Football Features

Foden ready to step up as Guardiola’s go-to man in final phase of the Premier League title race

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 11:57, 23 April 2019

Four to go.

The equation is simple for Manchester City: win their remaining Premier League fixtures and they are champions once more.

Pep Guardiola’s men, if they manage to outlast Liverpool – who are determined to end a 29-year championship drought – will become the first team to successfully defend their crown since Manchester United in 2009.

City were pushed to the limit by Tottenham, just days after the north Londoners eliminated them from the Champions League, with the realisation it will take an entire squad effort to get over the line.

Many expected another goalfest, but all we got was a narrow 1-0 affair, grabbing the almighty goal was local hero and rising star Phil Foden who can likely expect more playing time as we head into the final minutes of this season.

A rare start

Before this weekend, Foden had featured in 11 of City’s opening 34 league outings, with just one appearance (recently at home against Cardiff City) coming from the start. He’s largely been utilised as a very late sub, six of those previous 10 outings from the bench have come in the final 10 minutes.

Despite limited playing time, he remains highly thought of and has been earmarked as a future mainstay of the team.

One thing is for certain, he’s got the technical and tactical acumen to thrive under Guardiola, who opted for him in a midfield triumvirate versus Spurs alongside the more accomplished Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan.

Early impact

Foden didn’t participate in that epic 4-3 meeting between City and Spurs. So, if anyone was feeling fresh it was him. After starting on the front foot, Mauricio Pochettino’s side quickly found themselves on the back foot. A diagonal ball from Bernardo Silva into the penalty area was nodded by Sergio Aguero to the back post where Foden headed into the net.

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It was Foden’s seventh for his boyhood club and broke his Premier League duck, which incidentally made him the first player born in the 2000s to score a top-flight goal for City. The manner Foden got his goal was lauded by BBC pundit Pat Nevin who lavishly compared him to a Premier League legend.

“Phil Foden is a Frank Lampard-style player. He’s got that box-to-box quality and he gives Man City something that they don’t have otherwise,” he said.

Another way

As touched upon, Foden can give City a different dimension as they look to secure the championship. His willingness to ghost into the penalty box from midfield can only be an asset, especially when considering not many in that position bust a gut.

The loss of De Bruyne, who went off seven minutes before the interval, could further enhance his chances of starting in their upcoming games (next up a little trip to Old Trafford for the Manchester derby against United).

His on-the-ball ability, from the Spurs win, should encourage Guardiola.

Foden attempted 41 passes and completed 34 giving him a success rate of 83%. No City player threatened Paulo Gazzaniga’s goal more than Foden (3), whose two efforts on target equalled Heung-Min Son, but of course one of those importantly found the net.

Far from the finished article – he only turns 19 next month – there were encouraging signs as well as where he can improve. Bernardo Silva recognised that, after being named MOTM, he felt Foden – who came of age on Saturday – was more deserving of the accolade.