Phil Foden showed Pep Guardiola a new side to his game that help Man City’s quadruple hunt

Manchester City’ hosted Chelsea in their FA Cup third round tie at the Etihad Stadium.

It’s fair to say Phil Foden remains in a bit of a limbo for Manchester City at present, despite ending his exile from Pep Guardiola’s first-choice XI with back-to-back starts.

His start in the Premier League on Thursday was only his second in seven City appearances, and it won’t have been lost on him that the Blues looked far better without him after his 59th-minute substitution.

After an electric start to the season, Foden has gone from a first-choice starter and one of their key creative options, striking up a formidable relationship with Erling Haaland, to a second-choice winger scrapping for minutes in the FA Cup third round. And his start in the cup on Sunday wasn’t even in his best position.

Of course, the level of opposition in this year’s third round warranted a higher quality line-up, and it made perfect sense for Foden to start again to play his way back into form and fitness. However, for the seventh time in eight appearances, he was overlooked on the wing for City as he lined up in central midfield.

Maybe it’s harsh to count this start against him for not being in his familiar left-wing role. Especially as he rarely gets a chance to play in the midfield role many feel is his long-term future.

And from the start, he replicated the Kevin De Bruyne dashes forward into the area around his striker, and looked to link with the more advances players around him. He didn’t look out of place, nor did Chelsea dominate the midfield which could always be a risk when a player joins the trio when they rarely play there. He deserves credit for both observations.

This was perhaps the best tactical performance from Foden in midfielder rather than a particularly attacking one, which will encourage Guardiola after stressing for years that a player must be more disciplined in a central role like the one he played. Guardiola will be far happier with seeing Foden slot in seamlessly against Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic without getting overrun than his goal and assist.

Those attacking involvements only showed that Foden still managed to contribute another aspect of what City midfielders are expected to do. Score and create goals.

Arriving into the area behind Julian Alvarez, Foden timed his near-post run perfectly to meet Kyle Walker’s cross and turn it into the bottom corner and put City 3-0 up before halftime.

His celebrations can often be subdued, especially when he’s playing well, but this one was full of emotion and the happiness at scoring after a difficult period was clear to see. Even a player who is usually so confident and fearless must find a period out of favour difficult.

His second-half showing was as quiet as the whole game, with City not needing to attack against a Chelsea team not particularly trying to get back into the game. But his disciplined showing to keep the ball, and his well-timed run to win a second penalty, was another reminder of the all-round midfielder he could be.

However, even without the goal involvements, he showed exactly what Guardiola would have wanted from him in midfield. If the FA Cup provides an outlet to rest Kevin De Bruyne, maybe the Belgian’s default replacement in that advanced central midfield role should be Foden.

With Arsenal potentially awaiting in the fourth round, they would provide a high level of opponent for Foden to continue his education for becoming a midfielder in the future and ease the pressure on his midfield colleagues amid a testing run of fixtures that won’t let up for weeks.

He may still face a fight to reclaim his left-wing spot and is far from guaranteed a start at Old Trafford next week, but his Chelsea appearance was perhaps his best in a deeper role to date and one that will provide plenty of encouragement to City bosses planning what their future midfield could look like.


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