As Manchester City paid tribute to a goalscoring midfielder, another belatedly remembered how to find the net. City emerged in shirts featuring the No 8 worn by Colin Bell for much of his distinguished career at Maine Road, along with a banner proclaiming “the king”, their late, great player of the 1960s and ’70s.
Bell remains the only midfielder to score 150 goals for City. If Bernardo Silva had not quite proved as prolific, a return of 30 in his first three seasons in Manchester was very respectable. He began this season by going 17 games without a goal and extricated himself from a drought with two inside 15 minutes.
The player who Pep Guardiola believes was the best in the Premier League in 2018-19 has regressed since then, but this was a reminder of the class he possesses. If the stage was set for a return to the scoresheet when Guardiola promised Sergio Agüero a first start since October, City’s record scorer ended up self-isolating as a close contact of someone who had tested positive for Covid-19. Instead, Silva’s brace included the sort of predatory strike Agüero would be proud to call his own.
It was rather too much for Birmingham City. Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough had eliminated City from the FA Cup six years ago but his current charges could not stage a sequel. A rival of Guardiola’s in many a Clásico and a former assistant of José Mourinho’s at Real Madrid, Karanka has forged a reputation for defensive excellence as a manager, but his side were elegantly eviscerated in the first half.
Then Guardiola took pity on Birmingham and removed Kevin De Bruyne. A midfielder who has inspired comparisons with Bell – not least from the latter’s former teammate Mike Summerbee – had delivered a masterclass.
It included two defence-splitting balls for Gabriel Jesus. Andrés Prieto saved the Brazilian’s first shot; the second, dinked over him, was cleared off the line by Maikel Kieftenbeld. Not for the first time, Jesus had the sort of day when the finish eluded him; perhaps the more potent Agüero’s absence spared Birmingham a thrashing.
As it was, Silva condemned Birmingham to a sixth defeat in seven games, stripping the afternoon of tension before any of the substitutes could warm up. His wait was ended in style with a goal of technical brilliance, the Portuguese latching on to George Friend’s headed clearance to hook in a half-volley. The watching Ederson shouted out his name in celebration.
His second was an altogether simpler finish. This time the excellence came from the move, involving Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez and culminating in De Bruyne’s cutback for Silva. He twice came close to completing a hat-trick, much to the disappointment of Ederson, who emerged from quarantine to exclaim his colleague’s name at regular intervals.
Thereafter, Foden drilled in a shot after Mahrez laid the ball off to him and the fractionally offside Mahrez had a goal disallowed. Birmingham substitute Jérémie Bela unleashed a couple of ferocious shots, but the contest was over.