Man City have four options to replace Bernardo Silva after Pep Guardiola transfer revelation

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When Pep Guardiola appeared at the Nou Camp to announce Manchester City’s friendly with Barcelona later this month, the Catalan media were more bothered about something else than the charity match. Bernardo Silva.

Guardiola remained diplomatic, even if Barca president Joan Laporta tried to press the issue himself, and since then talk of Bernardo moving to Barcelona has quietened. However, with the Catalans looking to offload Frenkie De Jong, and making some questionable moves in the transfer market for a club with financial issues, that speculation has returned.

So when Guardiola admitted he doesn’t know if Bernardo will still be a City player after the transfer deadline on September 1, it foreshadowed a month of likely speculation from Spain over one of the Blues’ most important players.

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Bernardo has started all three of City’s pre-season fixtures in midfield alongside Kevin De Bruyne, operating in a slightly more defensive role than his attacking brief last season. That is in part due to the arrival of two number nines, who have taken the pressure off the likes of Bernardo, De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez to play as the ‘false nine’.

It’s a role he performed so well in 2019/20 when his attacking input dropped from his brilliant form for the two years previous, but he instead developed his tactical and positional game to a level that improved his overall quality significantly. If he does leave, it would be a bigger blow than losing Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus or Aleks Zinchenko.

Naturally, Guardiola said he hopes Bernardo will stay, and he backtracked slightly on his initial comments by insisting he was not saying that the Portuguese player was set to leave. However, he will also know that Bernardo wanted to leave last summer as he was not comfortable in Manchester during the pandemic, and City never stand in the way of a player who asks to leave — something Guardiola reminded him of on Friday — with the condition that an acceptable bid is received.

So far no Barcelona bid has arrived, although it sounds like City accept one may come in the next month, so they will have to decide if they have enough cover to cope with his departure.

Ilkay Gundogan could fill in pretty comfortably, while Kalvin Phillips is an extra face in midfield and can play the box-to-box role with a defensive brief that Bernardo seems to have been playing this summer. Phil Foden and Jack Grealish could also be used in the centre, although wide options are thinner this season after Sterling and Jesus left.

As ever, City could cope if Bernardo left, although it would be less than ideal, and Guardiola already has a smaller squad than he’s ever had at City. In a year when the World Cup is set to throw up plenty of unknowns and extra pressures on clubs, losing a player like Bernardo would add even more uncertainty to a club that have built their success on an element of consistency and control.

Guardiola hinted at entering the winter transfer market to sort their left-back issues if required, and that may be necessary to find a replacement for Bernardo if he leaves, too. He knows he has a squad of quality players versatile enough to cover for Bernardo, but he will also know he will struggle to find a like-for-like replacement, especially at short notice.

While City have the options to defend their title without Bernardo, doing so will be far more difficult. When the Blues travel to Barcelona for the friendly a week before the transfer deadline, expect plenty of talk around Bernardo’s future.

City will be hoping it is nothing more than a sideshow, rather than a genuine threat to their chances this season.