Even when Phil Foden isn’t in the starting XI, he seems to find a way to show his manager that he should be.
The 21-year-old is having a great season at the Etihad – there is no doubt about that – but Pep Guardiola likes to keep him on his toes. Two of his last three games for Manchester City have seen him come on from the bench – and in both of those matches he provided either a goal or an assist.
But it was his salvo in City’s last game – setting up Kevin de Bruyne’s strike against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals – that was most impressive, with his impact almost immediately felt as his assist came just 80 seconds after he was thrown into the action.
Phil Foden stunning recent displays are worthy of a start in City’s crucial clash vs Liverpool
Foden has left pundits raving about his ‘phenomenal’ performances after setting up the winner in City’s 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid this week
After 70 minutes of being frustrated by the Atletico rearguard, Foden was just what the time needed to spruce their attack into life as he quickly collected a pass around 40 yards out, driving bravely towards three Madrid players before slotting in the Belgian for a cool finish.
City now hold the initiative going into a tricky away leg at the Wanda Metropolitano and it’s thanks to the invention of Foden – a player with real energy who can pick locks and open doors.
Guardiola faces his biggest game of the season this weekend against title rivals Liverpool, and he may well decide Foden is someone he needs starting from the off.
While the Spaniard will be keeping his thoughts on Foden close to his chest prior to the big game at the Etihad, the England star’s performance had pundits in raptures after their slim victory over Atletico Madrid – with ex-City star Joleon Lescott tipping him to become ‘the best English player of all time’.
Foden showed great attacking instinct to set up Kevin de Bruyne 80 seconds after coming on
Former City star Joleon Lescott said Foden could be ‘the best, most decorated English player’
‘Exceptional,’ he told the BT Sport studio. ‘I don’t think there’s been a period where he’s playing and he hasn’t contributed to the goals. If he continues at this rate, he goes down as the best English player of all time with two trophies a season.
‘His mentality sets him apart. I compare him to Wayne Rooney. You can see players who are hurt when they don’t win. We all want to win, but then there are players that need to win. He is obsessed.
‘I know what it means for him to play for this club. I’ve said it before, but if he continues at the rate he is developing, he goes down as arguably the best English player, the most decorated ever, to continually progress and arguably get two trophies a season.’
Rio Ferdinand echoed Lescott’s praise as he likened ‘phenomenal’ Foden to an artist and claimed his entry into the game posed greater problems for Atletico.
Foden has shown he can contribute with goals and assists whenever he is called upon
‘When you’ve got someone like Phil Foden, Jack Grealish – people who are like artists and can come on the pitch and pose different threats to this team – it’s very difficult to adjust during the game when you’ve planned for certain pictures, certain people.’
‘Phil Foden came on… he was mesmeric at times, phenomenal. You’ve got to understand that this is a young player. The composure that he’s got, the ability to draw players to him – me and Joleon were grabbing each other!’
Meanwhile, Owen Hargreaves, who played for both Manchester sides, raved about his versatility, adding: ‘He’s a false nine, a right winger, as a No 10, as a deeper midfielder, he can play off the left.
‘It’s hard enough to play at this level. He can play at a world-class level arguably in four or five different positions. It’s special.’
Foden has shone whenever he has been given the opportunity this season. With 11 goals and seven assists for City, his contribution to the team’s cause has been excellent – though it’s been his passing that has stood out the most.
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The youngster has taken up a prominent central attacking position this season – a touch map by Opta shows – allowing him to play at his creative best and find his team-mates with probing passes.
Foden has the best percentage of successful passes per 90 out of every player in the top flight this season (37.5 per cent), statistics reveal – with only Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino second with 33.9 per cent.
He’s played a total of 769 passes during open play – with an 88 per cent success rate. The only player who has completed more open play passes is Leandro Trossard.
Foden will be dangerous if he is involved against Liverpool – he has a great record against them
Firmino slightly edges him out when it comes to most touches per 90 with 62.2, Foden scoring 61.3 with a total of 1141 touches in total. Having already created 31 chances for City this season, Liverpool will need to be wary of him this weekend, should he be involved.
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In fact, Jurgen Klopp’s men should be on high alert if Foden is picked to start the game – given the fact they are his favorite team to play against.
His minutes per goal/assist record versus Liverpool is his best against any club in the Premier League (54). He’s netted three times past the Reds, with three assists.
Foden has only scored more against Brighton (4) during his career, but has never registered more than one assist against any other team than City.
He’s scored in each of his last three appearances against Liverpool – the first three times he has faced them – and should he score this weekend he will become the first player to score in his first four games against them.
He has scored more goals against Jurgen Klopp’s men than any other Premier League team
Foden can help pick the lock and give City some magic moments in midfield against Liverpool
What sets Foden apart is his attacking instinct, position, tactical awareness and eagerness to drive forwards with the ball. The game against Liverpool will be tight, so City will need moments of magic in midfield to open up their stubborn defence featuring the likes of Ibrahima Konate and Virgil van Dijk.
Guardiola himself was left savouring Foden’s attacking qualities after the win over Atletico – appreciating that his first instinct is to push forwards.
‘He has a special quality,’ he said after the victory. ‘His reception is always forward, his space in the first step is massive and he had the composure to make an incredible assist for Kevin.’
The former Barcelona boss has plenty to think about ahead of the crucial title showdown this weekend – but he shouldn’t give a moment’s thought to whether Foden should be in his starting line-up.