City-based Foden began to strike a balance between attacking chaos and quiet quality


Pep Guardiola must know that Manchester City are not all the same when it comes to their approach to certain matches this season and sometimes even to their own players.

Frustrated after a recent 1-1 draw at RB Leipzig in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie, he told them what they need to do.

“I said, ‘Keep your head up, that was great,'” he said. “If people don’t like it, that’s fine. You played the game you were supposed to play (in this case).

Saturday’s 2-0 win away to Newcastle means City have moved to the top of the Premier League table since the start of 2023, despite their erratic run of form, which may come as a surprise given their seemingly clear transition to the top five. or six weeks of the year, losing three of eight games in all competitions.

As Guardiola’s response to the game in Germany 11 days ago showed, even with a good result, there is hope or expectation that City will play better; Given that the manager is happy even if the fans aren’t, it can be harder to figure out.

But in all of this, there is one humble addition who could give this team something extra: Phil Foden.

After his excellent performance against Bristol City in the FA Cup in midweek, Athleticism marked Foden’s return to the individual level.

“I feel 100% fit, comfortable now,” he said, referring to “one of the toughest periods of my career.”

He was man of the match against Newcastle yesterday, thanks to a good first half and a brilliant own goal, but the finish was helped by a deflection.

If this post-World Cup period has been tough and his game has been rusty, partly due to an ankle injury, he’s back to the old days, games where he was in full flight and every touch was perfect.

But that’s only half the story. There’s no point in providing such a devastating presence unless a manager like Foden demands it at Leipzig.

Guardiola recently said: “If you say I don’t believe in Phil, forget it.”

The difference is clear in Guardiola’s head. But perhaps there is room for confusion in our comments on how the City boss has used Foden this season.

Guardiola told Leipzig: “After the goal we conceded, I thought about putting Phil on, but we immediately took control of the game.” “You have to have a lot of control because of the way they play.”

In short, Foden has something to give this City side that Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez can’t, and vice versa.

That night in Leipzig, Guardiola wanted what Grealish and Mahrez offered: the ability to keep possession in particular, slow the game down when needed (and speed it up again). This conservative approach makes sense, given that next week is a home game where City will step up the pressure if necessary.

But Foden, as Saturday’s opening goal brilliantly highlighted, is usually a little more direct.

Again, Guardiola summed it up perfectly after City’s first meeting with Eddie Howe’s side this season – a 3-3 draw at St James’ Park in August.

Explaining how City were able to contain Newcastle’s dangerous counter-attacks so well that day, Guardiola focused on his side’s use of the ball.

“We need to spend more time in the back three, pass more, but it’s difficult because Erling (striker Haaland) is leaving, Phil has that aggression. If Jack plays or Riyad or Bernardo (Silva) plays on the right, they calm down and help us all stay together, and when we lose the ball we are there and the opposition can’t run.

So, against a team that is good on the break in Leipzig, Guardiola wanted the “quiet” qualities on the pitch.

Foden learns to incorporate these qualities into his game; After returning to the starting line-up against Nottingham Forest ahead of this Champions League game on Saturday, Guardiola said he lacked “break, composure” as he was on the bench for the best part of a month.

It’s something he’s working on, but we can’t expect him to inspire easily.

So given the problems Newcastle have caused City of late, it was interesting that Guardiola chose Foden for this game. It would have been understandable (for some, a bummer for others) for Foden to pick Mahrez, who has shone on the sidelines only recently.

There is an obvious change in circumstances – if it was another away game or the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie, Mahrez would have turned the fire green, despite Foden’s recent fine form.

At home, however, if ‘risk’ is indeed Guardiola’s vision, there’s more room for a bit of risk-taking. It’s not that he doesn’t trust Foden, but some games require a higher level of “control” and a more patient and slower pace than driving races or passing behind for big games.

After Leipzig, much of the backlash from fans focused on the need for speedy wingers for AC Milan’s Rafael Leao or City’s Leroy Sane to return to the old days.

Such players are not exactly what Guardiola is looking for right now.

However, Foden is a quick and sharp winger who is also a neat and tidy midfielder. A perfect blend.

In this form and going through the process of adding those gears to his game where he can calm down the game when needed, he is a clear way to give more to City without allowing counter-attacks.

Against Bournemouth last weekend, he showed a good balance in slowing down the pace of the game, even though his instincts might have told him otherwise, while also offering the threat of hitting balls in behind the opposition, which Mahrez doesn’t usually do. not on this side.

His goal yesterday and general dribbling threat in the first half showed that he can liven up a game and at least make the fans feel like they are coming out of the game. had a great time, but Guardiola would be happy with a good game, nothing more.

In Guardiola’s eyes, running behind the defense and driving the ball is not a bad thing: for example, he wants his team to find Haaland when the opportunities arise (and they do), but he doesn’t. they don’t force passes like that. scored 33 goals.

Finding that balance is the key to making City a little scary and fun to watch.

Given the limits of Guardiola’s discretion and the players at his disposal, there is no better way to achieve this than to release Foden in this form.

(Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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