Phil Foden shows why he’s more Lionel Messi than David Silva in Man City win

Man City 2-1 Brighton: Foden provided the spark for Pep Guardiola’s side before a nervy finish after Ansu Fati’s goal

Pete Hall
At the Etihad Stadium
Sunday 22 October 2023 08:39 BST
'I like watching his teams' Guardiola praises De Zerbi ahead of Premier League clash

As Manchester City became only the second English team in history to complete the treble last season, the remarkable feat somewhat passed Phil Foden by.

Arguably the most gifted player to ever come through the City academy, the very definition of a generational talent, had little impact as his boyhood club blew everyone who dared step in their path away last term.

Remarkably, given all he has achieved on our shores, there are some who have remained critical of how Pep Guardiola has underused Foden, insisting a young, English magician needs to be centre stage.

This season, with several big personalities in the City dressing room having departed in the summer, Foden’s role in Guardiola’s squad has been catapulted from peripheral figure to integral leader, with only two players featuring in more games since the new campaign got under way.

Like the rest of his City side, Foden faded badly in the second half of the champion’s edgy 2-1 win over Brighton, but the damage had been done in the first half at the Etihad.

Furthermore, in such a dazzling first-half showing, as the world waits for Foden to morph into a David Silva incarnate, the 23-year-old instead showed, in glimpses, that the wide role Guardiola continues to deploy him evokes more Lionel Messi feels than Silva.

When you are born with possessing your own gravitational pull over a football, just as the Argentine has, where Foden plays on the pitch is almost irrelevant.

Like Messi, Foden had quite the stellar support act elsewhere on the pitch on Saturday to give him the freedom to leave supporters aghast with some of the mazy runs he went on against a Brighton side set up to go toe-to-toe with the champions.

Manchester City’s Argentinian striker Julian Alvarez celebrates scoring the opening goa

Another surprisingly regular starter this season, Julian Alvarez, got the ball rolling with a fortunate finish early on as City went in front, looking to avoid slipping to three successive league defeats for the first time since 2016.

The impressive Jeremy Doku had a huge hand in the opener and kept Brighton pegged back right from the off.

Much had been made of the heir apparent to the Guardiola throne, Roberto De Zerbi, planning to upset the apple cart further at the Etihad, but his team were not allowed any time on the ball to do their thing, such was the hunger among the City ranks to get back to normality – winning games at a canter.

One such player desperate for his own turnaround in fortunes was Erling Haaland, without a goal in his previous two games – very much drought territory for the Norwegian goal machine.

His booming finish that proved decisive in the end was as emphatic an answer to his deluded critics as he could have possibly mustered, sweeping home an arrowing finish to make it two 19 minutes in.

Phil Foden of Manchester City runs with the ball

While the game was being settled around him, Foden was busy picking out passes with the outside of his boot, sashaying past defenders as if they weren’t there, while bursting in the box at every given opportunity.

Most importantly, a trait that often goes unheralded at City, Foden possessed that breathless desire in the first half that has enabled City to dominate the Premier League in recent years. No player in blue completed more sprints in the match than Foden, while only Doku had more touches in the Brighton box than Foden.

So many recent losses are proving hard to shift psychologically for City, even with Rodri back at their heart of the midfield, with Kaoru Mitoma twice denied by Stefan Ortega in the City goal after the break, before Ansu Fati made one count and got the visitors into the match with 17 minutes left.

There were some nervy moments late on for City, especially after Manuel Akanji’s late red card, but the champions stood firm to see out the victory to, temporarily at least, go back top of the pile.

If they are to stay there this season, on the evidence of the early part of the campaign, Foden is going to have a much more prominent role in further glory.

Consistency remains an issue, as his second half decline suggested. But what he did in the first half? Few, other than Messi, are capable of.

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