Phil Foden is special.
Okay so that might sound like an obvious statement at this stage but there might be some people out there who haven’t been convinced to the magical abilities of this young man.
Foden was handed the start for Manchester City’s trip to Greece to face Olympiacos and he was at the heart of everything good Pep Guardiola’s team did. It was he who scored the only goal of the game following lovely interplay with captain for the night Raheem Sterling. Throughout the match Foden was a constant source of creativity with intelligent runs, smart touches and wonderful technique.
Foden only got 18 minutes in the 2-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur on the weekend but he’s clearly a player in form after his stellar showing for England against Iceland during the international break. With other attacking players struggling for rhythm right now the calls for Foden to start are only going to get louder. City remain unbeaten in games Foden has scored in, 17 matches.
Foden now has ten goals for City in 2020 in all competitions. As Opta point out no Premier League midfielder has more open play goals than Foden in the calendar year. Foden has all the joy you’d associate with this generation of young English players, plenty of invention combined with a silky touch. Perhaps Guardiola was right in not rushing Foden into first-team action and staggering his development instead. Now though, he has to be starting on a more regular basis.
His growth as a goal-scorer is remarkable, and an unexpected bonus for Guardiola, but it does raise a wider issue. City had an astonishing 21 attempts at goal (Olympiacos had two for what it’s worth) but they could only find one goal. In the Premier League this season they’ve only scored ten, just six teams have scored fewer.
This is a team that used to blow their opponents away on a weekly basis, now they’re getting shutout more than ever before. With rivals Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs all having double the amount of league goals there’s no doubt City are in trouble. For all the money Guardiola and City have spent on midfielders and defenders there has been a notable lack of investment in the striking department.
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Gabriel Jesus is a fine player, and he is still just 23, but he hasn’t yet shown that he has the ability to lead the line for a team like City for an entire season, either from an ability or fitness perspective. Sergio Aguero will be 33 at the end of the season and he is not the player he was. In a title-winning team players like Foden and Kevin De Bruyne chipping in with double-digit goal tallies would be complemented by 20 goal figures from forward players. City know they can rely on Raheem Sterling to either hit that figure or get near but Jesus and Aguero aren’t there at the moment. Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva are not going to be those players either.
It might mean dipping into the January transfer market in an aggressive manner. Dean Jones has reported for Eurosport that Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland is top of City’s wishlist. Lautaro Martinez of Inter Milan was also mentioned by Jones as a possible target. You’d imagine both Dortmund and Inter would be loathe to lose their player sin January but City have the money to make the move happen.
Erling Haaland has been linked to Manchester City in Dean Jones' Inside Football column
Image credit: Getty Images
Sterling (25), Foden (20), Bernardo (26), Torres (20) and Jesus (23) should grow into their primes together. At 29 De Bruyne can manage the transition of the new generation and with his skillset he can have a David Silva esque effect as he goes into his 30s. Jesus is the worry. He's supposed to be City's goalscorer but he's not doing it. Haaland and Martinez have proven themselves consistently at the highest levels, they would be undoubted upgrades.
It’s not panic stations yet but City can’t just assume they’re going to get into the top four or get far in the Champions League. Lyon showed last year that reputation doesn’t mean anything. City are eight points behind Liverpool and Spurs already and six behind Chelsea and Leicester City. Yes there’s a lot of time to go but those are big gaps after just nine matches.
There are positives to take out of this win in Greece. Both Benjamin Mendy and in particular John Stones looked good as they work their way back to full fitness whilst the aforementioned Foden was brilliant. Joao Cancelo was excellent filling in for Kyle Walker at right-back, getting forward and supporting the attack well.
However, until Guardiola figures out something (either on the training ground or in the transfer market) or either Aguero or Jesus start to hit form this City team is going to have a big problem. Their rivals have the likes of Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah, Son Heung-min, Sadio Mane, Timo Werner, Tammy Abraham and Jamie Vardy to call upon. City need to find a consistent goalscorer from somewhere, their top scorer needs to have more than two league goals.