‘We’ve got…Guardiola’ and he has Phil Foden. The Manchester Citymanager watched on as his Premier League leaders toyed with their city neighbours in another one-sided derby, and at the heart of it all was Foden. If anything is going to persuade Guardiola to stay at City for a while longer yet, then it’s the 21-year-old attacker.
Yes, Kevin De Bruyne was majestic in this 4-1 triumph: making and taking three of City’s four goals in a Tour de Force performance. But Foden, despite not scoring, was just as mesmeric. This reporter wrote something very similar in the aftermath of City’s 2-2 draw at Liverpool in October, which goes some way to highlight that Foden steps up in the big games.
His performance, against a disorganised and rather dishevelled Manchester United, had a bit of everything. All the while he was playing as a ‘false nine’ and if you did not know better, you would think he had been playing in that position all his life. It was an afternoon when almost everything came off for Foden, although Guardiola did say afterwards that he thought the attacker rushed at times when in the final third.
Foden certainly executed a fine piece of skill in the build-up to City’s second in the 28th minute. Nonchalantly scooping the ball over Victor Lindelof’s head before chesting the ball down and cracking a shot at David De Gea. The parry and then another block led to De Bruyne slotting home, from which City never looked back. It was Foden, though, who had shown the United defence for what it was.
For a player not even 5ft 7in, the way he battles with players much heavier and taller is something to marvel at. His aggression and hard running were all on show, and the way in which he tormented Aaron Wan-Bissaka will leave the United right back with hallucinations. What’s more, Foden held the ball up well and drifted into the half spaces that left Lindelof and Harry Maguire unsure whether to come out. He combined silk with steel.
Foden went closest to scoring when sending a looping header onto the top of the crossbar. His display warranted a goal. Jack Grealish was indebted to Foden’s movement for his own personal best performance in a City shirt. Likewise, Riyad Mahrez was able to operate well down the right, and score a brace, thanks in part to Foden’s tireless work in the centre.
It all came together for City in the second half, which for a 15-minute spell between the 71st and 86th minute the home side had 92 per cent possession, four shots, 191 passes and 225 touches. “If the second half is not us at our best I don’t know what we have to do,” Guardiola enthused after seeing City extend their lead at the top to six points, albeit having played a game more than second-placed Liverpool.
“I am so demanding but I know my limits and my players' limits and the second half was excellent. We let them run a lot in the first half. But we made an excellent performance, I am the biggest critic of my team but when we play good, we play good, and second half we were really good.”
'Players did try'
Meanwhile, the criticisms rained down on United post-match with club greats such as Roy Keane and Gary Neville labelling the team “shameful” and “an absolute shower” respectively. Yet, interim manager Ralf Rangnick remained steadfast in the commitment of his players. “To be honest, I didn’t have the impression that they didn’t try,” Rangnick said.
“But it is difficult against a team like Man City once you are 3-1 down. They are the best team in possession on the planet. I can’t blame anyone for not having tried or put in effort. But it was difficult after the third goal.”
Only De Gea emerged from Rangnick’s second league defeat in charge with any credit. Jadon Sancho’s equaliser came at the end of a good move but that was more or less all that the visitors offered in an attacking sense. In the first meeting with a ‘big six’ side since taking interim charge, Rangnick deployed a 4-2-4 set-up which played into City’s hands, allowing De Bruyne in particular space to operate.
Rangnick’s team selections weren’t helped before kick-off by the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo to a hip injury that he reported on Friday, and of Edinson Cavani, who told medical staff he was not able to play despite training well for three days before the derby. “I have to believe my medical department,” Rangnick said.