An extravagantly gifted talent flew home instead of assisting Manchester City's pursuit of silverware last week but none of the acrimony that accompanied Carlos Tevez back to Argentina in October was present when David Silva headed for Spain. The former Valencia man travelled with City's blessing and demonstrated on his return against Wigan Athletic tonight that he and his side's prospects of winning a first Premier League title remain inextricably linked.
Silva has been instrumental in City's rise to the summit from the start of the season, of course, but it is also true that his form had started to show the effects of a demanding campaign since early December. The ankle injury that ruled him out of the Carling Cup semi-final first-leg defeat against Liverpool last Wednesday provided a cue for the rest that the 26-year-old has needed for a while.
Roberto Mancini had been reluctant to withdraw Silva's influence in the absence of a comparable creative spark from the likes of Samir Nasri and Adam Johnson, until injury gave the City manager no option but to despatch Silva to Spain with an instruction to indulge in a little R & R.
The benefits were felt within 22 minutes at the DW Stadium as the Spain international delivered the free-kick that Edin Dzeko headed beyond Ali al-Habsi to open the scoring. Though he appeared someway short of his early-season excellence, the midfielder was still the critical link between City's solid central midfield and fluid attack, his vision and touch encouraging a much improved display from Nasri in particular.
City supporters did not need to lose Silva to appreciate what the Abu Dhabi Group have bought for £24m but the performance against Liverpool in the Carling Cup exposed how pedestrian Mancini's team can be without him. Even with Silva injured and the spine of the team damaged further by the loss of Yaya and Kolo Touré to the Africa Cup of Nations, plus the suspension of Vincent Kompany, Mancini was still able to field Johnson, Nasri, Sergio Agüero and Mario Balotelli, who was playing through the pain barrier admittedly, in the semi-final.
Silva misplaced a few passes in and around the home penalty area in the opening stages against Wigan and hesitated with the one shooting opportunity that came his way in the first half, but the ability to find space in front of an opposing defence, and the instinct to locate a better-placed colleague without a look, distinguished City from what was otherwise a routine display against the bottom-placed club.
Dzeko was not the only City forward to prosper once Silva's accuracy returned. Nasri has struggled to find any consistency since his summer move from Arsenal but prospered on the right against Wigan and had Silva's distribution to thank for a more prominent outing than he delivered as a substitute against Dalglish's side.
It was the Spaniard's ball that enabled Nasri to beat Maynor Figueroa and force a fine low save from Habsi on the stroke of half-time and then, 10 minutes after the restart, came Silva's best, a glorious 30-yard pass threaded through the Wigan defence for Agüero . The Argentine would duly have provided one of the goals of the season but for Dzeko's leaden-footed and comical (though not in City's eyes) steal at the end of his intricate waltz through the home penalty area.
It is the galvanising effect on those around him that makes Silva vital to City's prospects of prising the Premier League crown from Old Trafford and from now on, with Tottenham Hotspur to come in the league on Sunday and the second leg with Liverpool at Anfield later this month, there is no obvious room in the calender for further respite. Silva may have to be excused all Europa League commitments to concentrate his energies on the prize City want above all others.
The Spaniard offered Mancini the creativity that was sorely lacking in recent outings but defensively, City must remain a concern for their manager as they enter a phase when victories tend to be chiselled out. Vincent Kompany's ban cannot end quickly enough for a team that has no one to match his authority and composure at the back. Stefan Savic, in fairness, was less erratic than when he returned to the starting lineup against Liverpool and Pablo Zabaleta, overlooked for the semi-final but handed the captain's armband with Micah Richards also absent against Wigan, brought much-needed experience.
Silva's night ended with nine minutes remaining, having forced another good save from Habsi at close range, as Mancini introduced Nedum Onuoha and looked to hold on to City's slender advantage, although Dzeko and Agüero had further chances to extend the visitors lead. The break had served the Spaniard well.