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Thiago Silva shows that age is just a number

Experience can be overrated. There is a tendency to attribute a 30-something defender’s every positive action to his longevity in the game. These players are often said to have “used all their experience” when shepherding the ball out for a goal-kick or nudging a striker off-balance. Yet, as Chelsea demonstrated on Sunday, good defending has no age requirement. Yet while the 28-year-old Antonio Rudiger and the 25-year-old Andreas Christensen also impressed in Chelsea’s 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur, Thiago Silva – who celebrates his 37th birthday on Wednesday – was undoubtedly the star of the show.

The Brazilian opened the scoring with a fine header from a corner, but it was his all-round performance which earned him the Man of the Match award. Spurs’ setup suggested they felt Silva could be exploited. Harry Kane was deployed in a left-sided attacking role in possession, with Son Heung-min stationed closest to Silva at the heart of Chelsea’s back three. The idea was presumably to try and get Son running directly at the Brazilian, who is not as quick as he once was.

Thiago Silva dealt with the challenge admirably. Chelsea came under pressure in the first 25 minutes, as Tottenham got on the front foot and showed the energy and aggression that had been so sorely lacking in their 3-0 defeat by Crystal Palace. Spurs had a few bright moments, but they fashioned few clear-cut chances. Silva marshalled Son brilliantly, with the subdued South Korean having very little influence on proceedings.

There was no guarantee that Thiago Silva would be such a success at Stamford Bridge. No one could question his CV when he arrived on a free transfer in 2020. Silva was once regarded as the best centre-back in the world at AC Milan, and he was a regular starter throughout a 12-year spell at a Paris Saint-Germain side determined to conquer Europe. You do not win close to 100 caps for Brazil without being a seriously good footballer.

Yet Silva pitched up in west London on the cusp of his 36th birthday, at which time questions were being asked about whether he could still cut it at the highest level. The Premier League is patently a more demanding competition than Ligue 1. He then had to adapt to a new system mid-season, as Frank Lampard was replaced by Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea shifted to a back three.

Legendary veterans have not always excelled during spells in the Premier League in the autumn of their careers. Laurent Blanc underwhelmed at Manchester United all those years ago. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Stephan Lichtsteiner struggled more recently. Chelsea have previous with Andriy Shevchenko and Radamel Falcao.

Thiago Silva did not start every match last season, as one would expect of a player coming towards the end of his career. But when he played, he tended to deliver. The way he has started this season indicates he still has plenty left to give.

Silva is composed both with and without the ball. He is an expert reader of the game and much better in the air than a 5ft 11in defender has a right to be. He might not be a natural leader – Silva was stripped of the Brazil captaincy by Dunga after signs of emotional fragility at the 2014 World Cup – but he lets his performances do the talking. The unruffled display he delivered on Sunday was up there with his best in English football.

“He was outstanding. He almost scored twice and he’s so strong,” Tuchel said after the game. “The delivery was good for his goal and we are very happy that he was able to score and open the game for us today but his performance even in the first half was outstanding. It was a fantastic performance.”

A league champion in Italy and France, Thiago Silva will now be eyeing a Premier League title triumph with Chelsea at the ripe old age of 37.

 


 

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