(written by Tom Cayless)
In a game that had literally everything, from controversial VAR decisions to a red card to a manager, Manchester City ran out 2-0 winners against Aston Villa.
One of City’s magnificent Portuguese trio, Bernardo Silva, gave Guardiola’s side the lead in the 79th minute after multiple big chances went begging. Silva’s goal was highly controversial as Tyrone Mings controlled the ball, but was dispossessed by Rodri, who was in a clear offside position. Rodri then played the ball into Silva, who curled the ball into the far corner.
Dean Smith- Villa manager- was very much aggrieved by this and was initially given a yellow card, but this was then doubled, resulting in a red and he was sent to the stands for the rest of the game.
The Blue’s second goal was less controversial though, as a Matty Cash handball resulted in a penalty which Ilkay Gundogan converted straight down the middle. City have had their problems with penalties as of late, with Sterling missing his last three and De Bruyne missing against title rivals, Liverpool. However, the penalty being converted, along with a lot of other aspects of this performance, showed positive changes for City that weren’t apparent last season.
After the game finished, the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL) issued a statement to explain the decision of allowing the first goal to stand:
‘A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent who deliberately plays the ball, including deliberate handball, is not considered to have gained an advantage.
‘As the law deems that Rodri has not gained an advantage, he has not committed an offside offence and play should be allowed to continue. Rodri legitimately took possession of the ball from Mings, starting the attack which resulted in the goal.’
Guardiola sides are traditionally seen as flamboyant, beautiful on the eye, and lavish. However, this City side has only shown glimpses of these characteristics this season. Tough, robust and hard to beat would be more of an accurate description of Guardiola’s team this campaign, especially after Ruben Dias’ introduction.
Since joining, Dias has kept 15 clean sheets in 23 games. This is frankly ridiculous and hasn’t come around by luck either. City have conceded 13 goals in the league this season, with six of them being conceded before Dias even joined.
The Portuguese makes 1.49 tackles + interceptions per 90 along with 3.5 clearances. His leadership is one of the major positives City has endured since his arrival. Ever since club legend Vincent Kompany left at the end of the 2018/19 season, City have looked lost at the back and a lack of leadership was obvious for all to see.
His presence is immense at the back, winning 70% of his aerial duels. There are clear parts of games that Dias’ leadership that can be seen, with his passion not only for the three points but also a clean sheet so clear. During games, he is constantly seen barking orders out to his side, something, as said, City have lacked from the moment Kompany played his last game for the club.
Comparisons to Virgil Van Dijk are now becoming more common and it’s clear to see why. The impact both signings have had on their teams is almost identical and there is no reason why Dias, 23, can eclipse Van Dijk’s, 29, achievements at Liverpool. After all, Dias has one thing over Van Dijk that nobody can change, time.
Another Portuguese City player has stepped up to the plate recently in Bernardo Silva. In City’s quadruple winning campaign, Silva was awarded the club’s Player Of The Year. The award was completely justified and he could have felt, justifiably, unlucky not to win the PFA Player Of The Year.
Standout performances such as the one against Liverpool at home, in which Bernardo ran 13.7 km. However, since then these performances have become a rarity for the 26-year-old.
Although this season Silva has stepped up. He now takes fewer shots per 90, but has a higher shot on target percentage. This explains the Portuguese is now taking shots in areas he is more likely to score from, in closer areas, rather than just shooting for the sake of shooting.
He is also making more pressures per 90 this season compared to last. The main improvement this season, though, is his dribbling. The former Monaco player is completing a career-high 76.9 % of dribbles attempted and also a career 199.5 yard (per 90) progressive distance. A progressive distance is when a player moves the ball towards the opponents’ goal, whilst controlling it.
Dias has been sung many praises this season by City fans and pundits alike, however, Bernardo hasn’t and is going round his business quietly and effectively. Manchester City, Guardiola, or Silva won’t care though, as long as the results and performances carry on coming they’ll be happy. They’ve slowly climbed the table over the past few months and now look solid favourites to lift the title in May with their Portuguese excellence being right at the forefront of it.