In-form Silva, Gundogan storm back onto Pep's radar

Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan after scoring the final goal in the 4-0 Champions League last-16 first-leg win against Basel.
Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan after scoring the final goal in the 4-0 Champions League last-16 first-leg win against Basel. PHOTO: REUTERS

BASEL (Switzerland) • For the first half of the season, they were the forgotten men of Manchester City, but Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan could be just as vital to Pep Guardiola's chances of completing the quadruple as the more celebrated names in their squad.

Silva's volley and Gundogan's brace in City's 4-0 romp at Basel on Tuesday left the Premier League leaders on the verge of the Champions League quarter-finals.

It was the perfect response from the duo after the January window, when the club were keen to sign Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez or Shakhtar Donetsk's Fred.

Silva was City's first signing last summer, joining at the end of May for £43 million (S$78.6 million) from Monaco, where he had enjoyed a run to the semi-finals of the Champions League.

At this stage of the competition last season, he set up Kylian Mbappe for the first goal in Monaco's 3-1 win over City, which knocked Guardiola's team out.

Yet by the time Boxing Day had arrived, he had started only 10 games, three of which came in the League Cup. He did not give up and showed he can be a threat in front of goal too when he beat Tomas Vaclik with a fierce left-footed shot for City's second goal at St Jakob-Park.

It was telling that when City manager Guardiola brought Leroy Sane on in the second half, he elected to take off Raheem Sterling rather than Silva.

There is no reason to think that the Portuguese cannot play a key role over the next three months as City pursue the League Cup and FA Cup titles, too.

The same goes for Gundogan, Guardiola's first signing at City.

Hampered by injury, he started eight games before Christmas. But, given his form, Guardiola has barely felt the absence of David Silva, who continues to miss the occasional training session or match to be with his partner and their son.

Tuesday's game was perfect for him. Basel sat deep, with a bank of four midfielders in front of their back five. Gundogan had time and space to collect the ball from Fernandinho and puncture the opposition midfield.

A long-range Sergio Aguero strike all but settled the tie ahead of the return leg at the Etihad Stadium on March 7.

"To win 4-0 away in the last 16 is an amazing result, we are almost in the quarter-finals, but I am not saying we are already there, out of respect for Basel," said Guardiola.

"We defended well and we were clinical - we had four chances and took them all."

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2018, with the headline 'In-form Silva, Gundogan storm back onto Pep's radar'. Print Edition | Subscribe