Phil Foden made the difference for Manchester City once again at Aston Villa, with Pep Guardiola feeling the England international is coming of age.
Having lost their previous Premier League game at home to 10-man Leeds United and slumped to 1-0 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea at the weekend, City emerged from the whirlwind of the European Super League debacle to go behind after 20 seconds to John McGinn’s strike at Villa Park.
But Foden excelled, crowning a fine team move to equalise before Rodri headed home Bernardo Silva’s cross to seal a 2-1 win before half-time.
There were further twists, as City ended the opening period with 10 men after John Stones clattered into Jacob Ramsey.
It was 10-a-side before the hour, though, as Foden tormented Villa right-back Matty Cash into a pair of yellow cards.
Overall, it was a supreme display from the England international, following on from his goals in each leg of City’s Champions League quarter-final win over Borussia Dortmund.
“He’s growing, this guy is growing. He is making steps forward every time,” Guardiola told Sky Sports.
“His influence in our game is massive right now. He scored a goal, provoked the two yellow cards, in the final third he ran a lot and he is so aggressive without the ball.
“He is becoming a serious player.”
Foden’s 14 goals and nine assists mean only Kevin De Bruyne (24) among his team-mates has more than his 23 goal involvements this season and he is second to Ilkay Gundogan (16) in City’s scoring charts.
Whether the 20-year-old is ahead of where he was expected to be in terms of development is not something that overly concerns Guardiola when the returns he is producing right now are so good.
“There are guys at 19 and 20 years old who are unstoppable, at 29 and 30 they are not,” he said.
“The players dictate who they are. Right now for the last games, Phil is becoming such an important player
“Against Dortmund he scored an important goal, the cross for the penalty, the final goal in the last minute against Dortmund at home.
“He can play inside, outside, he is so aggressive with the ball.”
It was not such a pleasing outing for Foden’s international team-mate Stones.
Guardiola was initially infuriated by the decision after referee Peter Bankes consulted the pitchside monitor and elected to upgrade his initial booking.
Villa boss Dean Smith also felt Stones was harshly done by, but the City manager feels the centre-back’s woes should serve to sharpen minds in his squad ahead of Sunday’s EFL Cup final against Tottenham and the Champions League semi-final showdown with Paris Saint-Germain.
“He is late but the intention is not bad. He wanted to get the ball,” Guardiola said.
“We are happy. If we lost we would be angry, but okay.
“It is a good lesson for the final on Sunday. You play a final 10 v 11, you have no chance. And especially then against PSG.”