From teenage unused sub against Celtic to Man City talisman, Phil Foden is now one of most important players in EPL

The forward continued his excellent season with a treble against Aston Villa

On Wednesday night, a close friend of mine got in touch. “Why did I take Phil Foden out of my Fantasy Football team?” he lamented. Given he leads our mini-league by more than 100 points, sympathy was in short supply, but I did comment on his stupidity – and quickly transferred Foden into my squad. He has fast become one of the most important players in the English Premier League.

The 23-year-old is a player who feels like he has been on the scene for quite some time despite his tender age. His first appearance in a Man City matchday squad was against Celtic way back in December 2016. He had to wait almost 12 more months for his debut, coming on against Feyenoord in the Champions League. Since then, he has become a near-permanent fixture in Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering squad, and is graduating from golden child to the main man in his team.

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Foden scored a hat-trick on Wednesday night as Manchester City defeated Aston Villa 4-1 to keep up their quest to retain the Premier League title amid fierce opposition from both Arsenal and Liverpool. Guardiola had left his monstrous striker Erling Haaland and creative genius Kevin de Bruyne on the bench, trusting Foden to lead the line. Primarily a wide forward or an attacking midfielder, he is now proving just as adept at being chief goalscorer. This was the second treble he has netted in 2024, and his attacking stats this campaign are the best of the his career: 14 goals and seven assists in 30 EPL appearances. Add in continental competitions and his strike rate sits at 21.

Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates after scoring his team third goal against Aston Villa.Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates after scoring his team third goal against Aston Villa.
Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates after scoring his team third goal against Aston Villa.

Has he become more important to City than Haaland and De Bruyne, who have both missed chunks of this season due to injury? Their absence has allowed Foden to grow, to revel in the spotlight. As always, his manager Guardiola is pushing for more, aware of the special talent he has on his hands. “What can I say? Three goals,” Guardiola said after the win over Villa. “He didn’t start well but I think the goal helped him a lot for the mood. When Phil plays in a central position he has a sense for goals and he proved it again.

The Spaniard added: “He can do whatever he wants. He’s a real top-class player. We know it. But he is still open-minded, he has to understand the game, he has to focus on things, sometimes he’s a bit distracted in exactly what you have to do offensively, defensively, but he has a natural talent – a gift – which is special. The work ethic is unbelievable and he has an incredible sense of goal. When he has the ball and he’s attacking the back line he is going to score, you had that feeling. It is not easy to find it and that’s why he’s so special when he’s playing these central positions.”

In a title race of fine margins, Foden is now bracketed alongside Liverpool’s Mo Salah and Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka as potential league winners. And looking beyond the domestic campaign, England manager Gareth Southgate must find a way to harness this precocious player into his starting XI alongside the just as exciting Saka and Real Madrid wonderkid Jude Bellingham.



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