Pep Guardiola has spent six seasons grooming Phil Foden. Now, with Kevin De Bruyne sidelined for four months, it’s time to give the Stockport Iniesta his freedom to thrive…
Even before Kevin De Bruyne broke down at Burnley last week, Manchester City were said to be in for Lucas Paqueta. But now that move seems to have gone the same way as De Bruyne’s hamstring, Pep Guardiola should lump on Phil Foden to fill the Belgian’s void.
The City boss can’t say Foden hasn’t waited patiently for his chance. The 23-year-old has been around the first-team squad for six seasons, in which time he’s won the lot – domestically, a few times over. But never yet has Guardiola put his complete faith in Foden to be the talisman of his team.
He hasn’t had to. De Bruyne has made City tick during Guardiola’s reign and, for the most part, he’s done it better than anyone else could. But the 32-year-old can’t go on forever. Perhaps his injuries this year are just a coincidence and nothing to do with the ageing process. But one day soon, City will have to do without De Bruyne more permanently than the four-month spell they embarked upon this week.
At most clubs, such a prospect would scare the bejesus out of the manager. But Guardiola had a succession plan for David Silva, and Foden offers him one for De Bruyne.
Against Newcastle, Foden thrived with the freedom only usually afforded to De Bruyne. Guardiola has very specific positions and patterns for almost all of his players, even Foden and Jack Grealish, but De Bruyne is trusted to weave his own from wherever he likes.
Foden was given that licence at the Etihad against the Magpies and he was brilliant. Of course he was.
7 – Phil Foden created seven chances from open play against Newcastle; his most in a single Premier League game, in what was his 131st appearance in the competition. Unlocked. pic.twitter.com/0YNYh6jDpm
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 19, 2023
In any other team, Foden would stand out a f***ing mile as the generational talent he is. But Guardiola has made him wait, pay his dues while grooming the youngster to be better than just the sum of his immense natural gifts. Guardiola wants Gazza with guile.
The next four months should tell us how close he is to getting it. The feeling since he got his feet under the table at City was that Foden was a Pep project. With De Bruyne sidelined, now is the perfect opportunity to show the fruits of his labour. Not as a prescriptive winger, but off the front, through the centre.
In that role, if Erling Haaland didn’t have one of his rare off-nights, Foden would have had a hat-trick of assists instead of just the one for Julian Alvarez which was enough for City to see off a Newcastle side that reasonably believed they could get a point at the Etihad for the first time since 2006. They might have done had they made better decisions in the final third during the second half.
But in their own half, Newcastle struggled to find Foden all night. The no.47 preyed upon all three Magpies midfielders, dropping into their blindspots to receive on the half-turn. From there, Foden showed how he’s different to De Bruyne.
Where De Bruyne penetrates with a pass, Foden thrills on the dribble before sliding balls down the sides of defenders for Haaland. Foden’s method, driving at the heart of defences, could even create more space for Haaland as rearguards retreat. A scary thought indeed.