Reflecting on his first season in England ahead of last year’s FA Cup final, Manchester City playmaker David Silva felt that their opponent that day epitomized the cultural differences he had experienced since leaving Valencia and La Liga more than any other. “There isn’t a Spanish Stoke,” he told The Guardian.


The tallest team in the Premier League didn’t daunt one of its smallest players. Bear in mind that Silva, at least according to his former coach Luis Aragonés, is in possession of some the “biggest balls” in the game. There’s little obvious machismo to his style of play, but as Stoke were to find out, he proved a constant thorn in their side at Wembley, conjuring and squandering a number of chances before involving himself in the build up to Yaya Touré’s winning goal, which ended a 35-year wait for a major trophy.


Mindful as all teams now are of Silva’s ability to seriously hurt opponents with his artistry rather than any uncharacteristic aggression, Stoke laid it on thicker than they have in previous encounters when the City No.21 visited the Britannia Stadium again last Saturday.  Contesting a header, he received an elbow to the side of the head from Dean Whitehead. A gash opened up and he required a head bandage to control the bleeding.


It left Silva looking like an `80s tennis star, except that the animated John McEnroe role was taken by a less than happy Roberto Mancini protesting on the sidelines to the fourth official about referee Howard Webb’s apparent willingness to persist with the “anything goes” line he used in the 2010 World Cup final when, coincidentally, one of City’s players Nigel de Jong kung-fu kicked Xabi Alonso and got off lightly.


Silva stayed cool, as Björn Borg probably would have done, but between one master on grass and another, the City midfielder couldn’t find a way to win and was hauled off by his manager after 62 minutes. A slight dip in his performances levels has been noticeable in recent weeks. Silva can be excused considering the exceptionally high standards he has set for himself throughout this season. He is a worthy candidate for Footballer of the Year and will certainly rival Arsenal striker Robin van Persie for votes.


But of late the conductor of City’s orchestra hasn’t been on song and, like against Chelsea, for instance, Samir Nasri has had to pick up the baton. Silva has made more assists than any other player in the Premier League this season, but he hasn’t set up another for one of his teammates in seven league games.


It would of course be wide of the mark to associate City’s stumbles exclusively to Silva’s ever so slightly faltering form.  This must be seen in a wider context that takes into account, for example, how Manchester United have really hit their stride. Then there’s the inopportune timing of Vincent Kompany’s injury, the exhaustion of players like Sergio Agüero as well as the difficulties that Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko have had in finding the net away from home on a regular basis since the beginning of the New Year, which led Mancini to swallow his pride and reintegrate the outlawed Carlos Tevéz.


This title race is as relentless as that of the 2008-09 season. There’s absolutely no let off from the mental and physical pressure, and that can take a toll. It’s quite understandable that Silva is suffering from some fatigue.


Aside from goalkeeper Joe Hart, no one has played more minutes for City this season.  He is pushing through the pain barrier too, coping with a left ankle complaint. “This ankle,” Silva told The Daily Telegraph earlier this month, “it is something that I have had problems with for years and years. Every day, I have to look after it. It’s not 100 per cent, but I just have to look after it. Playing all these games in England is hard, so it is impossible, totally impossible, to be completely 100 per cent all the time.”


City are managing Silva with care. He has been substituted in each of their last four matches to protect his fitness, but there have, in some cases, also been tactical reasons for his withdrawals.


Typically Silva starts either on the right or the left-hand side. He then comes into the centre of the pitch, as either of City’s full-backs overlap to stretch the opposition defence out-wide. This creates gaps in the middle that he can exploit with his passing. But, as Stoke showed on Saturday, there’s success to be had in leaving City’s full-backs to cross. They’re not wingers and their delivery isn’t great.


Rather than leave their starting positions to go out and meet City’s full-backs, Stoke were much happier to defend narrow and keep tight. All the holes Silva usually plays through were blocked. It was a good tactic because Stoke made City attack in a way that played to their strengths in defence.


It’s funny isn’t it how earlier this season, Mancini was seen to be lacking a deep-lying playmaker. He appeared to address that by signing David Pizarro in the January transfer window, though the midfielder, who is on loan from Roma, has been used less frequently than anticipated. Now, in light of what happened at Stoke, it’s a natural winger that City apparently need. Silva was replaced by Adam Johnson at the weekend. He might become more of a protagonist in the weeks to come precisely for that reason.


Yet it won’t be at Silva’s expense. Mancini may simply reconsider starting Nasri and Silva together on either flank. Their inclination to drift inside leaves City with little width. Saturday’s game against Sunderland, when City’s chances of staying perfect at home will be bolstered by the expected returns of Kompany and Joleon Lescott, will also be Mancini’s next opportunity to answer this question. Relatively speaking, it’s a nice one to be posed.


But come April 30, he will want Silva to be back to his brilliant best. It was against United that he arguably gave his finest performance in a City shirt. A repeat of that display, should his side still be in the title race, might well put the Silva in Silverware.


This article first appeared on Fox Soccer