Silva the artist and Milner the artisan pull Man City level on points with Chelsea

Much-improved City now one win short of matching club's record for consecutive victories in all competitions, writes Richard Jolly
Manchester City's David Silva, second right, shoots to score against Crystal Palace during their English Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, on December 20, 2014. Phil Noble / Reuters
Manchester City's David Silva, second right, shoots to score against Crystal Palace during their English Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, on December 20, 2014. Phil Noble / Reuters

Manchester // There was graft and there was craft. James Milner is the artisan. David Silva is the artist.

They were opposites paired up front, the Englishman doing his industrious impression of a centre-forward, the Spaniard an enviably classy No 10.

The combination of their contrasting efforts worked. Silva scored twice. City beat Crystal Palace 3-0 on Saturday.

The champions managed to attack without out-and-out attackers, to strike without strikers. Theirs is only a short-term shortage, but they managed to prosper without a professional goalscorer.

While Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko watched on from the stands, City’s phalanx of progressive midfielders found ways of compensating for their absence.

“An important answer,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini said.

Yet despite his tactical reservations about lining up without one – though the false nine gained popularity during his time in Spain, the Chilean often prefers a traditional target man – few teams are better equipped to go striker-less.

City are blessed to have such prolific midfielders. Frank Lampard, the most potent in English Premier League history, was confined to a cameo.

Yaya Toure, the only other to ever record 20 goals in a season, rifled in their third goal against Crystal Palace, taking his own recent haul to five goals in eight games.

A common criticism of Silva is that the artist does not offer enough of an end product. A 12-minute spree doubled his tally for the season.

A team without out-and-out attackers nonetheless featured six attack-minded midfielders, yet pivotal roles were played by the two attacking full-backs. They showed the greatest propensity to get into the box.

“[Pablo] Zabaleta was the biggest threat in the first half,” Palace manager Neil Warnock said.

The Argentine was the provider of Silva’s first, which took a sizeable deflection off Scott Dann.

Aleksandar Kolarov emulated his right-sided counterpart by becoming the furthest man forward to set up the second, slid in Aguero-style by Silva.

“Silva was head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch,” Warnock added.

Toure drilled in the third after Milner teed him up.

It was fitting the Englishman ended have supplied, not scored, a goal. Today marks the one-year anniversary of his last Premier League strike. If that statistic rendered him a strange choice to lead the line, Milner brought plenty of altruistic scurrying to his task.

“It was a sacrifice performance,” Pellegrini said.

Milner was partly a decoy runner, with trademark unselfishness to the fore as he ran the channels, sending in crosses for the midfield runners, rather than adopting the centre-forward’s approach of waiting in the penalty area.

“He creates a lot of space for his teammates,” Pellegrini added.

That willingness to take up wider roles enabled him to set up Toure.

His first assist of the campaign also came from the left flank. Then, however, he was an auxiliary, but hugely effective, left-back in September’s draw with Chelsea.

Milner’s status as a jack of most trades may have rendered him the master of none, and such versatility can be both a blessing and a curse, but Pellegrini has belatedly come to appreciate his adaptability and ever-willing attitude.

The Englishman only needs to take the field as a goalkeeper and a centre-back to complete the set for City.

An experimental afternoon also had an importance.

“We are in a good moment,” Pellegrini said.

It is more than a moment, though. Three weeks ago, City were nine points behind Chelsea.

Now, albeit having played a game more, they are level with the league leaders.

The title race is being reshaped. So, too, could City’s club records.

Their best run in all competitions, first set in 1909, stands at nine successive wins. Now Pellegrini’s men have made it eight straight triumphs.

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Published: December 20, 2014 04:00 AM


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