(written by Tom Cayless)
Phil Foden has graduated from comparisons from any other young player in the Premier League. For the past year, Foden has been constantly compared, by fans on forums and Twitter, to the likes of Mason Greenwood, Gabriel Martinelli, and Callum Hudson-Odoi. However, now, even most rival fans will admit Foden has taken his game to another level. With all respect to the other young talents in the league, the Manchester City academy graduate has just simply eclipsed everyone.
In the recent FA Cup game against Cheltenham, in which Guardiola’s side won 3-1. City played in what would be described as ‘Typical City’ fashion, missing multiple big chances and then conceding a goal out of nowhere. Guardiola then brought on Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo, and Ilkay Gundogan and everything changed. City had some sort of injection about themselves and clawed back three goals to take them through to the fifth round, where they will play away at Swansea.
Despite City’s poor team performance, Phil Foden was a shining light and once again proved his qualities. His main highlight came in the form of a Messi-esque run, where he glided past four Cheltenham defenders only for his shot to end up blocked.
Since the start of the season, Foden has scored nine goals in all competitions- making him City’s top scorer, in all competitions, this season. That in itself is outstanding. He has constantly shown top-class after top-class performance when played, and now has a great claim to being one of the first names on the team sheet.
After the recent injury to Kevin De Bruyne, City will be looking for someone to step up and replace the creative output De Bruyne provides. There will more than likely be plenty of competition to temporarily replace the un-replaceable in De Bruyne, however Foden will be right in the mix.
The main three players Guardiola will look to in replacing Kevin De Bruyne will more than likely be; Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, and Foden. Below I will compare the three and suggest who should replace De Bruyne.
As mentioned before, Foden is not only the highest scorer out of the three, but also the highest in the whole Manchester City squad. Ilkay Gundogan has seven and Bernardo Silva has three. Foden also takes 2.76 shots per 90, more than both Gundogan and Bernardo Silva, but, still a lot less than De Bruyne’s 3.35 shots per 90. However, the Englishmen has a better shot on target percentage than De Bruyne, 38.5% and 28.4% respectively. As a result of taking the least shots per 90, out of the four, Bernardo Silva has the highest shots on target percentage, 47.8%. This is more than likely because Silva’s average shot distance is 12.3 yards out from the goal. When compared to De Bruyne’s this is 7.8 yards closer. 4.5 yards closer than Gundogan, and even 3.3 yards closer than Foden.
Just from Foden’s goal-scoring tally, and these stats, it is clear he is more than capable of replacing De Bruyne’s goal threat and the best option for it.
As for the number of passes, Ilkay Gundogan leads the way. This is because, when played, the German plays either in the double pivot resulting in him being on the ball more than the other players. The creativity of passes can be seen in the key passes per 90 stat. De Bruyne is clear of the others with 3.54, per 90. However, Foden has the highest out of the rest at 1.96, Silva and Gundogan have 1.21 and 1.60 respectively. With De Bruyne’s duties in the side mainly consisting of creating chances for his teammates, Foden looks the best bet in replacing him. Well for creativity at least. Ilkay Gundogan must also be credited for his excellent ability of creativity from deep. The former Dortmund man makes 8.07 passes into the final third, per 90, and maybe removing him from his deeper role could leave City lacking that edge from a deep.
In replacing De Bruyne, City will also need to replace his vast presence in the final third. The Belgium takes, on average, 41.2 touches in the attacking third of the pitch, per 90 minutes. Foden, however, only takes 1.6 less and takes, even more, touches in the opposition penalty box. This may be because Foden predominantly plays on the left-hand side, but is a great sign City doesn’t need to be concerned about the lack of another body further up the pitch, even if Foden is moved into midfield from the left-wing. When it comes to ball progression, Foden is the worst out of the three possible replacements. Ilkay Gundogan completes 65.5 carries per 90, Bernardo Silva completes 50.8, with Foden completing 45.9. Silva, however, has the highest progressive distance out of the three. He progresses the ball a total of 188.5 yards per 90, whilst dribbling. The former Monaco playmaker has always been renowned for his progressive ability and the stats prove it, even progressing the ball further than De Bruyne himself.
Guardiola will of course want De Bruyne back as soon as possible, with a tough and important run of fixtures ahead. But he may not miss him as originally thought, as Foden, Gundogan, and Silva are more than capable of contributing to De Bruyne’s lost output. He will be a huge miss for the Manchester club, but with Foden, especially, looking to be with the club for the long run, this may be the perfect opportunity for him to step up even into the limelight and show the world why Guardiola described him as the ‘most naturally’ gifted player he had ever trained.