Manchester City's Bernardo Silva keen to avoid Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus in Champions League quarter-finals
Premier League champions hammered home their European Cup credentials against Schalke but their Portuguese midfielder 'wouldn’t like' to face the Italian giants in the next round
By the end, when the Schalke players were stood in apologetic suffering in front of their barracking fans, there was a flurry of facts.
Manchester City had equalled the joint biggest score in the knockout stages of the Uefa Champions League, taking their aggregate score in 2019 to 61-9 and triumphed for the 18th time in 19 attempts in the calendar year.
It was the seventh time they had scored at least six goals this season, but Bernardo Silva was still taken aback. “After that difficult game in Germany we weren't expecting to win 7-0,” he confessed.
The Portuguese contributed the fifth, a goal that was swiftly overshadowed when Phil Foden became the youngest Englishman to score at this stage of the competition. Foden has five goals already in 2019 and Pep Guardiola took the opportunity to underline the teenager’s part in his plans.
“The people say he should be on loan; Phil Foden will not be on loan,” he pledged. “All the time he is here, he will be close to me because he is an incredibly talented player.”
Foden is evidence of City’s strength in depth. They began a demolition without the injured Kevin de Bruyne, and finished it without the substituted Sergio Aguero and David Silva, minus all of their specialist centre-backs, plus the ever adaptable alternative Fernandinho. They ended up with two right-backs in the middle of defence, flanked by two midfielders.
Attack proved the best form of defence. Aguero scored the first two goals, giving him nine in five home games, Ilkay Gundogan contributed to the first three, and Leroy Sane ended a scintillating display with a goal and three assists.
“This is a team that plays on offensive football,” Bernardo Silva said. “We try to press high; we try to have the control of the game to have the ball as much as possible; when we lose the ball to recover as fast as possible.”
A relentless work ethic is reflected in City’s goal tally. Routs are constructed by continuing to press and pass.
City finished with seven players aged 24 or under and none in their 30s, and Silva said: “Most of the team is young – the hunger for titles, we don't have a big player between us. To have all the players that can make a difference and that have an important role in the team is our biggest strength, I think.”
It is the club’s inexperience as much as the players’ youth that has led Guardiola to brand City the teenagers of the competition. He stated after the 3-2 win over Schalke in Germany that they are not ready to win the competition. “Of course we will try to prove him wrong,” Silva replied.
His own way of downplaying expectations may have come in his description of a side lacking a “big player”.
Aguero is City’s record scorer, David Silva perhaps the greatest in their history, Raheem Sterling a prolific revelation and De Bruyne their outstanding individual last year. If Bernardo Silva was suggesting they are not a star vehicle, it also felt modest: Guardiola has described him as one of the two or three best players in this season’s Premier League.
When asked last month if the midfielder could be Portugal’s next big star, he replied: “He is the big star already.”
It invited questions about the man usually afforded that title: his Portugal teammate.
“I think people interpreted things a little different to what he meant,” Silva replied. “Cristiano [Ronaldo], with what he has done in over the last 15 years, is probably one of the best players ever in the history of football so no comparison to him.”
The Champions League’s record scorer had just mustered his latest hat-trick to eliminate Atletico Madrid. Silva would not relish the prospect of a quarter-final against Ronaldo’s Juventus.
“I wouldn’t like it very much, to be honest,” he said. “I know him, I know what he’s capable of and once again he proved it.”
City exited in the quarter-finals to Liverpool last year. Guardiola’s side have showed they can score in spurts, but got a taste of their own medicine as they were punished for conceding three times in 19 minutes at Anfield.
“When you make mistakes you have to learn from them,” Silva added. “That game, especially away, was difficult for us. We will try in the future not to make the same mistakes.”
Liverpool were the Champions League’s top scorers last season. Now that mantle rests with City as they amass a series of stunning statistics.
Updated: March 14, 2019 11:40 AM