Foden shows Guardiola the future is now

By Sports Desk March 02, 2020

The 19-year-old man of the match strolled through the Wembley mixed zone on Sunday evening wearing a beaming grin along with his winners' medal, only to receive one more instruction from his manager.

"Phil, you must!" said Pep Guardiola, gesturing towards the gaggle of waiting journalists, eagerly wanting a piece of Phil Foden.

But no sooner had he headed towards the microphones, the midfielder was told in no uncertain terms it was time to go right now as the team bus was ready to leave.

It meant Manchester City's coach driver had done something largely beyond Aston Villa for the duration of Sunday's EFL Cup final by stopping Foden from doing whatever he wanted. 

City continued their recent dominance of the competition with a third successive triumph thanks to first-half goals from Sergio Aguero and Rodri, before Mbwana Samatta pulled one back in the 41st minute for a valiant Villa.

It proved a day to savour for City's old guard. Aguero, Fernandinho and David Silva now have five winners' medals apiece from English football's mid-season final.

Club record goalscorer Aguero settled nerves after a scrappy start with a typically astute piece of poaching. Ever the man for the big occasion, the Argentina star has been directly involved in eight goals across 10 Wembley appearances, while Villa will be sick of the sight of a man boasting 10 strikes in his past six outings against them.

Within the context of Aymeric Laporte's injury struggles this season, Fernandinho has shifted seamlessly from defensive midfield lynchpin to become City's most reliable option at centre-back.

The 35-year-old typically provides an expert combination of aggression and poise while his rotating cast of partners cough up goal-causing mistakes.

Fernandinho's probing, purposeful passing from deep to get Guardiola's men back on the front foot early in the second half after John Stones' forlorn grapple with gravity in the build up to Samatta's powerful header ensured both sides of that equation were clearly evident at the national stadium.

Aguero and Fernandinho are under contract for 2021-22 but the current campaign amounts to a victory lap for the mercurial Silva, who will end a glorious decade in Manchester over the next three months.

Guardiola has frequently stated his plan for the club captain to symbolically pass the torch to Foden, who has waited diligently in the wings since his 2017 debut as the understudy to City's twinkling left-footed magician.

The realities of elite sport and the passage of time mean succession planning is rarely completely smooth, however, and the match against Villa often felt like Foden ripping the baton from his mentor's hand and tearing off on a journey mapped out in boyhood dreams.

Across 90 minutes in which Villa's refusal to go quietly was the main factor in City lacking the relentless rhythm that defines their best work, Foden was their most reliable outlet.

No-one else in their Hacienda-inspired black shirts led the dance as the teenager did, unquestionably the player most in tune with Guardiola's "take the ball, pass the ball" mantra when in opposition territory.

Foden completed 90 per cent of his 41 passes in the Villa half, set against 87.5 per cent of 32 from Silva, who he also outstripped in overall touches (71 to 57) and tenacity – (7/10 duels won to 3/8).

All the unmistakable Silva visuals remain – gliding into pockets of space in front of defenders and receiving the ball with eloquent mischief, all while shuffling easily as if in his favourite pair of carpet slippers.

And yet, each refined movement feels the tiniest split-second slower. Opponents can now generally close out those shafts of light where the 34-year-old used to thread his most delightful passes.

Foden became the player most familiar with the whites of Aston Villa eyes, daring them not to blink. One particularly velvety touch on the end of Oleksandr Zinchenko's raking 29th-minute pass almost brought a goal to savour.

Guardiola talked up the youngster's goal threat afterwards and no City player could match his five attempts on the day. Although not noted for his aerial ability, Foden's 20th-minute knockdown for Aguero means he now has seven assists to go with a pair of goals in 10 competitive starts in 2019-20.

Even without those impressive numbers, the evidence presented to 82,149 spectators was enough. On a gala day for City's most influential players of the past 10 years, Foden made a statement of intent for the decade to come.

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