“It’s the timing of the run from Foden. It’s really clever. Just watch him on that right hand side. He just holds his run and loses Matt Targett in that left-back position. It was so clever from Foden. The timing of his run was absolutely perfect.” – Gary Neville
Sergio Aguero provided the finishing touch for Manchester City’s opening goal against Aston Villa but it was the run of Phil Foden that made it possible. This latest glimpse of his vast potential was enough to earn the 19-year-old the man-of-the-match award as City beat Aston Villa 2-1 to win a third consecutive Carabao Cup final under Pep Guardiola.
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The Wembley stage is where Foden belongs and where he will surely deliver many more such performances in the decade to come. He is too good not to. The close control is flawless, the turn of pace impressive, and the weight of pass just oozes quality. Encouragingly, Foden continues to sound remarkably down to earth too.
“I just couldn’t wait to play,” he told Sky Sports afterwards. “What an unbelievable day. I am very proud. Every minute I do my best. I am just happy to help the team.”
Nobody could deny he did just that when making his first start for City in over a month. He looked instantly at home in a wide right role that is perhaps not his natural position.
Ernest Hemingway once said one should never confuse movement with action and it was Foden’s willingness to stand still near the flank that often seemed to ensure the action came to him.
“The big thing that has impressed me is his patience in holding his position out there,” said Neville on co-commentary for Sky Sports. “He has not chased the game as sometimes young players do when they are not getting the ball all the time. He has shown great composure.”
Foden’s key moments
25 – Gorgeous first touch brings ball down but his shot flies wide of the far post
29 – Weighted ball finds Walker on the overlap but Aguero’s shot is blocked
35 – Pulls it back to Aguero after another run in behind before Sterling is denied
48 – Receives pass and juggles the ball before his fierce shot is blocked
49 – Gorgeous instant control before playing a delicious reverse pass in behind
52 – Fouled by Targett and Mings but is not deterred from firing off another shot
55 – Attempts a cushioned volley into the path of a team-mate
60 – Produces a drop of the shoulder to move away from Nakamba with ease
61 – Wonderful pass in behind to put De Bruyne clear down the right channel
After setting up Aguero, Foden almost had a goal of his own after another delightful first touch helped him open up the space and fire a shot just wide of the far post.
Most of his work was glorious for its simplicity, however. He found a team-mate with 24 of his 25 passes in the first half, providing the width that so troubled Villa and helped to sustain attack after attack.
In the early stages of the second half, he really began to enjoy himself. Receiving a pass just inside the Villa half, he proceeded to juggle the ball four times before allowing it to touch the ground. Foden is humble off the pitch but there is an arrogance to him in possession.
Guardiola noted it soon after, seemingly berating him for attempting an ambitious cushioned volley to a team-mate on the edge of the opposition area when it would have been easier to bring the ball down and see if an easier chance might present itself.
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Clearly, Foden is still learning but it would surely be a waste if he is not given many more minutes on the pitch to hone his development before the season is through. He is having to show real patience as he waits for his chances.
Again, he appears to understand.
“You look at players like Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva,” he said afterwards. “It is not going to be easy getting into this team. When I do I just have to make the most of it.”
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But that is what he is doing. His last 10 starts for Manchester City have brought two goals and seven assists. What might he be able to do if the starts came more regularly?
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The comparison with Jadon Sancho is too tempting to resist. Born just a couple of months apart, the two stand-out talents of the U17 World Cup winning squad of 2017 have chosen different paths. Sancho opted to leave City. Foden chose to stay.
Sancho has become a superstar for Borussia Dortmund, of course. Since Foden came on for the final 27 minutes against Villa in January with his team already five goals up, Sancho has scored as many Bundesliga goals as Foden has had Premier League minutes – five.
City are not fond of the comparison but it is a pertinent one and, on this evidence, that statistic must change. With the title gone, Guardiola’s focus is likely to be on the Champions League, so the chance is there to give Foden more minutes in domestic competition.
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