Soccer

Pep Guardiola: Top-class Phil Foden can do whatever he wants in football

Foden’s hat-trick kept Manchester City hot on the heels of Premier League title rivals Arsenal and Liverpool.

Phil Foden went home with the match ball
Phil Foden went home with the match ball Phil Foden went home with the match ball (Martin Rickett/PA)

Pep Guardiola said Phil Foden can “do whatever he wants” in football after watching him fire Manchester City to a 4-1 Premier League victory over Aston Villa with a brilliant hat-trick.

With Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne dropping to the bench, Foden moved into a central position and orchestrated the demolition of Villa with an outstanding display, playing a hand in Rodri’s opener and then taking the game away from the visitors after Jhon Duran had levelled.

Foden restored City’s lead with a free-kick in first-half stoppage time when he found the gap that Nicolo Zaniolo left in Villa’s wall, then won it with two excellent goals just after the hour, the last of them a shot into the top corner after he had lost the ball but quickly regained it.

His second hat-trick of the campaign moved Foden on to 21 goals for the season and kept the pressure on in the title race, with the champions one point behind new leaders Arsenal and level with Liverpool who host Sheffield United on Thursday.

“What can I say? Three goals,” Guardiola said. “He didn’t start well but I think the goal helped him a lot for the mood. When Phil plays in a central position he has a sense for goals and he proved it again.

“He can do whatever he wants. He’s a real top-class player. We know it. But he is still open-minded, he has to understand the game, he has to focus on things, sometimes he’s a bit distracted in exactly what you have to do offensively, defensively, but he has a natural talent – a gift – which is special.

“The work ethic is unbelievable and he has an incredible sense of goal. When he has the ball and he’s attacking the back line he is going to score, you had that feeling. It is not easy to find it and that’s why he’s so special when he’s playing these central positions.”

Phil Foden shone while Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland had a rest
Phil Foden shone while Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland had a rest Phil Foden shone while Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland had a rest (Martin Rickett/PA)

De Bruyne and Haaland got a breather with next week’s Champions League trip to Real Madrid looming, but without them City turned in one of their better performances of the season and a vast improvement on Sunday’s goalless draw against title rivals Arsenal.

“We were better,” Guardiola said. “It’s true we conceded a few transitions and we lost a few balls and when that happens it’s a lesson we have to learn for the next game but we had incredible energy, four-five players up front and it was really good. We created a lot of chances.”

Villa remain fourth but the defeat leaves them only two points above Tottenham, who have a game in hand.

Unai Emery was without the injured Ollie Watkins and then also lost goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez to a stomach problem after he had been named in the starting line-up. But the Spaniard chose to make several more changes to his side – six in total from Saturday’s win over Wolves.

Aston Villa could not stop Phil Foden
Aston Villa could not stop Phil Foden Aston Villa could not stop Phil Foden (Martin Rickett/PA)

“It’s clear we were motivated and excited to try to be competitive, trying to keep it consistent like we are in the Premier League, but of course we were playing against Manchester City,” Emery said.

“We were competing until the 60th minute and as well we were trying to build our team with some players who are not playing a lot, we are trying to give them chances to play.

“Even when we were losing 2-1 we had some chances to score with Douglas Luiz, but they were pushing us a lot, they showed us their potential and they deserved to win.

“We will play a lot of matches in the next weeks, starting on Saturday against Brentford, and it was important to try to be intelligent playing against Manchester City. Of course we wanted to win but with some players injured and some players suspended we wanted to get some practice with some players.”