Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane highlight scale of challenge facing Phil Foden in Manchester City’s rout of Fulham

Both players emphatically seized their opportunity at the Etihad Stadium while the highly-rated young Englishman was an unused substitute

Ian Whittell
Sunday 16 September 2018 15:47
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In the week that the lack of first team opportunities for young England players was a major talking point, a German and a Portuguese star proved just how intense the competition for places will be at Manchester City this season.

That, of course, spells bad news for City teenager Phil Foden, considered one of the English game’s great young hopes but unable to get on for even a cameo appearance in this completely one-sided affair against Fulham.

But while Gareth Southgate, who mentioned Foden when talking about his concerns for the lack of Premier League openings for his youngsters this week, will doubtless be frustrated by the 18-year-old’s plight, the news is equally troubling for City’s title rivals.

Leroy Sane, PFA Young Player of the Year last season, had been unable to make a single start so far this season for Pep Guardiola but wasted little time in making the most of the opportunity, scoring just 98 seconds into the game from a Fernandinho cross.

Bernardo Silva, meanwhile, has made the opposite journey. After starting just 15 league games last season, he has capitalised on Kevin De Bruyne’s lengthy injury absence and currently looks City’s most in-form player, turning in a man-of-the-match display in Saturday’s demolition of Fulham.

“Everyone knows how important he is for us,” Silva said of the 22-year-old Sane. “He was one of the best players last season. I hope this season – and everyone hopes – this season he can do the same, he can be as important as he was last season.

“When you play in a team like Man City where you have a lot of quality players sometimes you just have to know that sometimes you won’t start. You have to keep working. That’s what he does every day and I think the manager is happy with him right now.

“The manager chooses the players that play each game. I think the team is doing well and everyone is training hard to play.

David Silva celebrates scoring during City’s heavy win 

“As the manager said, everyone will have their time to play, will have their opportunities. When they get them they have to embrace it, like Leroy did, and we are happy with all the players.”

Silva, of course, is a perfect example for Sane to follow as he sets about trying to convince Guardiola that he is worthy of returning to a regular starting role.

Even last season, Guardiola spoke long and often of his admiration for the Portuguese star and considering that City’s current log jam in midfield is taking place with De Bruyne out and with record signing Riyad Mahrez struggling for minutes, Silva’s fine form is actually adding to his manager’s headaches.

“Last season Bernardo had a top impact because if he played just three minutes from the bench, he played the best three minutes he can play,” said Guardiola.

“Sometimes there are players, and all the managers know that, that you have five minutes and they say now I have to play five minutes, like you have to tell them to play. He is not that case.

“When he plays five minutes he plays the best possible, always a smile, to help. He is the most loved guy in the locker room and he played 90 minutes. It was always there.

“In the beginning it was a little bit difficult, he came from France to England and even for me I needed a period to know, to understand a little bit, everything about the way we wanted to play.

“It has happened a little bit with Riyad. It is going to happen in the future. Riyad is going to come back the same like we saw with Leicester or with Bernardo right now, and that is why I like to work with these kind of players.

“They always try their best. For 60, 90, 20 minutes – all the time they play with a smile and for the team.”

After Sane’s opener, goals from David Silva and Raheem Sterling eased City home and allowed Guardiola to take off Sergio Aguero as a precaution following a minor ankle injury which will be assessed on Monday, ahead of Wednesday’s opening Champions League game with Lyon.

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