Phil Foden may only be 20 years of age but he is emerging as arguably the key player in Manchester City’s Premier League title charge.
While his fellow forwards blew gilt-edged opportunities, with Raheem Sterling even blasting a penalty high over the bar, Foden kept his composure to make the vital breakthrough just before the break with his eighth goal of the season, meaning he is now City’s top scorer in all competitions.
That return from 22 appearances may not be devastatingly prolific, but in a season in which City have struggled to replicate their usual emphatic scorelines, it is a crucial contribution which has kept his side in contention in four competitions.
“He is a guy with a special instinct close to goal,” Pep Guardiola said after the Brighton victory. “He deserves to play. His standards are higher.”
City have now won seven straight matches in all competitions and most of those victories have been achieved without a recognised striker.
Foden’s versatility, then, has been a massive factor in the upturn in form, with the England international offering a constant goal threat whether deployed on either wing, as an attacking midfielder or even as a false nine.
While his skills and vision have long marked him out as David Silva’s natural successor at the Etihad, Foden is more comfortable in the penalty area and has also developed a happy knack of scoring important goals.
With Sergio Aguero’s return frustratingly delayed by an enforced spell in quarantine and Gabriel Jesus on the bench, Guardiola again started without a centre-forward against Brighton.
Consequently, City didn’t find it easy against a team that had won just once in their last 17 matches, despite creating enough chances to win the game far more comfortably.
Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez both missed good opportunities, while Bernardo Silva smashed the outside of the post.
Worst of all was Sterling’s dreadful injury-time spot-kick – his third straight penalty miss, which should ensure that he is not entrusted with the responsibility again for the foreseeable future.
But Foden stepped up when City needed him most, deciding the game with a goal with a moment of instinct and quality.
He found a small amountof space in front of the crowded Seagulls defence, intelligently cut inside two defenders and found the back of the net with a tidy near-post finish from the edge of the box with his weaker right foot.
“It ended up as the winning goal so I’m delighted,” he said. “I don’t score too many with my right foot, so I enjoyed it.
“I always like to score goals and be there in the box. We just want to keep going with this form and keep pushing to win the league.”
It was Foden’s fourth goal in six games across three different competitions during the past 22 days.
The boyhood City fan is desperate to play in every game and gives everything whether he’s taking on title rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge or facing Championship outfit Birmingham in the FA Cup.
“He lives his life 24 hours to play football,” Guardiola said.
Foden’s challenge is to now make himself indispensable in the Premier League, a competition where, for all his manager’s praise, he can often be the odd man left out.
The England international has started just seven of City’s 16 Premier League matches this season compared to nine in European and domestic competitions. But he has consistently shown he is ready for the task.
Foden is the youngest midfielder to reach 10 Premier League goals since Dele Alli in 2016 and many of those goals have been crucial to keeping City in the middle of a crowded title race, with strikes away to Wolves, Chelsea and West Ham contributing to vital points.
“He is 20 years old; just look at the stats!” Guardiola said. “The amount of games, the goals and the assists since he joined us compare to the bigger stars in English football at his age.
“We are delighted. He can play both sides, as a winger, in the middle as a false nine. He is so clever in front of goal. That is why he deserves to play.
“Maybe one day he is going to rest, but right now he deserves to play.”
Source : goal.com