Man City 4-1 Aston Villa Phil Foden showcases masterclass to demonstrate value once again

Phil Foden can hardly be considered a member of Manchester City’s supporting cast given his consistent brilliance, but his precious value was reaffirmed yet again with a dazzling display against Aston Villa.

City manager Pep Guardiola raised eyebrows before the match by keeping his main duo, Kevin de Bruyne and Erling Haaland, on the bench, but it accurately reflected Foden’s masterful performance that they were not missed for a moment in the superb 4-1 victory.

No De Bruyne? No Haaland? No problem. Not when you have Phil Foden performing like this.

If De Bruyne and Haaland are the headline performers for City, then Foden has a strong argument to join them at the top of the list in Guardiola’s galaxy of stars.

This was an exceptional performance from Manchester City, with the old quality resurfacing, but Foden was the heartbeat of it, with the peerless Rodri also playing his part.

‘With big players absent, Guardiola looks for others to step up’
Guardiola’s team selection was surprising given City were facing dangerous top-four-chasing opposition in Villa under the shrewd stewardship of Unai Emery – especially as Haaland might have wanted to silence some critics after unwarranted criticism of his performance in Sunday’s goalless draw against Arsenal.

Instead, he could sit alongside De Bruyne on the City bench admiring a virtuoso performance from Foden, controlling everything in the number 10 role and once again showing why he is so crucial to Guardiola, and why he must simply start for Gareth Southgate’s England at Euro 2024.

When the big players are absent, Guardiola looks for others to step up. Foden assumed the role with ease to provide City’s inspiration.

Foden’s hat-trick came in various forms, from a cleverly taken low free-kick to put City 2-1 up just before half-time to a smooth finish low down to give them a two-goal advantage, before a fitting final act as he unleashed a powerful strike high past Villa keeper Robin Olsen – standing in for Emiliano Martinez after he withdrew through illness – to seal the three points.

The 23-year-old has always had goals in his game – or “in his veins,” to use Guardiola’s words after the match. But this was his second hat-trick of the season after scoring three in City’s win at Brentford, and his overall tally of 21 from midfield is hugely impressive – the best of his career. He has now scored 81 goals for City, with his goal here being his first from a direct free-kick.

This could have been a perilous night for Guardiola and City after they looked lackluster and subdued when held 0-0 by Arsenal, barely posing a threat to Mikel Arteta’s side.

Fortunately, thanks to Foden, any anxious moments on Wednesday evening – and there were some – were forgotten as City ended up as comfortable winners while displaying the fluency, rhythm, and threat they didn’t offer against Arsenal.

‘He can do whatever he wants’
Foden was the key component in this return to City’s best form, their performance serving as a warning to anyone foolish enough to wonder whether they can make another late surge for the title after a poor day against Arsenal.

He made this, ultimately, a very comfortable and impressive night for the reigning champions, deserving every decibel of the rousing standing ovation he received when he was substituted with 10 minutes to go.

The arch-perfectionist Guardiola, almost inevitably, pointed out that Foden did not start well, but he couldn’t argue with how he finished, saying: “He can do whatever he wants. He’s a really top-class player.

“He’s still open-minded and he still has to understand some parts of the game, especially attention as he is sometimes distracted in the defensive parts. But his work ethic is unbelievable. He is so special, especially when he is playing in that central position.”A A A A A A A A A A A A

And former England forward Theo Walcott told BBC 5 Live Sport: “Phil Foden has learned from Bernardo Silva, David Silva, Pep Guardiola, Kevin de Bruyne. He is, at this moment in time, one of the best players in the Premier League at the tender age of 23.

“He’s playing like a 30-year-old, he’s that knowledgeable. He’s an extraordinary talent and because he’s grown up in the city, with the academy and how much it means to him, it’s even more special. He’s living his dream.”

De Bruyne and Haaland will return soon enough, especially with this Premier League title race threatening to go to the very last day as Arsenal and Liverpool refuse to give an inch. But if City are to win a sixth title in seven seasons, then the contribution and influence of Foden could well be of equal significance.