Phil Foden ran the show for Manchester City in their 5-1 hammering of Club Brugge in the Champions League, but it was the goalscoring cameo of fellow academy graduate Cole Palmer that underlined the club’s vast strength in depth.
Operating in a false number nine role, Foden tormented the Brugge defence before he was withdrawn on 64 minutes — with City 3-0 up and cruising against a side that had held Paris Saint-Germain in their opening game.
Three minutes later and Palmer, just on as a replacement for Kevin De Bruyne, added to City’s lead with a clinical finish from Raheem Sterling’s pass for his first European goal.
England coach Gareth Southgate recently called Foden’s emergence as an England star “fabulously exciting”, and the 21-year-old, who missed the Euro 2020 final with injury, did not disappoint in Belgium.
His sublime chipped pass for Joao Cancelo resulted in the Portugal defender breaking the deadlock after City dominated the first 30 minutes against overmatched opponents.
Foden’s constant movement forged numerous openings for City, whose failed pursuit of Harry Kane in the summer has forced Pep Guardiola to get creative with his attack to compensate for the lack of a genuine centre-forward.
“He can play as a striker, dropping when he wants and going in behind. He can attack really well with Rodri, with Kevin. Phil has a special talent,” said Guardiola.
“We don’t have a real striker to score 25 goals so we have to put as many players as possible close to the box to score a goal. He’s one of the guys.”
“When Phil plays close to the box you have the feeling he can always create something for himself. He played really well,” added Guardiola.
– Guardiola unwilling to rush youth –
While City’s spending power is almost unparalleled, and often questioned by rivals, the club is showing it can nurture talent as well as compete financially for any player on the market.
Foden had to bide his time before developing into a core member of City’s first team, providing the blueprint for the likes of the exciting Palmer.
Guardiola said he plans to keep the 19-year-old attacking midfielder at the Etihad this season and turn down any approach from clubs to take him on loan.
Palmer made a late appearance as a substitute in Saturday’s 2-0 Premier League win over Burnley, and then scored a hat-trick just a couple hours later for the under-23s against Leicester’s reserves.
“Cole has a special quality, in front of the box he has this talent that is difficult to find. When he has the ball there, most of them finish in the net,” said Guardiola.
“But I know how it works with young players in all countries, especially this one (England) as well. So let’s be calm, let’s be patient like we’ve done with Phil.
“He’s a player for our future, for the future of this club.”
Palmer became just the third teenager to score for City in the Champions League after Foden and Kelechi Iheanacho.
But Guardiola insisted the teenager would not be fast-tracked into his plans, name-checking a handful of other youngsters for whom the Spaniard has high hopes.
“The people in this world want things immediately but everything needs time,” said Guardiola. “You cannot cook a good dish if you don’t spend time in the kitchen.
“We also have Liam Delap, Sam Edozie, Luke Mbete, Romeo Lavia – five or six really good talented players in the academy. Who knows, if they continue to be humble and work they can be important for Manchester City.”
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