Academy star is Pep Guardiola’s danger man after following up his dynamic show in their win over Chelsea with a starring role in 2-2 draw at Liverpool
Phil Foden may have idolised James Milner growing up as a Manchester City fan, but he showed him little mercy when they faced each other at Anfield.
They embraced warmly at full-time, Milner smiling in relief, having watched the final 15 minutes from the bench rather than be tasked with trying to stop the virtually unstoppable.
With an injury ruling out Trent Alexander-Arnold, the utility man had been drafted in at right-back for the latest showdown between the two clubs.
Milner is always a safe pair of hands – a solid professional that has never let Liverpool down – or City for that matter in his five years at the Etihad Stadium.
But in Foden he came up against an attacker who is as fearless as he is skilful. He left the pitch ultimately disappointed that City hadn’t taken all three points despite them winning only once at Liverpool since he started school.
Milner could be thankful that he hadn’t done more damage.
He crept around the back of his marker to steer in City’s first equaliser but he had threatened more danger. A first-half foul by Milner that Foden believed was a penalty was waved away, another clumsy tackle earned the veteran a yellow card and he also let Foden escape for another opportunity that was smartly saved by Alisson.
“I respect [Milner] as a player, I used to watch him in the academy when he was at City. He was a great opponent to play against today, very physical and experienced,” Foden said after the game.
“I was a bit frustrated missing chances in the first half, so when I got the next chance I thought I would put my foot through it and try something different and it paid off.”
Still 21 until the end of the season, Foden is showing the maturity to lead City’s challenge, underlining that in a week when Pep Guardiola’s side travelled to their other major title rivals Chelsea and then a European clash against Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe at Paris Saint-Germain.
With Jack Grealish facing the most challenging seven days of his professional career and struggling to make an impact at Anfield, and Raheem Sterling on the bench as he finds his way to his best form, it’s Foden that courageously took the game to Jurgen Klopp’s side.
What perhaps was most remarkable was that he didn’t just threaten as a left winger, Guardiola asked him to shift around the pitch during the 90 minutes, utilising him as City’s most dangerous weapon.
He spent part of the first half playing as a false nine, just as he did a week earlier when he led City’s line in an impressive 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge. Then, as Guardiola shuffled his multitude of attacking options, Foden dropped back into midfield as a number eight, with Kevin De Bruyne playing further forward.
He was then back at left winger, making the direct run that led to De Bruyne’s second equaliser.
It shows the growing trust of Guardiola; he believes Foden can affect the game from a variety of positions, particularly with much of the emphasis on City’s lack of a front man.
The City boss has shown his frustrations in the past, as Foden struggled to implement his tactics on the pitch but the academy player is increasingly becoming the Catalan’s game changer.
“Phil is a special player, we know it,” Guardiola said at full-time, more wanting to emphasise his team’s performance.
The City boss had celebrated the point enthusiastically with the away fans at full-time – with his side having now gone to their two biggest rivals in the space of eight days and cemented their title challenge.
He has a squad full of spirit and togetherness that stayed strong against Liverpool when they may well have buckled in the past.
And in Foden, he has a player capable of delivering that moment of magic just when he needs it.