SILVA LIN­ING

Play­maker’s ser­vice key to team’s Cham­pi­ons League dream

New Straits Times - - Sport -

MANCH­ESTER

DAVID Silva’s come­back from in­jury helped in­spire Manch­ester City’s re­turn to form last weekend, and his fit­ness is likely to prove cru­cial to their Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fi­ca­tion prospects.

Silva, back from a fort­night out with a knee in­jury, was su­perb as City beat an in­ept Crys­tal Palace 5-0, for only their third win in nine Premier League matches.

That vic­tory has left Pep Guardi­ola’s side fourth go­ing into to­day’s home match against Le­ices­ter City, with a three-point lead over fifth-placed Arse­nal and only the top four at the end of the sea­son qualifying for the Cham­pi­ons League.

Ser­gio Aguero is mak­ing progress in his re­cov­ery from a groin in­jury, al­though it may be too soon for him to make a come­back.

In any case, City’s front three of Ra­heem Ster­ling, Gabriel Je­sus and Leroy Sane were in fine form with­out him last Satur­day, aided by the cre­ativ­ity of Silva and Kevin De Bruyne.

Seven points from their fi­nal three matches will guar­an­tee City’s place in next sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League, a tar­get they would be more than hope­ful of achiev­ing given that the Le­ices­ter game is fol­lowed by matches against West Bromwich Al­bion and Wat­ford, both out of form.

Then again, reign­ing English cham­pi­ons Le­ices­ter were strug­gling when City vis­ited the King Power Sta­dium in De­cem­ber, yet Jamie Vardy was still able to score a hat-trick in a 4-2 home vic­tory.

Guardi­ola’s side do look a lit­tle more set­tled now, though, with Vin­cent Kom­pany’s re­turn to fit­ness giv­ing the de­fence a much more solid look.

Kom­pany, trou­bled by a se­ries of in­jury prob­lems over the last three years, has com­pleted 90 min­utes in each of City’s last five matches, sug­gest­ing that his trou­bles may fi­nally be be­hind him.

City man­ager Guardi­ola is with­out first-choice goal­keeper Clau­dio Bravo, out for the rest of the sea­son with a calf in­jury, but his ab­sence hasn’t hurt his team’s prospects un­duly, given the Chile in­ter­na­tional’s er­ratic dis­plays.

Willy Ca­ballero’s fine save from Chris­tian Ben­teke in the first half against Palace showed he is a more than able deputy, and he will con­tinue for the sea­son’s fi­nal three games.

Ca­ballero had a run of Premier League matches for City be­tween Jan­uary and early April when Bravo was dropped, and re­mained philo­soph­i­cal when the for­mer Barcelona goal­keeper was then re­called.

“I tried to be fo­cused when Clau­dio started to play again and I trained well,” said Ca­ballero. “I kept my pro­fes­sion­al­ism. “Un­for­tu­nately he prob­a­bly can’t play un­til next sea­son but I trained re­ally hard for this op­por­tu­nity.”

Le­ices­ter have as­sured their safety in the Premier League with 22 points gained in 10 do­mes­tic games since Craig Shake­speare took charge fol­low­ing the sur­prise sack­ing of ti­tle-win­ning man­ager Clau­dio Ranieri.

But the cur­rent Foxes boss will have to com­plete his au­di­tion for a longer-term con­tract with­out mid­fielder Danny Drinkwa­ter, who has been ruled out for the rest of the sea­son.

Shake­speare could also face a cri­sis in cen­tral de­fence, where Robert Huth is a ma­jor doubt with a foot in­jury and cap­tain Wes Mor­gan’s ham­string prob­lem will rule him out again. AFP

EPA PIC

Manch­ester City’s David Silva cel­e­brates scor­ing the open­ing goal dur­ing their Premier League match against Crys­tal Palace last Satur­day. City won 5-0.

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