This was supposed to be all about Jack Grealish on his first return to Aston Villa — but, once again, it was hard to look past the magic and audacity of Bernardo Silva.
The Portugal international’s winning goal was outrageous: a sumptuous first-time volley that had Pep Guardiola beaming over his brilliance.
But the Manchester City manager was also thrilled by the fact that Silva closed down Tyrone Mings and Emiliano Martinez in the dying minutes of Wednesday night’s 2-1 win at Villa Park, thus preventing the home side from launching a late attack.
TORRES TO BARCELONA: Would Manchester City really sell in January?
When asked afterward if Silva was among the Premier League’s top performers right now, Guardiola simply replied: “The best.”
Asked to confirm if he really meant the best, the City boss nodded defiantly.
“When we made 98 points, he was the best too,” the Catalan added, alluding to the fact that Silva was beaten to the Premier League Player of the Season and PFA Players’ Player of the Year awards by Virgil van Dijk in 2018-19.
“He has a special ability to do what he wants with the ball. If you watch him two or three seasons ago, you will see the same player you are seeing now.
“The goal was really good, both the pass and the finish. He is a player on another level, in all senses.”
Liverpool fans will disagree with Guardiola, of course, both with the claim that he was better than Van Dijk two seasons ago, or that he is presently outperforming Mohamed Salah, who scored two more goals in Wednesday’s Merseyside derby.
However, it’s impossible not to be spellbound by Bernardo’s brilliance.
On more than one occasion, Villa defenders thought they had him pinned down, only for the Portuguese to wriggle free through a combination of his quick feet and determination.
On more than one occasion, Villa defenders thought they had time on the ball only to be hurried into rushed clearances by his pressing.
His performance peaked with his extraordinary goal — a strike 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,” Guardiola said. “Against a good keeper, an incredible finish.”
This wasn’t just Bernardo at his best, though; City were excellent too, as his goal underlined.
With Raheem Sterling lying hurt on the ground after a bruising challenge, City successfully defended a rare threat from the home side.
Rather than put the ball out for treatment, Riyad Mahrez shielded it from the pressing Douglas Luiz and Emiliano Buendia in his own penalty box, before flicking a cheeky pass inside to Fernandinho.
The midfielder set Jesus free and, with City breaking quickly, the Brazilian perfectly picked out Bernardo, who scored majestically with a first-time volley.
It was breathtaking.
City had already taken the lead through Ruben Dias, who took another step towards becoming the new Vincent Kompany with a 20-yard strike.
It wasn’t quite as spectacular as Kompany’s screamer against Leicester in 2019, which effectively clinched the title, but it was important nonetheless.
This was a tough test for City at a Villa Park bouncing after back-to-back victories under new manager Steven Gerrard, while the return of Grealish only added to the atmosphere.
He emerged for the prematch warmups to a smattering of boos but mainly applause as the home fans didn’t know entirely how to react to him.
By the time he came on for the final three minutes, the ground loudly chanted “Villa ’til I die” in both appreciation and defiance.
They did so again after the full-time whistle as Grealish took an extended tour of the stadium to applaud the home fans even if some supporters were still being hostile.
Many Villa could see from City’s first-half performance exactly why he wanted to move to the Etihad. Guardiola’s side were scintillating, pulling the home side all over the pitch, pinning them in their own half and finding gaps in their defense, before Bernardo demonstrated the level that is required from Grealish to become a key player in this wonderful team.
Source: Read Full Article