Foden’s Measured Cultivation Starting To Bear Fruit
April 24, 2019
Manchester City fans must have been fearing the worst when they saw Kevin De Bruyne pull up injured in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Tottenham. “It’s a muscular problem. We see day by day but he is not available tomorrow,” City boss Pep Guardiola confirmed on Tuesday with the Belgian certainly out of Wednesday’s Manchester Derby.
With a game in hand over title rivals Liverpool, City need to beat their noisy neighbours in order to move back to the table of the table as they seek to maximise their game in hand. De Bruyne had had a direct hand in seven goals in his previous four competitive starts ahead of Saturday’s welcome of Tottenham and another setback in a stop-start season is a blow as they seek to win the treble.
That being said, City are a team not short of midfield options and they have fared fine without De Bruyne this season. In Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and David Silva, Guardiola is blessed with a raft of talent upon which to call, yet it’s a youth academy in this big spending City side that could help them to the title this season.
Phil Foden netted his first senior league goal at the weekend as he headed Sergio Aguero’s header across goal past Paulo Gazzaniga. It was a far from vintage City performance, but they did just enough to secure a crucial three points courtesy of Foden’s early goal. Having sporadically featured for City last season, he’s making the most of a becoming a more prominent fixture for the team with Saturday’s start his second of the Premier League campaign.
12 cup appearances over the Champions League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup shows that Guardiola is easing the 18-year-old into regular action and Foden has rewarded the City boss with a series of mature displays. This season was always going to be on to closely monitor for the teenager and he hasn’t disappointed when brought into the side.
In Guardiola’s favoured 4-3-3, two of the three midfielders are tasked with surging forward and linking the midfield and attack to offer an alternative offensive threat. Last season in City’s record-breaking campaign, it was De Bruyne and David Silva largely tasked with bombarding forward to support the attack with Fernandinho shielding the defence, and it worked to great effect. Bernardo Silva has filled the role in De Bruyne’s absence excellently, but namesake David’s advancing years means a replacement is required and Foden fits the bill perfectly.
The duo have that low centre of gravity that renders them supremely difficult to shake off the ball when they do gain a head of steam and this allows them to glide through midfields on a whim. Indeed, Foden ranks third for dribbles per 90 (2.6) of all City players, as per WhoScored.com, from an admittedly small sample size. The creative side of his game isn’t lacking either, with the young midfielder ranking among the top 15 players for key passes per 90 (2.3) in England’s top tier this term; only De Bruyne (3.4) and Silva (2.8) rank better than Foden of all City players.
“I see him in every training session and he has something special,” Guardiola said of Foden after Saturday’s 1-0 win over Spurs and you’d be hard pressed to find a better judge of talent than the City boss. Having first been bawled over by Foden’s potential when he arrived in 2016, it must be satisfying for both manager and supporters to see the prodigious midfielder begin to live up to expectations at the club and furthermore, not follow the same path as former teammate Jadon Sancho, who slipped through City’s fingers and is now excelling with Borussia Dortmund.
Foden, too, is no stranger to thriving on the grand stage having inspired England’s under-17 side to World Cup glory in October 2017, a competition in which he was named player of the tournament as part of the next exciting generation for the Three Lions. Sancho has already earned senior recognition and it’s only a matter of time before Foden follows in his compatriot’s footsteps.
For now, though, Foden will focus on earning further opportunities with City. Yes, he may have earned more playing time with a move abroad, as Sancho has done, but by remaining with the Premier League champions, he learns from the likes of De Bruyne, the two Silva’s and Guardiola on a daily basis, which can only be a good thing for club and country.
He may not start Wednesday’s daunting Manchester Derby – Guardiola could elect to focus on experience with Foden a late introduction should needs must – but it won’t be long before Foden is a regular in this City side and tearing through teams like a hot knife through butter.