had time on the ball just to rush to the rescue from his tackle.
His performance culminated with a phenomenal goal – a goal that could only have been scored by a world-class player brimming with confidence.
“Bernardo has a special ability to do with the ball whatever he wants,” said Guardiola. “Against a good goalkeeper, an unbelievable finish.”
This isn’t just his best Bernardo, though; City are also excellent, as his aim has been emphasized.
With Raheem Sterling lying in pain after a bruised tackle, Man City successfully defended a rare goal threat from the home team.
Instead of sending the ball out to handle, Riyad Mahrez shielded it from Douglas Luiz and Emiliano Buendia in his own box, before slamming a daring pass inside for Fernandinho.
The midfielder let Jesus free and, with City quickly clearing the ball, the Brazilian picked up Bernardo perfectly, who scored impressively with a first volley.
City took the lead thanks to Ruben Dias, who went one step further to become the new Vincent Kompany with a shot from 20 yards.
It’s not quite as spectacular as Kompany’s screamer against Leicester in 2019, effectively winning the title, but it’s still important.
This is a tough test for City at a Villa Park booming after successive wins under new manager Steven Gerrard, while the return of Grealish only adds to the atmosphere.
He emerged from teamfights before a lot of boos but mostly applause because the home fans had absolutely no idea how to react to him.
When he entered the field for the final three minutes, the pitch chanted “Villa ’till I die” in both applause and defiance.
They did so again after the final whistle as Grealish circled the stadium to applaud the home fans even as some of the fans remained hostile.
Many Villa could see from City’s first-half performance exactly why he wants to move to the Etihad. Guardiola’s army played very skillfully, pulling the home team into the home field, cornering them into the home field and finding space in the defense, before Bernardo showed the level needed from Grealish to become one. Key player in this great team.