Kevin De Bruyne is getting warmed up. The entire nation is beginning to tremble.”
In an attempt at humour, Jurgen Klopp said as much to Sky Sports after Liverpool defeated Newcastle United 4–2. The Manchester City mastermind does, however, possess the ability to tip the title race in Pep Guadiola’s favour.
For the defending champions, his return to fitness has come at a crucial moment. Although they currently behind the leaders by five points, City still has a game left to play. Arsenal has only collected one point in their previous three Premier League games, while title challengers Aston Villa and Manchester United also dropped points. Mohamed Salah will be out of action for Liverpool in January, and their injury list is growing at the worst possible moment.
If Man City can maintain their current level of performance for the next month or two, they could take the lead. De Bruyne might be the catalyst for this season’s second-half assault for the championship.
However, Phil Foden is one player who might not be overly thrilled to see the No. 47 back in the starting lineup.
Man City academy alum has been used in a central role in recent weeks, with Julian Alvarez leading the line in Erling Haaland’s absence due to injury. It’s safe to say he’s having fun in his new position.
The 23-year-old made it to the finish line with the highest WhoScored rating in consecutive games as City won their first two after returning from the Club World Cup.
Against Everton, Foden scored a significant goal. At Goodison Park, it was the equalizer, and Guardiola’s team went on to win 3-1. Only Jack Grealish and Alvarez (both 4) could match his total of seven shots against Sean Dyche’s team while also completing 94% of his passes and playing three crucial passes.
In the victory over Sheffield United, he put on another strong performance. At the Etihad, the hosts defeated the club at the bottom of the standings 2-0, earning the England international a WhoScored rating of 8.51. To put things in perspective, only Alvarez (7.57) and Rodri (8.18) were able to receive ratings greater than 7.30.
The 31-cap international had a pass completion percentage of 97.6% at the end of the game, demonstrating nearly perfect possession. He made twice as many crucial passes as anyone else on the pitch, making this statistic even more remarkable. He was making what may be considered hazardous passes, and it’s even more astonishing when you realise that in his last three league games, he has made ten crucial passes as opposed to eight errant ones.
No one could match Foden’s total of attempted dribbles (five) or the number of successful dribbles (2).
In addition, he provided an assist for a goal in City’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace in their last Premier League game prior to their involvement in the Club World Cup. This indicates that Foden has scored a goal or provided an assist in his past three Premier League games, a stretch of games in which Man City has picked up seven points.
He now has five goals and six assists for the campaign thanks to his rush of late-game contributions. He is expected to surpass the 16 goals he finished with in the previous season, making this his most prolific season for the team he grew up on. His best-ever WhoScored rating (7.32) in the Premier League supports his strong play. He has played in over 1,500 minutes through 19 games this season, proving that this isn’t a bad stretch for him.
The 23-year-old might be doing more. But he must play frequently in order to do this. With De Bruyne back, there’s no guarantee he stays in the starting lineup for the second half.
Over the next two weeks, it will be interesting to see what Guardiola does. Haaland’s impending comeback and the availability of the Belgian playmaker allow him to potentially balance Foden and Alvarez. The dynamic forward might have a season akin to a passing of the torch if Foden stays in that rotation cycle. The former Barcelona manager will be tasked with controlling the 32-year-old De Bruyne’s playing time.
But if Foden is moved wide to make room for Alvarez and the former Chelsea player, his recent performance has been meaningless and reveals the coach’s true feelings about the Catalan native.