While the likes of Declan Rice and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have made more of an impact in terms of pure minutes this season, Phil Foden is still one of the most talented young players in the Premier League.
Aging Silva to Pass the Baton?
The belief Pep Guardiola has in Foden is reflected by the youngster’s continued inclusion into second-string Manchester City XIs. In low-key cup fixtures against the likes of Burton, Newport and Rotherham, Foden has proven to be an energetic addition to the City midfield, scoring on a number of occasions with the confidence of a much older man.
However, he still faces the daunting prospect of unseating the likes of midfield masters David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan for Premier League matches. They are an infinitely more seasoned midfield duo, and just a glance at the sports spread betting for the 2018/19 title race shows that this is not the time for City to experiment.
The 2019/20 campaign could still be one that tests Foden's patience, but even so, time waits for no man. David Silva will turn 34 next season, and while he has been one of the best players in the Premier League for many years, his eventual departure will be Foden’s opportunity.
A Positive Trajectory – but to What end?
Encouragingly, Foden has already played in over double the number of games that he featured in last season, so there has been a progression in his playing time. The next natural step will be for Guardiola to give him regular starting berths against the most relegation-threatened sides, but that could itself cause problems.
The teams that are fighting for their lives at the end of 2019/20 – or simply lacking in skill at the start of it – will be more prone to rash decisions and fouling, which may in turn lead Guardiola to utilise him in a role that poses less risk of injury.
As a slender technical footballer who stands at under 5’8, Foden is at risk of injury wherever he plays. Yet, his size may also come at an advantage, enabling him to draw fouls from the opposition. As such, his ideal opponent would be a team that relies less on physical oppression, but also has a distinct weakness in defending set-pieces.
No Room for Error
While it’s clear that Guardiola is very impressed with Foden, he also wants to be protective of him. Big clubs are often criticised for not developing their players and not giving them enough minutes, but Foden’s position is an incredibly important one, and any mistakes he could theoretically make against fellow top-six sides could be costly to City.
As a new-style playmaker, burdening the dual expectations of attacking and defending in equal measure, Foden has a prime opportunity to establish himself as the unseen danger behind a target man. Yet, if he was to give the ball away, the changeover of possession would occur while City are in an attacking phase. With everyone further up the field, title rivals of the same calibre as Liverpool and Tottenham could easily find a defensive gap to exploit.
For that reason alone, it is harder to give the likes of Foden the same playing time as Callum Hudson-Odoi or Jadon Sancho, who have both been deployed in more attack-focused roles throughout 2018/19. Since they don’t have the same level of responsibility in their positions, the general feeling is that Guardiola isn’t yet ready to fully unleash Foden.
2019/20 – A Defining Season
While a regular Premier League starting berth in 19/20 is probably too much to ask of the youngster, there is every indication that Foden has a very bright future with City.
The likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are set to strengthen greatly in the summer transfer window. Once again 2019/20 should see a very close title race, and one which Foden currently lacks the experience to flourish in. His best bet to ensure progress as a player will be to get a loan deal, and join a Bundesliga or Eredivisie club that lacks depth in his position. It has worked wonders for the likes of Reiss Nelson, Ademola Lookman and Jadon Sancho, the latter of whom is currently being linked with a big-money move to City's rivals Manchester United this summer.
All too often this century, big clubs have been tarnished as killers of English talent, with young players moving on before their time, or moving on too late, at a time when they have become disenchanted with life as a professional simply existing on the bench. Guardiola has the opportunity to prove that for every Jack Rodwell or Francis Jeffers, there is a success story to be written.
Having himself come from a football dynasty, which saw him rise from C-team player to manager at Barcelona, Guardiola has an innate appreciation for legacies. That alone makes him one of the best men in existence to make the most out of Foden.