Sunday 22 April 2018

'We are feeling no pressure'

David Silva is one of the main reasons why Manchester City are title front-runners, writes Paul Wilson

David Silva made his Manchester City debut at Tottenham, in the opening game of last season, and it is fair to say neither he nor the occasion was received propitiously.

The diminutive Spain forward looked lost in a front line featuring Carlos Tevez and Shaun Wright-Phillips that seemed too short in stature to bother English defences, and though City held on to the ball well enough and moved it around through midfield, the game was ultimately as unmemorable as the 0-0 scoreline suggests.

Fast forward 18 months and City, Tottenham and Silva have all made giant strides, and consequently found their recent meetings much more meaningful.

Their game at the end of last season was instrumental in securing City a Champions League place, and when the sides met at White Hart Lane at the start of this season, a remarkable 5-1 home defeat was the first of a spate of autumn high scores. It was a setback that Spurs did well to put behind them and rebuild their campaign so convincingly that they go into today's game in third place as London's leading club, but it also alerted the world to the destructive ability now at City's disposal.

Silva did not score in that game, though he found the target in matches around it, including the even more famous 6-1 victory at Manchester United.

So does he not find it strange, having stuck a total of 11 goals past United and Spurs on their own grounds, that the same two clubs are still City's closest rivals, and still in touch with the title race?

"Sometimes you get matches like that with scorelines like that," he says. "It's not the norm but it can happen. I don't think any of us thought that United or Spurs would drop out of contention because of those results, because that's not what English football is like. That's why the Premier League would be such a great league to win. I would regard it as an honour on a level with winning the World Cup or the European Championship with Spain.

"The big difference between league football in England and Spain is that more teams compete here. In Spain, it is usually only two teams going for the title, which is not necessarily a bad thing because you get great matches between the two, but I think the English league is better for being more competitive."

A commonly held view in England, because football in Spain is so obviously dominated by Barcelona and Real Madrid, is that any player native to the country must aspire to playing for one club or the other, or otherwise judge himself a failure. Silva, who has managed to advance his Spain career since moving from Valencia to play overseas, does not see it quite like that.

"Of course El Clasico is a great night, but I don't have an overwhelming desire to play in that game. I am happy playing in England at the moment and there are some pretty big games within the Premier League. Already you can see that City v United games are more interesting than they used to be, because there is so much more at stake. Maybe they are not at the level of Barcelona-Real Madrid yet, but they are moving towards it and they are becoming bigger occasions."

At 26, Silva will presumably get the opportunity to return to Spain at some stage if he so wishes, though his manager hopes that will not be for some time. "He enjoys English football, I would like him to stay for at least another three or four years," Roberto Mancini says. "Your own country's football always seems the best -- for me, it is Italy and for David it will be Spain -- but that is for the future, I hope. Not now."

Mancini has been on Silva's case since seeing him playing for Valencia in the Champions League at the age of 19. "He played a fantastic game, incredible," he recalls. "He was just a kid but you could see he could play. I tried to sign him for Inter but Valencia wouldn't sell, so I was very happy when I got the chance to bring him to Manchester City.

"For me, he is now one of the best players in the world, on a level with Xavi and Iniesta. He has improved in his time in England as well, even people in Spain say so. After three or four months he understood what he had to do to succeed in English football: he needed to work hard and grow stronger on the pitch, and that is what he has done. That is what has made him better. He is still like a magician with the ball but now you can't knock him off it so easily."

Silva has not managed to grow in physical stature, he is still barely 5ft 7in, though one hears a lot more about his chances of being voted player of the year these days than concerns that he might be too small.

"I've changed a lot since I came to England," he admits. "I wasn't 100% physically fit when I first arrived, but I am in much better shape now. I am not tired, either, as some people have been saying. I had an ankle problem recently that took a while to clear up, but I feel as fit as I have ever done. I am not too worried about not scoring many goals as long as someone else is. You get patches within a season when the goals come, and some when they don't, but as long as you feel you are playing well it's not a major problem."

Not only does Silva believe City are playing well, despite their recent dip in cup competitions, he feels it is a view acknowledged from abroad. "Naturally, I talk to people from Spain a lot," he says. "There's no doubt that City are being watched more than they used to be. People can see the club is going places. We have bigger players, bigger ambitions and we are competing for more trophies.

"We are on top of the league because of our results, because of the way we have played. It was a shame to go out of the Champions League, but not many teams who win 10 points do not make it to the later stages, so there is no reason to feel we have done badly. A lot of this growth has happened in a short time, and I am happy to be a part of it. We may not yet have the experience that other clubs have in terms of winning the league, but never having won it makes us more ambitious, and I'm sure that's true of Tottenham as well.

"Strange as it may seem, I don't think we are under enormous pressure, because we are the ones on top of the table. The pressure is on those chasing us. As long as we can stay at the front we don't have to worry about that."


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