Manuel Pellegrini must drop David Silva at Manchester City
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is a sucker for giving in to temptation. It's entirely understandable why he does it, but sometimes he can be his own worst enemy when it comes to naming recently injured players in the starting lineup for matches, or bringing them in from the bench when he doesn't need to.
Through the Christmas period of 2014-15, the Chilean was without Sergio Aguero, yet as soon as he returned to training he was back in the team. It was clear from his performances that he was running through treacle and still needed time to get back to his devastating best. But still, he was left on the pitch, simply because he might pull out a world class strike and turn around a game.
Earlier in this campaign, one could argue that Vincent Kompany was rushed back to the team on a couple of occasions, both of which resulted in longer lay-offs. Even when it's been clear that Yaya Toure needs fewer responsibilities in central midfield, Pellegrini has stuck with him, giving him little rest. He trusts the Ivorian, one of City's best passers, to keep the ball moving -- but he can't do that so well when he's shattered.
It's an unwritten rule of football that a team cannot carry passengers -- in other words, players who aren't cutting the mustard on the field and who aren't putting in performances that merit a place in the side. The degree to which they're influential is often debatable, but it's often universally held that someone who isn't pulling their weight needs to be dropped.
In the 1990's, when Manchester City weren't blessed with quite as much of quality, there was an argument that Georgi Kinkladze had to be the first player on the teamsheet as the only creative hope for the side. The fans loved him for his jinking runs and his exciting football, but the truth was he was an individual talent in a terrible squad.
As the years went on and as City sunk lower, the Georgian wasn't able to keep up his form. He was regularly picked on the off-chance that he would produce the goods, but the burden fell entirely to him to be creative and it felt like he was being swamped by the pressure. More often than not, he couldn't do it -- but he was still picked just in case.
Recently in an interview with the Blue Moon Podcast, then-manager Frank Clark said he felt like it was his fault that he "never solved the problem" of what to do with Kinkladze and how to best use him in the team.
Roughly 20 years on and there's currently a similar feeling with David Silva. Having seen what the Spaniard has produced at City since his arrival in 2010, it's easy to pinpoint why the manager will select him every week without fail -- he's perhaps the best creative midfielder the Premier League has seen, why wouldn't he be selected?
However, he's not hit peak form for some time. He's been misplacing more passes than ever before, he's been anonymous in several matches since the turn of 2016, and he's looking more and more frustrated as the games go by.
There is speculation that his nagging ankle injury -- which has plagued his time in England -- has been flaring up and that he's not been fully fit since his return from his last lay off in December. He's been shown icing his ankle after games and, while that might only be a precaution, it suggests all isn't right.
Silva's in something of a difficult position, however. If Samir Nasri and Kevin De Bruyne had both been fit in the last few months, it's likely that the Spaniard would have been given the rest that he so clearly needs. With the Frenchman having been sidelined since the opening weeks of the season and with the Belgian having been carried off in the 3-1 Capital One Cup semifinal win over Everton in January, Pellegrini has had few options in creative midfield.
Equally, regular appearances while off form aren't doing Silva any good and he's been a victim of circumstance with more serious injuries elsewhere in the squad. If City are to get a title challenge together in the final months of the campaign, or if they're to mount a defence against those coming to steal a top four place, they need their best performers on the pitch.
At the moment, the Spaniard isn't one of them. He's been a consistently superb performer for City down the years; he just needs some time to rest and recover to get back to that level.
David Mooney is a writer and a radio journalist based in Manchester. He is also news editor on 104.9 Imagine FM. Twitter: @DavidMooney