If the focus has been on the players Manchester City did not sign, perhaps it should shift to one they did not sell.
Harry Kane has been a constant in the conversations about their summer. Cristiano Ronaldo suddenly, improbably, emerged as an alternative, only to take a diversion across Manchester. And when he reopened his United account, there was a temptation to wonder if City, creating chances but taking none some 80 miles further south, could have done with a new superstar striker.
But a midfielder sufficed instead. On the day that, strange as it sounded, could have been Ronaldo’s City debut, the Portuguese to score for them instead was Bernardo Silva.
He had eyed the exit in the summer but has stayed and starred. He was excellent against Arsenal two weeks earlier. He was arguably the outstanding player on the pitch even before delivering the winner at Leicester. “He is back in the best form and mentality,” Guardiola said. “He is an exceptional player and we know it. In the future, we will see what happens.”
For now, he is savouring keeping Silva and reaping a reward for swapping him with Ilkay Gundogan so the Portuguese was on the left of midfield. Elusive and irrepressible, a wispy figure but a non-stop runner, Silva ensured the fit-again Kevin de Bruyne did not need to leave the bench.
Leicester can be the scourge of the other City, beating them 5-2 last September and defeating them in August’s Community Shield but there was no repeat. Instead, Guardiola’s side showed the stature of champions. “Our performance was outstanding,” he said. “The mentality of the players was incredible from the first minute to the end. We concede few [chances] and we create a lot.”
They were creative and classy, Leicester doughty in defence, menacing on the break but beaten nonetheless. “I thought we deserved something,” said Brendan Rodgers. “You have to stay in the game against a team of that quality but I thought we were excellent and created a lot of chances.”
They could rue fine margins. Harvey Barnes’ header had clipped the bar. Jamie Vardy, whose cross had provided that chance, then accelerated on to Wilfred Ndidi’s through pass, rounded Ederson and slotted the ball into the empty net, only to be ruled offside. And Rodgers seemed to have made a double substitution with an instant impact when one replacement, Kelechi Iheanacho, powered through to supply the debutant Ademola Lookman. Instead, Ederson made an invaluable save.
“That’s why he is a world-class keeper,” rued Rodgers and Manchester City could be grateful to both the goalkeeper and that the strange threat of banning Brazilian players from representing their clubs this weekend was withdrawn. City only discovered on Saturday morning that the 36-year-old third-choice Scott Carson would not have to deputise.
Gabriel Jesus was the other beneficiary, meaning that Guardiola named the same side for three consecutive games, something he had never previously done with City. He had twin chances in the first half, each saved by the excellent Kasper Schmeichel.
It was a familiar outcome: Ferran Torres and Ilkay Gundogan suffered the same fate, with the Dane’s series of saves culminated in an injury-time stop from Jack Grealish.“ The keeper is the best player of the Leicester team,” Guardiola lamented. “Kasper Schmeichel is an incredible keeper.”
But he was required to excel. City amassed 25 shots and if Torres ought to have done better after Gundogan’s defence-splitting pass, the two that ultimately mattered were a Joao Cancelo effort that Caglar Soyuncu blocked, but for the rebound to fall to Silva. “They get a little bit of luck,” said Rodgers but Silva turned it into a goal.