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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Masterful Thiago Silva proves age is just a number with peerless display

It feels like with each passing season Thiago Silva gets a year younger, although he might not have felt it following his brilliant first-half goal-line clearance against Juventus.

Silva is 37 going on 27 and produced an acrobatic clearance that players far younger than him would have been proud of to stop Alvaro Morata scoring on his Stamford Bridge return.

The Brazilian hurt himself in the process of keeping Morata out and yet he managed to carry on and did not put a foot out of place in what proved to be a comfortable Chelsea victory.

Head coach Thomas Tuchel will now be sweating over the fitness of N’Golo Kante and Ben Chilwell after both players were forced off, but Silva looked in good shape to keep his place for the visit of Manchester United on Sunday.

This was Silva’s 21st appearance for club and country this season, and we are still a month shy of Christmas. He played 34 times for the Blues last season, having arrived from Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.

No wonder Tuchel had been furious at PSG’s decision not to offer Silva a new deal last summer and the French club’s loss has been very much Chelsea’s gain.

It is no exaggeration to say that Silva is on course to go down as one of the best free transfer signings in English football history. He won the Champions League in his first season with Chelsea and could easily finish his second with a Premier League title.

This success over Juventus also underlined the possibility of Chelsea holding on to their Champions League crown, with the club now safely qualified for the knockout stages and likely to finish top of Group H.

Silva may not wear the captain’s armband, but he sets standards on and off the pitch for all those around him. He quickly formed a close bond with former head coach Frank Lampard after first moving to England and has been leaned on heavily by Tuchel since the German’s arrival in January.

Lampard would spend hours talking to Silva about the game in his office at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground and Tuchel also speaks with him privately.

Tuchel will recommend that Silva is offered another one-year extension to his contract, with the ex-PSG coach already convinced that the former AC Milan star will not slow down before the World Cup in Qatar next Christmas.

Silva stated that playing in the 2022 World Cup was a big motivation for him when he first joined Chelsea and, fitness permitting, he will achieve that goal comfortably.

Even if there comes a time later this season when Silva needs a rest or suffers an injury, Tuchel knows that his influence will remain key in and around the dressing-room, and in the stands. Who could forget how he celebrated last season’s Champions League victory against Atletico Madrid with Jorginho and Mason Mount on the Stamford Bridge stairs?

Silva has been used as an example of how a top professional works for some of Chelsea’s young players, with Tuchel particularly impressed with the effort he even puts into post-match running sessions when he has been an unused substitute.

Given how well he has settled into life in London with his wife Isabele, Silva’s one small regret might be that he did not make the move to the Premier League slightly earlier in his career.

But he is making up for lost time and making sure that he will go out with a bang, rather than simply allowing his career to wind down in any way.

Tuchel got off his seat in the Chelsea dug-out to applaud above his head after Silva had stepped in front of Morata to cut out an attempted long pass with his chest. Moments earlier, the defender had forced Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to make a save from a header.

Silva conserved his energy by staying back by the centre circle when the rest of the Chelsea team celebrated Reece James’ goal, but could not hold himself back when Callum Hudson-Odoi killed the game with the home side’s third moments later. Substitute Timo Werner scored a late fourth.

Legendary Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci had been made to look every one of his 34 years by Chelsea’s brilliant, energetic young academy graduates, while Silva had been masterful in his marshalling of the home team’s back-line.

There was a late header in front of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy that reaffirmed Silva’s resolute determination to keep a clean sheet even with the game long since won. For him, age is just a number.

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