Pep Guardiola shows Kevin De Bruyne alternative can work despite Gareth Southgate claims

Manchester City’s two surprise midfield choices shone in the Champions League win over RB Leipzig.
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If Gareth Southgate still doubts Phil Foden can’t play through the middle, the England manager need only watch Tuesday’s Champions League win over RB Leipzig.

Less than a month after Southgate implied the Manchester City star wasn’t suited to a role in midfield, Foden produced a man-of-the-match showing in Germany as the European champions made it two wins from two in the Champions League this season.

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Foden was given a rare opportunity to shine in an attacking midfield role, with Julian Alvarez starting on the bench, and the former provided the first goal of the night in a 3-1 win. The 23-year-old also had six shots and produced three key passes in an all-round superb display.

Foden’s ability to start in midfield and push up alongside Erling Haaland was also key to City’s win, with Rodri often advancing into the space in front of him. In addition, Foden’s quick feet, penchant for retaining possession, link-up play and defensive output were all commendable.

It’s been an ever-evolving midfield for City this season following Ilkay Gundogan’s summer departure to Barcelona, Kevin De Bruyne’s long-term injury, and the inability to select Rodri and Bernardo Silva in recent weeks. Yet, Guardiola had Mateo Kovacic, Matheus Nunes, Kalvin Phillips and Alvarez on the bench against Leipzig, and selected Silva out wide, in a clear indication of his faith in Foden’s ability to play in midfield.

Coupled with fellow Mancunian Rico Lewis in the centre, this was a different midfield to previous seasons, or even so far in 2023/24. This was more dynamic and based on shifting the ball quickly in tight spaces, with Rodri and the defence behind him maintaining the dominance of possession.

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Despite De Bruyne’s injury, City don’t lack a creative, attacking midfielder, and Alvarez’s 12-minute cameo showed just what a special talent Guardiola has at his disposal, as the Argentine provided a goal and assist. Yet Foden’s display should put to bed any suggestions that he lacks the vision or discipline to occupy a central role, even if he’s likely to play in the wide areas more over the coming weeks and months.

There was little doubt in the mind of City fans that Foden was ready to play a starring role in midfield - now it’s just a case of convincing his international manager.

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