Manchester City winger Bernardo Silva hungry to clinch historic English domestic treble

Alam Khan 12/05/2019
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Bernardo Silva is aiming for a bumper finish to the season.

Four years ago Bernardo Silva celebrated a domestic treble with boyhood heroes Benfica at the age of 20.

But he will enjoy making history more with Manchester City if they become the first English side to achieve that same feat.

At least the Portuguese forward will have medals this time to mark the occasion.

Victory at Brighton will see City retain the Premier League title – the first time since Manchester United in 2009.

Having already won the League Cup, they will claim a domestic treble if they also defeat Watford in the FA Cup final on May 18.

Bernardo was part of the Benfica squad that won the championship, Portuguese Cup and League Cup in 2014, although he smiled as he recalled: “I didn’t get any medals. I hope this season I can get some medals.

“I didn’t play very much, I played only one game in each competition.

“I celebrated more as a fan back then, because I am a Benfica fan, than as a player because I trained three or four times with them, played five minutes in each game so it didn’t mean as much as a player as, for example, this season will if we win all the competitions.

“It’s very tough to win all the competitions in your country and we’re close to it.

“We haven’t done it yet, two games to go. We have to focus on Sunday first because it is an amazing achievement if we win back-to-back titles.

“We’re very hungry to make something different for this club. So this club has never won two Premier League titles in a row. We want to do it this season.

“We want to win all the domestic competitions, never happened in this club as well, and we want to try to make history. That’s our goal.”

Silva has had a fine season for Guardiola's men.

Silva has had a fine season for Guardiola’s men.

With 13 successive wins since losing at Newcastle in January, City have remarkably managed to recover a seven-point deficit and overhaul Liverpool, who are a point behind despite just one league defeat and described as “unbelievable” by Bernardo.

Last season Pep Guardiola’s men lifted the title with a record-breaking 100 points and finished 19 clear of second-placed Manchester United.

And Bernardo said the ability to fight as well as be flamboyant reflects how complete this team is.

“It says a lot about this squad, a very young squad that will try to win over the year as many titles as possible,” he added.

“I think what Liverpool have done this season is also amazing. They’ve been very good, they’ve pushed us, the way they are playing they make us better because we need to win.

“We make them better as well. So very tough, more emotional this year than it was last season.

“I would prefer to win it like last season, but no, it’s good, it’s good both ways.

“The way we broke all the records last season was also fantastic.

“It will, in my opinion, stay in Premier League history for a long time because the goals, the gap between the first and the second, the points, reaching 100 points, it’s never easy.

“But this season, of course, the way it was, we were seven points behind, almost 10 and to depend on ourselves to the last game, yeah, it means a lot.”

In a tense finale to this dramatic campaign, City have won three of their last four games 1-0, the other was a 2-0 success at neighbours United.

“The last games of the season are always more difficult, everyone is playing for points,” added Bernardo, who has scored 13 goals.

“The pressure is higher and yeah it’s true we’ve been winning games with very, very small margins, but all that matters is another three points.

“You feel you need to win because if you don’t win you don’t win the titles. But we’re used to this because season after season you play for the big things and the players are used to the pressure.

“So it’s a good thing. It means we are still playing for the title and we only depend on ourselves.”

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How Man City and Liverpool have ended the maxim 'if you are second, you are nothing'

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“If you are first, you are first. If you are second, you are nothing” – Bill Shankly.

Football’s intrinsic and unflinching concept of competition is rarely more heightened than during a title-deciding final day of Premier League action.

In a sport where you can win, lose or draw in any given game, the third possible outcome evaporates – unless in truly remarkable circumstance – when a campaign’s worth is judged in its totality.

This is the scenario for leaders Manchester City and second-placed Liverpool. Only a solitary – and utterly crucial – point separates the pair after 37 beguiling rounds, only one of them will be crowned champions.

First place is celebrated and the vanquished commiserate. An unbending notion memorably laid out above by Reds luminary, Shankly.

This binary outlook, however, will receive unprecedented challenge during Sunday’s finale.

When the pair have relentlessly exhibited unalloyed excellence without compare in the rest of the division, how can either, feasibly, be cast as a loser? All that they have attained wrought “nothing” by the absence of winners’ medals and celebratory fireworks?

The status quo should remain on Sunday. Especially when neither combatant has dropped a point since March 3’s goalless Merseyside derby.

But should the sustained genius of Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year winner Raheem Sterling become tainted by a City slip-up at safe Brighton & Hove Albion?

Professional Footballers’ Association Men’s Players’ Player of the Year recipient Virgil van Dijk’s omnipotent defending blemished in the aftermath of a clash against seventh-placed Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield, when a 30th victory from 38 run-outs probably will not be enough?

At a time when the top 10 of Deloitte’s Football Money League is populated by six Premier League clubs and an unprecedented four different clubs from one country – England – will compete in the Champions League and Europa League finals, top-flight dominance by the duo gains more merit.

What they have achieved bears repetition – and exaltation.

Liverpool sit 23 points ahead of third-placed Chelsea – a gap that may extend further on Sunday. This would be the biggest differential, purely on points, from the top two and the rest since the Football League began in 1888/89.

According to Opta, only two other seasons are similar in these 131 years – 1970/71 with Arsenal and Leeds (20 points to third-placed Tottenham) and 2011/12 with City and Manchester United (19 points to third-placed Arsenal).

In 1970/71, only two points were awarded per win. This figure, however, is potentially skewed by a 42-game season.

The goal differences of City (+69) and Liverpool (+65) more than doubles their closest competitor (Tottenham with +28).

Both the top two have conceded only 22 times. Tottenham boast the third-stingiest defence with 39 let in.

When it comes to scoring, Arsenal’s 70 is 17 fewer than Liverpool (87) and 21 fewer than City (91).

City’s likely final points tally of 98 is only bettered by their own 100 from 2017/18. Liverpool’s 97 would be the third highest.

Three of 2018/19’s top-four goal scorers play for Liverpool or City, with 22-goal Mohamed Salah leading the way. At the opposite end, the teams possess 20 clean sheets apiece from 37 fixtures – Chelsea are next with 15.

City were a class apart during 2017/18, breaking 12 team records upon their way to Premier League glory. To sustain these towering standards is astounding.

But should this Liverpool be considered inferior when they have engineered a position of possible usurpation, despite finishing 25 points in arrears 12 months ago?

City boss Pep Guardiola’s assessment this week that “Both Liverpool and us deserve the title” stands as counterpoint to the dominant sporting adage espoused by the likes of Shankly, who himself won 10 trophies from 1959-74 at Liverpool.

Shared veneration, however, should not upset traditionalists in this situation. Unique – and worthy – occasion doubles the acclaim of sporting brilliance, rather than halving it into insignificance.

Two clubs do not, typically, control English football. A situation that renders such chases de rigueur, elsewhere.

This is not the Scottish Premiership, where Aberdeen last broke the ‘Old Firm’ duopoly in 1984/85. Or even La Liga where Real Madrid and Barcelona have finished top in 14 of the past 15 seasons.

Abstraction should be prominent when judging City and Liverpool’s outstanding seasons. Outcome, this Sunday, should not reign supreme.

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Eden Hazard completes unprecedented clean sweep of end of season Chelsea awards

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Eden Hazard.

Eden Hazard has carved out a slice of Chelsea history in what could be his final season at the club after completing a clean sweep at their end-of-season awards ceremony.

The Belgium winger has been linked with a move to Real Madrid since last summer and with his contract set to expire in a year, the upcoming transfer window could be the one where he finally leaves the Blues – even though the club are facing a two-window transfer ban that would prevent them from signing a replacement.

In the midst of the speculation he has delivered one of his best seasons in a Chelsea shirt, with 19 goals and 16 assists across all competitions. On Thursday he stepped up to score the winning penalty in the shootout of their Europa League semi-final tie against Eintracht Frankfurt, with what was possibly his last kick at Stamford Bridge as a Chelsea player.

He has duly been recognised for his performances, winning the club’s men’s player of the year award for a fourth time in his seven-season spell at the club – no player has won more in Chelsea’s history.

At Friday’s awards ceremony he also picked up the players’ player of the year award and the goal of the season gong for his superb solo effort against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup in September, becoming the first player in club history to win all three in the same season.

Hazard remains unsure about his future at the club. Asked in the aftermath of the semi-final win about the possibility of the Europa League final being his last game in a Chelsea shirt, he said, “If it’s my last game I will try to do everything for this club to win a trophy. In my mind I don’t know yet if it will be my last game.”

But at the awards ceremony on Friday, he was prompted by a fan to sign a new contract, to which he responded, “where’s the pen?”

Chelsea play their final league game of the season on Sunday, against Leicester City, having locked up a top-four spot after last week’s win over Watford. Their Europa League final clash against Arsenal in Baku is on May 29.

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