Monaco's thriving Zorro lookalike who's aiming to make his mark at Arsenal

The Ligue 1 side's 20-year-old Portuguese midfielder is upstaging Joao Moutinho, writes Andrew Gibney...

The 60-second story

FACT FILE

  • Date of birth: August 10, 1994
  • Place of birth: Lisbon, Portugal
  • Height: 5ft 8in
  • Position: Attacking midfield
  • Current club: AS Monaco (28 apps, 4 goals)
  • International: Portugal U21 (8 caps, 5 goals)

After finishing second to Paris Saint-Germain last season, the summer was supposed to be one of progress for AS Monaco. In truth, the weeks leading up to the new Ligue 1 campaign were turbulent to say the least.

James Rodriguez was the biggest departure. After nine goals and 12 assists in the league, it was always going to be a huge hole to fill. Wesley Sneijder, Douglas Costa and Nicolas Gaitan were all mentioned, but with president Dmitri Rybolovlev downsizing, the replacement was Bernardo Silva, on loan from Portuguese side Benfica. Underwhelming was an understatement. Although he was a Portugal Under-19 international, the midfielder had only played once for Benfica's first team.

Silva took a few months to find his feet, but once Leonardo Jardim gave him a run in the side, the little midfielder began to make his mark. Impressive displays in the league and both cups earned the 20-year-old a permanent move, and Monaco spent €15 million to sign him on a four-and-a-half year deal.

When Radamel Falcao and James left Monaco, it should have become Joao Moutinho’s team, but the experienced Portuguese midfielder has been upstaged by his young protégé. Even though Moutinho has played more, it’s Silva who has added more goals and assists to the Monegasque side.

One of them is a 28-year-old international who is constantly linked with moves to the Premier League, but the other is offering Monaco more on the pitch and who the Ligue 1 side will build their future around.

Why you need to know him

Monaco travel to Arsenal on Wednesday night, and whether it’s from the start or off the bench, Silva is a danger to the Gunners' chances of qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

With the Emirates Stadium showdown in mind, boss Jardim kept Silva on the bench for Friday’s Cote d’Azur derby against Nice. The game was stuck at 0-0 and Monaco were down to 10 men when the Portuguese midfielder made his entrance. He always gives the principality side a burst of energy from deep, and is starting to show his ability to create chances in the final third.

Not to disappoint on this occasion, it was Silva who popped up to give the away side a crucial 1-0 derby victory, pouncing on a loose ball on the edge of box before placing it in the far corner.

Silva is able to play almost anywhere in the Monaco midfield, and although he won’t always take control of games and influence from start to finish, he will always make himself known.

Strengths

Still only 20, Silva is already showing that he could play in almost any attacking position on the pitch. He loves to get on the ball before either driving forward with purpose, or picking a pass and finding space to create problems for the opposition defence.

There are definite similarities to Silva’s game and that of Manchester City’s James Milner. Both possess great technique on the ball, although Silva prefers his left foot to his right.

But the quality can come from wide, from set-pieces and through the centre. Silva’s attacking potency catches the eye, but his overall game is just as impressive.

His performance against Evian in the Coupe de la Ligue showcased exactly what the young Portuguese is capable of. There were only a few minutes left on the clock when the midfielder launched himself into a sliding tackle inside his own half. Silva won the ball, and helped it on its way to Anthony Martial.

Rather than think his job was done, Silva bombed forward, giving the striker an option to pass. Martial went on his own, scoring the vital second goal, but it wouldn’t have happened without Silva’s non-stop industry.

Weaknesses

It is hard to be critical of Silva. Aged just 20 he has left Portugal and made a move to another country, with a team that lost a lot of big-name stars last summer. However, there are certainly areas where he will have to improve if he wants to continue to develop. When you see how good he can be on the ball, it’s disappointing that it comes in small doses. He needs to have more confidence in his own ability and show more assertiveness. Rather than look to others, he has the talent to play a bigger role, but that will come in time.

Playing in France, Silva will have to improve his physical conditioning if he is to have more time and space on the ball. At just 5ft 8in he is small with a thin physique. This doesn’t mean he’s not aggressive and tenacious, which helps him overcome tough battles, but with work he could be more commanding.

They said…

When Silva signed his permanent deal in January, Monaco’s vice president and sporting director Vadim Vasilyev said: "Bernardo is one of those talented young players around whom AS Monaco is keen to build its future. He has already shown our fans his potential this season, and it was important for us to hold onto the player. We would now like to see Bernardo continue his development as part of our high-quality squad."

Before he broke through at Benfica, he was spotted by the Portuguese champions' former youth coach Helena Costa, who revealed that he stood out from the pack on first view.

"I remember looking at the pitch and saw a little player with long hair who impressed everyone with his left foot. It was impossible not to see his talent. It is a gift."

Did you know?

This season in Ligue 1, Silva has scored three goals for Monaco. In all three games, with all three goals, it has led to Monaco winning the fixture 1-0 – twice at home against Nantes and Marseille, and last weekend in the derby against Nice. He might not be a constant goal threat, but when he scores it makes a huge difference.

What happens next?

TALENTSPOTTER RATINGS

  • Shooting 7
  • Heading 5
  • Tackling 7
  • Pace 7
  • Dribbling 7
  • Creativity 7
  • Work-rate 8

Monaco go into Wednesday’s game against Arsenal as clear underdogs. It will take two strong defensive performances from the Ligue 1 side if they are to have any chance of progressing. Even with two clean sheets, they will need to find a way past Arsene Wenger’s side to take advantage of a strong defence.

Monaco will look to play on the break, and that is where Silva is in his element. He has the drive to push the team forward, the vision to split a defence and an increasingly impressive eye for goal.

The future is extremely bright for the young midfielder. Monaco have a wonderful player on their hands, someone who can be there for the next few years and be crucial in ASM becoming a force in French football. If the Zorro lookalike can make an impact in the Champions League, more people will start to sit up and recognise the name. First, Wenger will hope to keep him under wraps.

Arsenal vs Monaco LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone