Talking Tactics: David Silva and player movement

by Tim Hill

This summer, perpetual ‘transfer rumour’ David Silva moved from his parents’ home in Valencia to the everlasting rain in Manchester. It seems the excitement over this transfer died after the World Cup mainly because he didn’t perform to his best in the one game he started – against Switzerland. He was not alone in performing unsatisfactorily in that game however, he played in his un-preferred position on the right hand side of an attacking trio behind a lone striker. Notwithstanding, a poor performance at a World Cup does not make a bad player, for ‘el chino’ has been one of the best players in La Liga for a few seasons.

His best position is undoubtedly behind the striker, given the possibility to drift around the pitch – to spaces that are open as well as dangerous.

We all know this position well, it’s the one that many blogs (including myself) have been harping on about, using hackneyed phrases about playing ‘in the hole’ and other slightly tactical jargon.

Watching him against Athletic Bilbao in a two-nil win (where he scores both) shows his strengths well. Valencia’s system was extremely fluid, as we all know from this year’s World Cup, David Villa is comfortable drifting from central positions out to the flanks. For this movement to be effective, it required another player to fill the gaps left by Villa’s movement – which is where David Silva’s vision and awareness is demonstrated.

Silva moving forward as Villa drifts wide.

The rationale behind swapping of positions is simple, it drags the defence around into bad positions and takes the defensive line out of shape. With Vicente dropping deep and inside (1), Villa drops to the left and deep, taking the centre-backs with him (2). Silva, the spare man in midfield therefore has the opportunity to run into the space left by the departing Villa and his markers (3).


The movement from the Valencia forwards has parallels with the attacking talents currently at Eastlands, in particular, Carlos Tévez.

It is players like Tévez and Villa that Silva should thrive playing with, as their drifting and non-conventional forward roles permits him to seek out gaps and weaknesses in defence and make darting runs beyond the defence.

Silva looking for gaps in the defence...

and finds it. Silva also shows off his pace.

He’s not renowned for his pace, but he is startlingly quick along the ground. This is a good asset to have playing in his position off the striker because (a) it sometimes (depending on the strategy to deal with him) pushes up the defence to restrict the time and space the player has on the ball which then leads to (b) more opportunities to run beyond the defences, particularly in between centre-backs and full-backs.

Against Athletic, this happened countless times and if he plays in the middle, you’d expect to see for kind of movement for Manchester City next season.

Something he has added to his game is his ability to get into goalscoring positions, unafraid to get bravely on the end of crosses. Last season in every competition he scored thirteen goals whilst provided nine assists, as well as having eighty five shots on goal.

His first goal against Athletic was something most Sunday league strikers would be swollen with pride with. From a corner that made four players leap to reach it – only for them to all miss it – ended up hitting one of them on the backside, into the path of David Silva, who calmly drove it into the back of the net. A typical poacher’s goal from a player more accustomed to a creator’s role.

After his first goal, he really grew in confidence, looking to play small triangles and then playing defence-splitting passes. With his tail up, he has a great influence in the game, directing the play and always looking for the ball. Valencia, as a counter-attacking team, play quickly and directly, and Silva’s unwillingness to dwell on the ball is something that will help him in the Premier League. He knows what he’s going to do when the ball comes to him, always looking around when he has not got the ball – giving him an advantage when he has the ball.


His second goal illustrated his great balance and poise on the ball, as well as his finishing skills. He deftly brings the ball down from a clipped pass by Bruno over two defenders – then shimmies twice around the defenders before putting the ball onto his left foot and curling it around the keeper.



Premier League teams must not give him the same amount of space in the box as Athletic did, he can finish well. This doesn’t solve all the problems though, for his ability to move the ball around in tight spaces is impressive, he’s very capable of turning and finding a safe pass, just keeping possession, which is a much wanted attribute in the Premier League.

Here is the caveat, sources suggest that under Mancini, it is Carlos Tévez who will play as the support striker, leaving David Silva with the right-hand berth in the attacking three. As shown in this year’s World Cup, this is not his best position.

Against tight and narrow midfielders, he struggles to make an impact, as he is understandably reluctant to take the ball outside; he’s always looking to cut inside. This makes him easy to predict, therefore easy to defend against.

Against Switzerland, the only game he started, he was ineffective. The Swiss defence were organised and restricted the space he could run into. His movement inside restricted the space for Spain to move the ball in, making it hard to penetrate the defence. The fear is that playing Silva in that role would negate the strengths he demonstrates time and time again playing behind the second striker.

3 Responses

  1. Roberticus says:

    Roberticus from ‘Santapelota’ here.

    Excellent analysis you have offered on Silva’s game. And how prescient of you to take his performance against Athletic Bilbao as an example since, of all La Liga sides, they are one of the few who play an aggressive, vertical Premier League-syle. If he can handle it against these bruisers, he’ll be fine against a mid-table PL side. People have their doubts as to Silva’s capacity to adapt to English football, but he should find acres of space between opposing back lines and midfields.

  2. Neil Allen says:

    I was looking forward to seeing David Silva at Manchester’s finest way before reading and seeing this article, now after doing so, I have started to get way too excited, the thought of Silva, Yaya, Tevez, SWP and Ade moving about all over the place and unsettling opponents enough to cause havoc will enable City to next season win the close games they would have drew last campaign, or even lost!.

    Yaya and Silva for me have been the joint best transfers of this summer so far, roll on Spurs in August

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