'Special Foden steals show in absence of Haaland & De Bruyne'

by 24britishtvApril 4, 2024, 3 a.m. 22
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Phil Foden can hardly be called a member of Manchester City's undercard given his consistent brilliance, but his precious value was underlined again with a show of dazzling brilliance against Aston Villa.

No De Bruyne? No Haaland? No problem. Not when you have got Phil Foden in this form.

If De Bruyne and Haaland are City's headline performers, than Foden has a strong case to join them at the top of the bill in Guardiola's galaxy of stars.

This was an outstanding Manchester City performance, the old quality back on show, but Foden was its beating heart, the peerless Rodri also playing his part.

'With big players absent, Guardiola looks for others to step up'

Guardiola's team sheet came as a surprise given City were facing dangerous top-four-chasing opposition in Villa under the shrewd stewardship of Unai Emery - especially as Haaland may have been in the mood to silence some detractors after unwarranted criticism of his performance in Sunday's goalless draw against Arsenal.

Instead, he was able to sit alongside De Bruyne on the City bench admiring a virtuoso performance from Foden, pulling every string in the number 10 role and illustrating again why he is so important to Guardiola, and why he simply must start for Gareth Southgate's England at Euro 2024.

When the big players are absent, Guardiola looks for others to step up. Foden assumed the role with ease to provide City's inspiration.

Foden's hat-trick came in all shapes, from a clever low free-kick to put City 2-1 up on the stroke of half-time to a smooth low finish to give them a two-goal advantage, before a fitting final flourish as he flashed a powerful strike high past Villa keeper Robin Olsen - deputising for Emiliano Martinez after he withdrew through illness - to wrap up the three points.

The 23-year-old has always had goals in his game - or "in his veins", to use Guardiola's words after the match. But this was his second hat-trick of the season after scoring three in City's win at Brentford, and his overall tally of 21 from midfield is hugely impressive - the best of his career. He has now scored 81 goals for City, his goal here his first from a direct free-kick.

This could have been a hazardous night for Guardiola and City after they looked off colour and subdued when being held 0-0 by Arsenal, barely posing a threat to Mikel Arteta's side.

It was down to Foden that any anxious moments on Wednesday evening - and there were some - were forgotten as City ended winners at a canter while showing the fluency, rhythm and threat they did not offer against Arsenal.

'He can do whatever he wants'

Foden was the key component in this return to City's best form, their display a warning to anyone foolish enough to wonder whether they can make another late dash for the title after a poor day against Arsenal.

He made this, in the end, a very comfortable and impressive night for the reigning champions, deserving every decibel of the rousing standing ovation he received when he was substituted with 10 minutes to go.

The arch-perfectionist Guardiola, almost inevitably, pointed out that Foden did not start well but he could not argue with how he finished, saying: "He can do whatever he wants. He's a really top-class player.

"He's still open-minded and he still has to understand some parts of the game, especially attention as he is sometimes distracted in the defensive parts. But his work ethic is unbelievable. He is so special, especially when he is playing in that central position."

And former England forward Theo Walcott told BBC 5 Live Sport: "Phil Foden has learned from Bernardo Silva, David Silva, Pep Guardiola, Kevin de Bruyne. He is, at this moment in time, one of the best players in the Premier League at the tender age of 23.

"He's playing like a 30-year-old, he's that knowledgeable. He's an extraordinary talent and because he's grown up in the city, with the academy and how much it means to him, it's even more special. He's living his dream."

De Bruyne and Haaland will return soon enough, especially with this Premier League title race threatening to go to the very last day as Arsenal and Liverpool refuse to give an inch. But if City are to win a sixth title in seven seasons, then the contribution and influence of Foden could well be of equal significance.
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