Foden - From Iceland embarrassment to Man City's game-changer

Phil Foden Manchester City
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Academy graduate is set be recalled to Guardiola's starting line-up for Champions League clash with Olympiacos after impressive start to the season

It’s a sign of Phil Foden’s growing importance that, at times this season, he has carried the Manchester City attack.

The homegrown star is no longer fighting to prove he belongs in Pep Guardiola’s first team but setting the tempo.

With Guardiola needing energy to propel his team towards a Premier League and Champions League challenge, Foden’s hunger and vitality is proving critical.

Injuries and illness, along with a relentless schedule, have stretched City’s resources, but whenever Guardiola has needed a spark, he has often turned to the academy graduate.

The Catalan has made his poorest-ever start to a season as a coach - although his side are only five points behind leaders Liverpool having played a game fewer - but it could have been even worse without Foden.

His fingerprints were all over the opening-game victory at Wolves; Foden's clever pass dissected the defence leading to Kevin De Bruyne’s penalty before scoring the second himself.

Against West Ham he made an even bigger impact as a half-time substitute. After a lacklustre opening first half, Foden changed the game, equalising within six minutes and driving his side forward in search of a win.

In the Champions League, where City have made a perfect start, he has been even more influential.

City were unconvincing in their Group C opener against Porto but his introduction, along with that of fellow 20-year-old Ferran Torres, livened up the forward line and the pair quickly combined in a lightning-fast break to cut through the Portuguese defence for the killer third goal in a 3-1 win.

A week later in Marseille, Foden was a dynamic, potent threat on the left wing and his clever movement and cross were decisive in creating Ilkay Gundogan’s second in a 3-0 victory.

Pep Guardiola Phil Foden Manchester City GFX

For such a young talent, Foden looks more than at home in Europe. 

His non-stop pressing and energy were crucial in last season’s impressive win over Real Madrid and he would likely have been recalled for City’s semi-final against Bayern Munich had the last-eight clash with Lyon not gone so spectacularly badly.

He will likely be back in Guardiola’s side for the matchday three clash with Olympiacos. The City boss is keen to wrap qualification up for the knockout stages as soon as possible and Foden started the win over Sheffield United from the bench after feeling unwell. 

“He is a guy that always gives 100 per cent effort because he is young, he has energy,” Guardiola said ahead of the game against the Greek champions. “He has to learn to control the rhythm, every action is a high intensity. But on the other side we have his energy. 

“He played a lot of games and every time he was decisive in many aspects - playing 10 or 90 minutes it doesn’t matter.

"What he’s done so far is good, especially this season. But not just this season, in previous seasons too.”

Certainly Guardiola needs every ounce of energy he can find from his forward line in a gruelling campaign after a start beset by problems.

Gabriel Jesus has been injured since the opener against Wolves, Sergio Aguero was back for a week before a fresh setback, De Bruyne has missed matches and was exhausted while Riyad Mahrez has had a mixed start to the campaign.

Raheem Sterling has been City’s biggest attacking threat with five goals and four assists but he needs zip and movement around him. 

Guardiola’s high-pressing tactics demand a lot of energy and many of City’s best moments this season have come when Sterling has been surrounded by the youthful hunger of Torres and, in particular, Foden.

That spirit and passion will be a huge asset in a season when Guardiola has to carefully balance the demands on his squad.

“There are players who can handle four or five games in a row without a problem, but others struggle more,” the City boss admitted.

"Now we are just in the beginning of the season, in November. In this country it is very demanding.”

Lifelong City fan Foden is happiest when he is playing with a football, whether that’s at the Etihad Stadium, where he used to go to watch as a child, or in the streets with his former schoolmates.

But the spotlight falls on top players and the shy Foden was thrust into the nation’s consciousness after an ill-judged incident around his England debut in Iceland at the start of the season.

He and 18-year-old United striker Mason Greenwood broke Covid-19 safety measures and were sent home in disgrace. 

Foden immediately apologised, responded perfectly on the pitch and is expected to earn a recall to Gareth Southgate’s squad later this month.

The youngster said he would learn his lesson from the incident and his growing maturity is proving important for City.