The following article is extracted from Football News’s 200,000 word guide to the world of French football, The Football News 100 which focused on ranking individuals’ performances over the course of 2015 as a calendar year. To download the whole guide, click here.
The following piece was written in December 2016 and published on the 1st January 2017. Bernardo Silva ranked 5th in the 2015 edition and ranked 14th in our index out of French football’s 100 best players in this year’s Football News 100.
Bernardo Silva is undeniably one of the most talented players in France right now. However, his 2016 story, much like AS Monaco’s, has been very much a tale of two halves.
Now 2016 may not have been that impressive for Bernardo Silva when you look at his goals scored column: seven in the league (four in the 2nd half of 2015/16, three this season so far (17 games at the time of writing)). His assist statistics are nothing to write home about either – ve so far this season – but make no mistake; Silva is an integral part of Jardim’s new-look Monaco. The Monaco that scored 53 goals in 18 Ligue 1 games this season (which is almost as many as Nice and PSG combined (63)!).
Just like in the rst half of 2015/16, the opening six months for Bernardo Silva were blighted by a negative style on the part of Leonardo Jardim. Monaco did not start that campaign well but their unyielding defending translated into them picking up points more or less every week. They also pro ted from a weak Lyon side who were unable to put wins togeth- er. Six games without defeat at the end of 2015 meant that the Principality side nished that calendar year in 2nd. 2016 started in very much the same vein. Defeats were rare (just one between the start of the year and April) but since nobody else was as consistent – bar PSG of course – 2nd spot was Monaco’s almost until the end. Jardim moved Bernardo Silva across all the three positions of a 4-2-3-1. Sometimes, he would appear on the right playing in front of Fabinho (when the latter was playing as a right-back, despite him now feeling right at home in a central mid eld position). Occasionally, Silva would start on the left playing in front of Fabio Coentrão or he would act as a second striker playing behind Carrillo (an ineffective move) or Vagner Love (Brazilian knew where the goal was but his relationship with Silva didn’t blossom).
In 2015/16, Bernardo Silva played in a number of positions without developing an actual understanding with his full-back when he was playing on the wings (be it Fabinho or Fabio Coentrão) or with whichever striker he was playing with. Play- ing second striker in a 4-2-3-1 is a tough ask for any player and very few come out of it with relative success. It is a position where the player needs to constantly veer sideways or drop deep in order to nd space between the lines or between the players. This was just not happening for Bernardo Silva, who is at his best when he is driving towards opponents.
Then Jardim did some shopping. In came Djibril Sidibé from Lille, Benjamin Mendy from Marseille, Falcao came back from an unsuccessful loan spell at Chelsea (no one was quite sure whether he was going to play or not) and Valère Ger- main also returned from a very successful loan spell at Nice (7th in the goal-scoring charts in 2015/16 with 14 goals). You could have been forgiven for thinking that Silva was going to form a formidable duo behind Germain.
However, Silva is in perfect harmony with the new right-back, Djibril Sidibé. Unlike Raggi (who is slow) and Fabinho (who is much less pacey), Silva thrives with Sidibé behind him. The ex-Lille man gives him the width he needs which allows him to drop deep or inside, playing centrally without having the opposition’s defensive mid elders on his back immediately.
Of course, Monaco’s Europe-beating line-up did not come to fruition on the opening day of the season against Guinga- mp. Jardim persevered with Bernardo Silva as a second striker but he made a tactical switch against PSG in late August in order to counter the champions’ power down the wing: what looked like a 4-4-1-1 was more of a 5-4-1 with Sidibé mark- ing Kurzawa and Silva doing the same on Serge Aurier.
There, Jardim de nitively saw not only that Bernardo Silva was better used on the wing than in the second striker position but he also realised that his tracking-back qualities had massively improved. It showed as well; Monaco won the game 3-1 and deservedly so.
Jardim now has a distinct plan that Bernardo Silva is very important to: Monaco currently operate in an attacking 4-4-2 with much impetus given to the full-backs, Sidibé and Mendy. Fabinho (Silva’s former partner down the right-wing last season) and Tiémoué Bakayoko play deeper, offering the work-rate in terms of winning the ball back, as the front four form a lethal attack, alongside the overlapping full-backs.
Back-up to Silva has manifested itself in the form of Nabil Dirar and Gabriel Boschilla this season. Very effective players in their own right, but neither harbour the ability that the Portuguese has to bring colleagues into the game. Jardim is aware that Silva’s diminutive stature needs to be protected from Ligue 1’s rough challenges over 90 minutes. The stats back this up: of the 17 games Bernardo Silva has played, at the time of writing, in Ligue 1 this season, he started 15 and was subbed off 11 times and never for a defensive substitute to hold on to a result (Monaco are generally out of sight by the time he is subbed) but by players with the same pro le as his (Dirar, Boschilla, Carrillo).
It is unclear whether Silva’s excellent 2016 is due to Jardim’s brilliant reinforcements in the summer, but we are at least certain that the boy is much more lethal playing on the wing than in a second striker role behind the centre-forward. With that in mind, and Silva’s explosive talent, Monaco could even score 100 goals this season, barring injury to key players.