Brilliant Bernardo taking the fight to biggest rivals for Pep's Man City bullies

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Bernardo Silva Manchester City 2021-22Getty Images

On an almost perfect return to his home city, perhaps the only thing that went wrong for Bernardo Silva on Tuesday was that he was denied a first ever Manchester City hat-trick.

The Portugal midfielder could not have dreamt that his trip back to Lisbon for City's last-16 Champions League clash with Sporting C.P. would go this well.

And yet it should come as no shock, as Bernardo is showing that he is able to thrive more than most when faced with a rival, regardless of whether that is because of a personal grudge or one of the few teams who can match City in the Premier League.

A mischievous smile could be seen on the 27-year-old's face as the former Benfica academy player lined up for the Champions League anthem at the home of his boyhood rivals.

It was even broader 17 minutes later, as he celebrated in front of the home fans after his thumping half-volley crashed down off the underside of the crossbar to give City a 2-0 lead.

By the time Bernardo's low shot was deflected in off Goncalo Inacio for City’s fourth just before half-time, City were utterly bullying the Portuguese champions, with their midfield playmaker having the time of his life.

The boos and whistles that had tried to intimidate Bernardo and three of his fellow ex-Benfica team-mates - Ederson, Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo - had long been silenced.

He gave a wave to the crowd when he headed in for half-time, with the home fans' only enjoyment coming early in the second period when Bernardo's header that would have earned him the match ball was ruled out for offside by VAR.

That was, though, a short relief, as Pep Guardiola’s side continued their dominance with the ruthless control that has seen them take charge of the Premier League title race.

"Was I very offside? It would have been great to score a hat-trick but I'm happy with two goals,” Bernardo told BT Sport at full-time.

"I am Portuguese and I'm from the other side of the city, so it was special to score here in my home town.”

For Guardiola it underlines that his team can now go anywhere in the world and play on the front foot, with players like Bernardo possessing the courage to take the fight to any opponent.

Skilful, quick-thinking, tactically and technically brilliant, Bernardo also has the battling instincts to back up his talent.

He showed it earlier in the season, when he dazzled at Anfield on his first return to the ground with spectators since a social media row with some Liverpool fans.

Back at the Estadio Jose Alvalade, he sparkled again. Driving past Sporting defenders with ease, linking up with Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling to pass their opponents off the pitch and taking his chances when they came.

Man City celebrate Bernardo Silva goal vs Sporting, UCL 2021-22
Getty

"Always I push him to score more goals," Guardiola said. "Not talking about how good he is, he has everything. He has the ability to score more goals. Today in his city, from the rivals Benfica, I'm sure he's happy."

Bernardo was not the only one ex-Benfica player having fun on the night, either.

Ruben Dias seemed to demand the ball at every opportunity in the opening minutes to attract even more jeers; Ederson pulled off an outrageous drawback and no-look pass to flummox a pressing Paulinho; and Joao Cancelo did the same with an audacious dummy. And they had every right to enjoy themselves.

Riyad Mahrez’s opener, given after a long VAR check, and a Phil Foden goal either side of Bernardo’s strikes saw City become the first away team to have a four-goal half-time lead in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Raheem Sterling then scored a brilliant fifth to join the top-10 list of all-time City’s scorers with 127 in all competitons. But the night belonged to Bernardo.

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Sporting fans hurled their insults when he was substituted late in the game, but they must fear what he might do at the Etihad Stadium in the second leg next month.

It seems almost unnecessary to play the game after such a one-sided affair, and with both sides concentrating on domestic title challenges.

Guardiola may well, therefore, rotate his side for the rematch, but Bernardo will no doubt want to play and embarrass Sporting all over again.