Phil Foden: Manchester City’s Generational Talent

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Six years ago, Phil Foden was watching on at the Etihad Stadium as a ball boy. Fast forward to 2021, the midfielder has now made 100 appearances for his boyhood club at 20-years-old and is a focal part of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.

Not only that, but the midfielder has also won six domestic trophies and is now a regular England international. All this and the midfielder still makes it look far too easy. 


Peter Doherty, Mike Summerbee, Georgi Kinkladze, Colin Bell; there were never enough superlatives to describe how good these City legends were. The City of new has also produced some of the club’s greatest ever players, including Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and the club’s all-time leading goalscorer, Sergio Aguero.

Guardiola’s side has found it challenging to transition following three of the above departures, with the latter not getting any younger either. The recent exit of David Silva was a hammer blow for the Citizens, a world-class midfielder blessed with fantastic technique and arguably irreplaceable. Though, it did pave the way for Phil Foden to finally get his chance and become a Manchester City regular, an opportunity which he has well and truly taken.

The 20-year-old is far from the finished article but continues to play a pivotal part in a new-look Manchester City side who have taken the Premier League by storm recently. An unbeaten January saw Guardiola’s side score 24 goals and concede just two, re-instating their credentials as firm title contenders this season.

Foden has recently flourished in City’s 4-3-3 system without a recognised striker that has taken many teams by surprise this season. Foden plays on the left-hand side of the front three, occasionally rotating with Portugal’s Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan. Foden’s technique, coupled with his vision, makes him very difficult to handle in this system, complementing the all-round attributes that show glimpses of David Silva himself. 

Can he eventually become the Spaniard’s successor in this City side? Absolutely. 


Key to being a successful and world-class attacker in modern-day football is versatility. Playing anywhere across the front line makes a player unpredictable and difficult to contain, something Foden seems to have in abundance. 

Despite initially being an attacking midfielder as aforementioned, Guardiola has mainly utilised Foden as an inverted winger, allowing the 20-year-old to cut inside and provide an added threat in central areas.

Phil Foden and City's system

As you can see from the image above, Brighton struggled to deal with Manchester City’s flexible 4-3-3 system. Kevin De Bruyne mainly received the ball from deep and controlled possession with his passing ability, whilst Silva and Foden occasionally rotated. 

Brighton’s four-man box press around the ball carrier allows Foden to make that central run between the two defenders, before calmly slotting the ball into the back of the net. 

Phil Foden - City's system: Foden occupies a central area.
City’s system: Foden occupies a central area.

As you can see above, it’s clear that Guardiola has instructed Foden to get into more central areas and goalscoring positions. Not only this, but the midfielder’s intelligent positioning draws the attention away from Gabriel Jesus, with the latter having a free header at the back post. 

Guardiola’s influence: David Silva. 

Dissecting the image above, Guardiola played a similar role in David Silva’s game. El Mago drifts into the penalty area between the defenders, before scoring the winning goal against West Ham in 2018. 

Uncanny. After all, Guardiola did say that Foden was Silva’s replacement in the making and admitted they both had similar qualities. The versatility allows them to drift into dangerous positions in the final third and add goals to their game – something we see more of from Phil Foden this season. The Stockport-born City man has scored more goals already in all competitions at this stage than he managed in the entirety of last season.


After mainly featuring as a substitute for Guardiola’s side last season, now we are witnessing Foden’s full breakthrough season as a regular starter for Manchester City. However, his new-found role is seemingly something the 20-year-old makes look second nature. 

The England international already has 15 goals/6 assists in 30 appearances so far this season, more than playing his part in a revitalised Manchester City. With their star man Kevin De Bruyne ruled out for up to six weeks due to a hamstring injury, Guardiola may rely on Foden to produce even more to cover the Belgian’s void. 

Though, with the 20-year-old already at the heart of some scintillating City performances so far this season, showing his inhumane technique on the ball, energy, and improvement in his off the ball movement in the final third – it’s fair to say that this won’t be a problem for the generational talent.

Not only that, but Foden will also be pushing for a place in England’s delayed Euro 2020 squad this summer, with Gareth Southgate having a hotbed of talent to choose from. With the youngster’s performances continuing to progress week in week out, the Three Lions manager may have a selection headache on his hands. 

The future of Manchester City, and the future of England?

Words by Dan Woffenden@DanWoff98

Graphic by Sam Ingram@SamIngram_