Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden (right) celebrate after the match. — Reuters
At the age of 23 Phil Foden already has a personal trophy cabinet that would be the envy of most clubs throughout their existence and he underlined his growing influence on Manchester City with a superb hat trick in Monday’s 3-1 win at Brentford.
In the six years since making his debut as a waif-like 17-year-old, Foden has a Champions League, five Premier Leagues, two FA Cups, four League Cups, the Club World Cup and 31 appearances for England to his name.
Throughout that time he has had spells on the sidelines as City’s production line of superstar midfielders took precedence, often leaving him something of a peripheral figure on the flanks. However, this season, in the lengthy absence of Kevin de Bruyne, he has really stepped up to a new level.
City’s opponents might be able to stop Erling Haaland from scoring or close down the space for assist king De Bruyne, but there will always be a top-class player somewhere in the team to inflict the damage.
Often playing more centrally, as he did on Monday, he is having more influence, for longer, on games and looking an ever-more accomplished finisher.
His three goals, coming after Neal Maupay had put Brentford ahead, were a masterclass in movement, touch and poise when it mattered most, rewarding manager Pep Guardiola for keeping him in the middle where he dovetailed smoothly with De Bruyne.
“This is the most influential he has been in the team,” Guardiola said after the victory that took the champions within two points of Premier League leaders Liverpool with a game in hand.
“He has always had that threat in the box, he had that sense of an amateur player, like kids playing in the street. It’s how he moves in the small spaces and when he’s there now he can score or make an assist and that’s difficult to find.”
Foden said: “I’ve been getting goals and assists recently. I’ve been playing more centrally so I think that’s why. It’s the most consistent I’ve been for a long time.
“I’m a person that adapts and plays a lot of positions when needed. I’m enjoying playing in the middle and that’s where I see myself. Hopefully I can get more game time playing there.
“I don’t score a lot of headers so I’m delighted with that one.
“All I set myself is to try to better last year’s stats and just try to improve every year – more goals and more assists. I need to keep going and showing this level of performance more often.”
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