In the crucial week for Manchester City, they need stars to get up.
Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden did just that on Tuesday as the two combined to give Pep Guardiola a small lead in the Champions League quarter-finals 1-0 over Atletico Madrid in next week’s return leg in Spain.
Although the Belgian international scored a goal, the analysis after the match was concentrated around Foden, whose shot from the bench was almost instantaneous, creating a goal 79 seconds after entering the second half.
It came when the 21-year-old showed quick legs and threw the ball between Reinild’s legs and into De Bruine’s trajectory to bounce coldly into the corner.
“He came in calmly and had the clarity to cause chaos,” former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand told BT Sport. “He got off the bench and hit it.
“Ninety-nine percent of players get off the bench and do nothing, but those who have the desire and concentration – within 80 seconds, he decides the match.
City manager Guardiola added: “Phil has a special quality [to change the game]. His space in the first steps is huge and he had the composure to make an incredible assist to Kevin.
“Phil was brilliant, we knew that in the beginning. With Gabriel Jesus and him, we had to change the game when it was flat.”
Phil is the most unique football player in the world
Until the introduction of the English national team player Foden in the 68th minute, City was frustrated with the well-organized and determined back line of Atletico.
Until that moment, they managed only one shot – De Bruyne’s free kick was pushed away by Jan Oblak. In a cruel affair, Atletico failed to collect any notable targets that would upset Ederson in the entire competition.
But the game – and the potentially draw – have changed thanks to Foden’s fantastic skills to tune in to De Bruyne.
It was his seventh assist in the Champions League, and only Cesc Fabregas (10) provided more for the English club in the under-21 competition.
“Foden came in and played like on the court,” former Premier League striker Dion Dublin told BBC Radio 5 Live. “It’s as if the ball has stuck to his leg.
“He is always happy and positive. The sky blue T-shirts changed the body language and everyone was running when he came in.
“De Bruyne scored a goal, but it all came from Foden’s vision, his addition and quality.
Former Manchester United and City midfielder Owen Hargreaves added: “Phil can do that as a fake nine, either wing or striker. He can be world class in many positions – that’s special.
“Phil is the most unique football player in the world and he is still at the beginning of his development.
“At this pace he falls as the best English player of all time”
Foden now has 11 goals and nine assists in all competitions and has confirmed that he will start on Sunday against Liverpool – a match that is considered the biggest of the season and which could decide on the Premier League title.
Despite his tender age, he has already won three Premier League titles, one FA Cup, four Carabao Cups and was defeated in the Champions League and European Championship finalists with England.
“Phil influences many games and now he influences big games,” former City defender Joleon Lescott added for BT Sport. “It definitely has to start on Sunday – that’s part of the reason it didn’t start [against Atletico] had that in mind.
“I know what it means for him to play for a club. If he continues at this pace, he will be the best English player of all time with two trophies in a season.
“His mentality sets him apart. If you compare him to someone like Wayne Rooney, you can see players who get hurt when they don’t win. He’s obsessed. I love what I do, but he needs do it.
“We had to remove the balls from the hotel because you couldn’t remove him from the training field because he wants to improve all the time.
His attitude is, “I did this to come here, why would I stop?” He doesn’t do it for recognition, he does it because he loves it. “