De Bruyne deputy Foden saves Man City from FA Cup humiliation at Cheltenham

Phil Foden Manchester City Cheltenham FA Cup

Manchester City avoidedbeing on the receiving end of what would have been thegreatest shock in FA Cup history thanks to one man – Phil Foden.

The significance of defeat would have been difficult to comprehend.

Non-league sides have beaten teams from England’s top flight in the pastbut rarely has there ever been such a bigger disparity in resources between two opponents in the competition’s 150-year history.

City started with eight full internationals, with another eight on the bench, underlining that this is an expensively-assembled squad built to challenge for the Champions League, not toil against a club whose record signing cost£50,000 ($68,000).

Yet the impossible almost happened when May pounced on a loose ball in the 58th minute to bundle home an unlikely opener that stunned the Premier League side.

However, it was boyhood City fan who sparedhis club’s blushes, almost single-handedly lifting his teamout of the trouble they had got themselves into.

Foden may only be 20, but he has seen his side suffer giant-killings, most notably against Wigan, who stunned City in the FA Cup final in 2013 before upsetting them again three years ago.

But he wasn’t going to let City suffer a similar fate here; not on his watch.

With many senior players rested and Kevin De Bruyne ruled out through injury, Foden was comfortably City’s most creative attacking forceand led from the front.

His perfect passes had set up Jesus and Riyad Mahrez for gilt-edged opportunities, but the Brazilianhit the post, while the Algerian was denied byJoshua Griffiths, who performed sensationally in the Cheltenham goal.

And with panic starting to set in, Foden took on the responsibility of getting the equaliser himself, driftinginto the box to volley homeJoao Cancelo’s cross to the far post with the kind of composure so sorely lacking among his fellow forwards.

Jesus, though, finally took a chance three minutes later to completely settle City’snerves before Torres scored in injury time to add a flattering gloss to the scoreline – but the victory owed everything to Foden.

His crucial goalmakes him City’s leading scorer this season, with nine, meaning he has already surpassed his tally for the entirety of the 2019-20 campaign.

He now looks perfectly poised to play a pivotal role in City’s latest pursuit of a quadruple.

When Guardiola needed a leader to step forward to avertwhat would have been a humiliating defeatfor the former Barcelona boss, Foden obliged.

With De Bruyne potentially out for six weeks, meaning he could potentially miss as many as adozen games, Foden showed he can be a more than able deputy for City’s creator-in-chief.

Against Cheltenham, the versatile attacker started as a No.10and never stopped creating changes even though so many of his team-mates were having an off-day.

City, of course, will face bigger names and higher quality opponents than Cheltenham if they are to challenge for the Premier League title or win a first Champions League, but Foden’s fighting spirit at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium conveyeda desire which is hard to replicate.

“I’m playing well at the moment but you can easily have a bad performance, so I’m just trying to stay at the top of my game and playing like this,” Foden told the BBC after the game.

Guardiola has managed Foden carefully but the midfielder is now one of his most influential players.

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