Pep Guardiola admitted that Bernardo Silva could leave Manchester City before the transfer window closes next month, with Barcelona heavily linked.
When Pep Guardiola arrived at the Nou Camp to announce Manchester City’s friendly against Barcelona later this month, the Catalan media were preoccupied with something other than the charity match. Silva, Bernardo.
Guardiola remained diplomatic, even though Barcelona president Joan Laporta attempted to press the issue himself, and talk of Bernardo moving to Barcelona has since died down. However, with the Catalans looking to offload Frenkie De Jong and making some dubious transfers for a club in financial trouble, that speculation has returned.
So Guardiola’s admission that he doesn’t know if Bernardo will still be a City player after the transfer deadline on September 1 foreshadowed a month of speculation from Spain over one of the Blues’ most important players.
Bernardo has started all three of City’s preseason games in midfield alongside Kevin De Bruyne, playing a slightly more defensive role than his attacking role last season. This is due, in part, to the arrival of two number nines, who have relieved the pressure on Bernardo, De Bruyne, Phil Foden, and Riyad Mahrez to play as the ‘false nine.’
It’s a role he excelled at in 2019/20, when his attacking output fell short of his brilliant form from the previous two seasons, but he instead improved his tactical and positional game to a level that significantly improved his overall quality. If he does leave, it will be even more devastating than losing Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, or Aleks Zinchenko.
Naturally, Guardiola expressed his hope that Bernardo will stay, and he clarified that he was not implying that the Portuguese player was about to leave. However, he will be aware that Bernardo wanted to leave last summer because he was not at ease in Manchester during the pandemic, and City never refuses a player who requests to leave — as Guardiola reminded him on Friday — on the condition that an acceptable bid is received.
So far, no Barcelona bid has arrived, though City believes one will arrive within the next month, so they must decide whether they have enough cover to deal with his departure.
Ilkay Gundogan could easily fill in, while Kalvin Phillips is an extra face in midfield who can play the box-to-box role with a defensive brief that Bernardo appears to be playing this summer. Phil Foden and Jack Grealish could also be used in the center, though wide options are limited this season following the departures of Sterling and Jesus.
City, as usual, would be able to cope if Bernardo left, though it would be less than ideal, and Guardiola already has a smaller squad than he has ever had at City. Losing a player like Bernardo would add even more uncertainty to a club that has built its success on an element of consistency and control.
Guardiola hinted at entering the winter transfer market to address their left-back issues, which may be required to find a replacement for Bernardo if he leaves as well. He knows he has a squad of quality players who can cover for Bernardo, but he also knows it will be difficult to find a like-for-like replacement, especially at such 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.