Phil Foden cements role as Man City’s new talisman and alters Man Utd’s future | OneFootball

Phil Foden cements role as Man City’s new talisman and alters Man Utd’s future | OneFootball

Icon: The Independent

The Independent

·3 March 2024

Phil Foden cements role as Man City’s new talisman and alters Man Utd’s future

Article image:Phil Foden cements role as Man City’s new talisman and alters Man Utd’s future

There is a global interest in the Manchester derby but if there was a defiantly local flavour as Mancunians brought the magic. Manchester City 3-1 Manchester United was also Stockport 2-1 Wythenshawe. With squads compiled for a colossal cost, three goals came from the homegrown. City may claim Erling Haaland, born in the summer his father joined them, as one of their own too, but his sixth derby goal was the suffix to Phil Foden’s brace.

For United, a day that began well and contained the essence of an excellent display, nevertheless ended with the defeat most anticipated.

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The academy products traded wonderful goals, as Marcus Rashford and Foden rivalled each other with spectacular strikes. But Foden’s subsequent second moved City a step closer to a fourth successive title, something even Sir Alex Ferguson never accomplished, and rendered it likelier that United will not join their neighbours in the Champions League next season. Eleven points off fourth, they can rue other games more than this but their season is closer to ending in failure.

For City, with a 17th win in 19 matches in all competitions, there will be the chance to go top at Anfield next Sunday. A titanic battle with Liverpool beckons, though it took quite an effort – and the inspiration of Foden – to see off United.

As they trailed for 48 minutes when Haaland followed his five-goal salvo against Luton with an open-goal mishap when United’s defensive diligence suggested it could yield a transformative result for Erik ten Hag, Foden instead altered the complexion of the title race: perhaps of United’s future, too.

This was another illustration he is a player of genuine stature now, a talismanic force. The talents at City are such that it is possible to cruise along in their slipstream, but Foden has often assumed the responsibility for powering City forward this season. This was a display to remember when the individual honours are allocated.

It is already the most productive and best campaign of his career; his 18 goals could deliver his sixth Premier League crown.

And, crucially, he conjured something out of nothing when there seemed a possibility City might run out of ideas. He unleashed a thunderbolt, finding the top corner of the United goal from 25 yards. He had been City’s major threat beforehand, twice drawing fine saves from Andre Onana. His fifth Manchester derby strike was soon followed by his sixth. Switched to the left flank after Jeremy Doku went off, Foden surged into the box and angled a shot beyond Onana.

There was an ignominious postscript for United. They had almost eliminated errors for much of the match, showing a level of organisation and concentration they have often lacked this season, but there was a glaring mistake in added time. It was a tale of two defensive midfielders too, as Rodri – unbeaten in City colours for over a year – robbed Sofyan Amrabat, a disaster of a signing, and Haaland sidefooted in his sixth goal in two games.

So City extended their unbeaten run at home to 36 matches, their recent record anywhere to 19. Not for the first time, however, they did it the hard way. This was the 12th time City have conceded first in the Premier League; a susceptibility to quick attacks remains an issue for them and a strength of United’s.

A Rashford rocket, hammered from 25 yards, crashed in off the underside of the bar. After the criticism of his commitment and the focus on his body language, this was Rashford at his most emphatic. Just a sixth goal of his underwhelming campaign was a reminder of what an explosive, exciting player he remains.

It was a reward, too, for Ten Hag, who had restored him to the left wing, picking Bruno Fernandes as a false nine instead. The captain chased Onana’s punt forward to tee up Rashford. In the first half, Fernandes was ubiquitous, serving as creator and forager. He is less likely to feature in City’s TikTok feed than he did in Fulham’s. But Rashford could have doubled United’s lead, and he did not. Ten Hag felt he was found seconds before Foden’s equaliser, collecting a caution for throwing a bottle at the turf in frustration. He may not have had much of a case, however.

But his side had shown an obduracy, Jonny Evans and Raphael Varane bringing nous, Ten Hag’s team looking more compact than usual. Onana twice saved well from Foden and parried Rodri’s volley. Otherwise, United navigated most of the first half with some comfort. And then came a remarkable reprieve, Haaland missing an open goal from four yards, hooking over when Foden headed the ball across the box. It had an xG of 0.89. It felt unmissable, but he missed it.

It had shaped up as one of Onana’s finest days yet in the United goal but, having got a hand to the Foden’s second strike, perhaps he should have saved it. And so Ten Hag’s 100th game in charge of United brought defeat. He has the highest win percentage of any United manager but the aggregate score for the season stands at 6-1 and there are 18 points between the neighbours.

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