When Manchester City purchased David Silva for £24 million pounds in July of 2010, it looked like another illogical spray of exuberance from Manchester City’s owners.
Frankly, there were plenty of better value agile wingers in the world, and understandably, many questioned how long it would take for the little Spaniard to adjust to the style change and rigours of the Premier League.
The move looked like another tactical stab in the dark by City manager Roberto Mancini, who was searching for a team of players that would gel in a revolutionary new system, unlike the one that had lacked edge the following two seasons.
Just 20 months on and to the surprise of many, Manchester City sit top of the English Premier League. Silva has provided 18 assists and scored seven goals for City this campaign, and is undoubtedly the most important player in their revolutionary 4-4-1-1 system.
Rather than performing the archetypal and stagnant left-wing role that the Premier League has seen since its formation in 1992, where a player will provide breakaway speed, attempt to cross the ball at the byline and directly run at the opposition right-back, Silva’s has utilised his technical qualities and completely revamped, what were the narrow roles a wide player could assume with two out-and-out strikers.
Silva has become a number 10, a trequartista of sorts. Rather than running like a bull at opposition defenders in the Antonio Valencia style, Silva is now a virtually untouchable, versatile player, who pirouettes away from opposition defenders into central areas and has the rare ability of being to dribble and pass into pockets of space.
In City’s current system Sergio Aguero is often situated just behind Edin Dzeko or slightly wide of him. City’s tall target often presents and provides decoy runs, or Aguero will dribble at or past defenders, consequently sucking them in or leaving the opposition out of position, allowing Silva to exploit open spaces and feed unmarked or dangerous runs.
This tactic has reaped rewards, as City have scored 69 goals this season, six more than their neighbors Manchester United in second.
But crucially, this role is not all about its aesthetic and mutually offensive qualities.
The fact that Silva is often less direct than usual wide players, and often cuts in and out of central positions, means that he can also drop back and assert himself defensively as a third midfielder or defensive cover.
Silva’s ability to sit back more and pick passes as opposed to making lung busting runs towards the byline strongly reduces City’s chances of susceptibility on the counter-attack.
And, like their attacking record, City’s defensive record appears to give weight to the practicality of the formation, having also conceded seven fewer goals than their second-placed rivals.
David Silva’s success at Manchester City has set a new template for the function of wide players in two-striker formations, and unsurprisingly a few Premier League clubs have already begun to follow Manchester City’s blueprint, with Juan Mata and Hatem Ben Arfa recreating similar roles for their respective clubs.
The Spaniard has become a poster boy for intuition and tactical endeavour among Premier League managers, and such is his influence, the old mould of wingers we were so used to seeing will likely never be the same.