Phil Foden hopes to cement his place in a central position after hauling Manchester City to within two points of Premier League leaders Liverpool on Monday Night Football.
Foden hit a hat-trick as City came from behind to beat bogey team Brentford 3-1 and climb up to second in the Premier League.
Victory in west London, coupled with Arsenal’s win over Liverpool on Sunday, leaves Pep Guardiola’s side two points behind the Reds with a game in hand.
Brentford were the only team to beat City home and away last season, and the ‘three-peat’ looked on when Neal Maupay fired them into the lead.
But Foden hauled City level before the interval, headed them in front early in the second half and then completed a stylish treble to leave the visitors with their title destiny firmly in their own hands.
Speaking to Sky Sports afterwards with the match ball in his hands, Foden said: “I’m a person that adapts and plays a lot of positions when needed. I know I will do that with Manchester City and have to be ready. I’m enjoying playing in the middle and that’s where I see myself. Hopefully I can get more game time playing there.
“The [first] goal came at a great time, going into the break equalising gives you a good feeling going into the second half. It’s so difficult here, they have given big teams problems but I thought we deserved it.
“All I set myself is to try to better last year’s stats and just try to improve every year, more goals and more assists. I need to keep going and showing this level of performance more often. I don’t score a lot of headers so I’m delighted with that one.”
They may have lagged behind the pace-setters for much of the season, but with Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne back from injury, and Foden in this sort of form, an unprecedented fourth consecutive Premier League crown looks well within their capability.
Foden added: “We know the quality they have. [Ivan] Toney is one of the best in winning aerial duels, we knew the threat he would have. They are a fantastic team and we had to react and we did that well and I’m delighted with the outcome of the game.
“We stayed calm and we’re a team that trusts our ability. There were ups and downs but we had to remain patient. They closed the spaces but we remained patient, controlled the game and created chances, which was nice to see.
“I’m really glad with my performances and am playing a lot of minutes inside, where I want to be, and I’m delighted with the way I’m playing. I’m playing the best form I’ve had in a City shirt consistently for a long time and long may that continue and I will keep working hard on the training ground.”
Pep: Foden ‘playing his best season since we are together’
City made what feels like a significant move in the title race – and Pep Guardiola was full of praise for one man in particular.
“He has played a lot of games,” Guardiola told Sky Sports when asked about Foden’s contribution. “He is a guy that plays different positions and has the ability in spaces and the centre of goal because he likes to arrive in the box.
“They [Brentford] are so deep, spaces are difficult so to have a player moving in these spaces is so important. He loves moving in the 18-yard box and he is playing his best season since we are together.”
Later in his press conference, Guardiola was asked how much Foden could still improve.
“His limits, he will decide,” the City boss added. “I want as much for him to improve, football is the most important thing in his life, aside from his family and children. This season he has been so important for us.
“In terms of how he moves in small spaces and after, I’ve seen many players in the small spaces who are really good, but the impact – you have the feeling when he gets the ball then, he’s going to score, he’s going to shoot, he’s going to make an assist. That’s difficult to find.
“His combination of being good in the pockets but also after being like a knife. To be so, so aggressive in trying to score goals. I have seen few players like him.”
Why can’t Bellingham and Foden play centrally for England?
Foden has been involved in 15 Premier League goals this season – only four players have amassed more goal involvements. The question now will turn to how best he can be deployed by Gareth Southgate ahead of this summer’s European Championship finals in Germany.
Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher told Monday Night Football: “It’s really interesting what he said about playing more centrally. In terms of natural-born talent in the England squad, you think Jude Bellingham is perhaps the only one who can go up against him.
“What Bellingham has done in the last 18 months is almost make the England team his own where the team is going to be built around him. I thought that was going to be Phil Foden two or three years ago. It hasn’t quite happened.
“When he plays for City, you’re never quite sure if he’s going to be playing on the right, on the left or central. I don’t think that’s helped him.
“I think it is a bit of a conundrum for the England manager. If Bellingham is at No 10, does that mean Foden has to be on the left with Bukayo Saka on the right? The fact he’s had to move positions so often has probably hindered him.
“I thought when David Silva moved on, it would be his natural next step to play more centrally as a left-footed but it didn’t happen. It feels Pep Guardiola puts a lot on playing centrally and thought he could learn the game better playing wider.
“For England, there is no reason why he can’t play in that position. I think criticism of Gareth Southgate being too defensive can be a little over the top, but this would be a bold move, and why not when you’ve got players of that quality. In Spain, he and Bellingham would play as two No 8s.”
Plenty still to come from Foden
Sky Sports’ Ron Walker at the Gtech Community Stadium:
“It takes some reminding that Phil Foden is still only 23 years old. The way he ghosts into space – like for his second goal – and how he glides past defenders – like for his third – are not something you would associate with a player still a few years from their prime.
“There is credence to Pep Guardiola’s assertion that Foden is among the most dangerous players in tight spaces he has ever worked with.
“It always seemed like he would end up playing in a more central role at some point given that priceless quality. And now he is thriving in it.
“Haaland was the perfect foil for two of his three goals, drawing two defenders towards him on both occasions and leaving space for Foden to work his magic. Not everyone would anticipate that and react accordingly, but he is as intelligent as he is technically gifted.
“Two questions remain. Where does he fit for England – because surely, he fits somewhere – and how far can he go from here?
“At international level, the left flank seems the likely fit given his experience there for Man City and Gareth Southgate’s current preference to play Jude Bellingham as his most advanced central midfielder.
“In terms of his potential, it’s perhaps best to channel his club manager and mentor. ‘His limits, he will decide,’ he said when asked to ponder that same thought.
“Given what Foden has decided in his short career to this point, that may well mean there is still plenty more to come.”
Carra: Why shouldn’t City target another treble?
Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher on Monday Night Football:
“Why isn’t it a possibility? They’re going to be favourites for every competition they’re in. I don’t see anyone close to them, too much, in the Champions League.
“They’ve got over that barrier last season by putting that to bed in terms of winning it – and they’re big favourites in the other two as well.
“From Arsenal and Liverpool’s point of view, there will be a sense that City are back and they’re going to go on another long run.
“Arsenal and Liverpool have both got to play City. If you’re going to win the league, you’re going to have to beat City. You’re going to be favourites in the other games you go into, so it’s important for the players, staff and supporters not to get too downhearted with what Manchester City are doing.
“Forget City. When you play them, do the job, but apart from that just concentrate on your own game and drag it out for as long as possible. Then, who knows what can happen?”
Brentford visit Wolves in the Premier League at Molineux on Saturday; kick-off 3pm. Meanwhile, Manchester City host Everton at the Etihad Stadium on the same day; kick-off 12.30pm.
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