Analysis: Foden's masterclass in new Man City role

20 Aug 2023

Adrian Clarke explains how the 23-year-old dominated Saturday's 1-0 win over Newcastle

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Adrian Clarke analyses Manchester City’s 1-0 home win over Newcastle United.

Foden's supreme display
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Phil Foden showed supreme intelligence with his positioning and was always on the move to find space.

The England international constantly helped to create 2v1 overloads over Newcastle's defenders and regularly took possession on the half-turn before hurting his opponents with a forward pass. He was a key figure of City's win.

How the overload worked

Eddie Howe’s side opted for a man-to-man marking approach, with left-back Dan Burn largely responsible for Foden, who started on the right of attack.

Burn often followed Foden inside, but in certain scenarios the defender had to hold his position to look after marauding right-back Kyle Walker.

These situations created hesitancy, and we saw that for the winning goal where Foden’s movement and intelligence were instrumental in the creation of Julian Alvarez’s strike.

Below you can see Bruno Guimaraes press Rodri, while Sandro Tonali takes responsibility for Manuel Akanji, who has joined in as an extra midfielder. This leaves Joelinton with both Mateo Kovacic and Foden around him in a 2v1.

Man City goal 1

This is the overload City wanted to manufacture, as Burn was caught in two minds over whether to get close to Kovacic or Walker.

That hesitancy allowed Rodri the chance to make a simple line-breaking pass.   

Man City goal 2

From there, Foden’s advanced central position creates a 3v2 against Newcastle’s central defenders, with Sven Botman occupied by the attacking midfielder and Erling Haaland.

Walker’s wide position creates a hole between Burn and Botman that affords Foden the space to run into and receive a forward pass from Kovacic.

Inside the box Foden teed up Alvarez for a shot he smashed into the top corner. 

Foden's different role

Last season we often saw Foden hug the touchline on the left or right wing, creating extra space for Kevin De Bruyne and the now-departed Ilkay Gundogan to dominate the centre of the pitch.

In those matches Walker was utilised as a right-sided central defender in a 3-2-4-1 when Man City had possession.

Foden started on the right of City’s attack on Saturday, as well as on 4 March when Newcastle lost 2-0 on their last trip to the Etihad Stadium.

But as shown in the touch maps below, Foden's involvements were extremely different this time around.


He was given far more freedom to roam on Saturday, joining in with Alvarez to run amok in areas behind Haaland.

City's Academy graduate made three through-balls – all for Haaland – and created a total of seven chances from open play. That is the most Foden has ever delivered in his 131 Premier League appearances.

See: Guardiola hails Foden after starring in centre stage

Inside the final third he was destructive, travelling quickly with the ball and facing up defenders before making a key pass.

Beating the press

To their credit, Newcastle tried to adopt their regular tactical approach, pressing from the front with aggression and effectively going man to man.

This can unsettle opponents, but on the day Man City were too sharp in possession to be troubled by that ploy.

Pep Guardiola’s side also used it to their advantage to help fashion a great chance for Haaland in the 41st minute.

Drawing the Magpies on to them as they built from the back, see below how Foden and Haaland deliberately occupied two defenders on one side, to free up a large area of space for Alvarez to spin into down the left from Ederson’s magnificent long-range pass.

It was a marvellous pre-meditated move that took the champions into the final third before Newcastle could recover their positions.

Ederson pass to Foden

Foden’s spectacular performance owed as much to Man City’s intelligent shape and fluid movement, as it did his own mercurial natural ability.

The way he found space between defenders was smart, but his runs would have been less effective without the perpetual rotation of team-mates around him.

Akanji’s involvements in central midfield, coupled with the width provided by Jack Grealish and Walker, gave him the ability to elude Newcastle’s markers from central positions.

One combination to look out for in the weeks and months to come is the developing relationship between new signing Kovacic and Foden.

The Croat is brave on the ball and found the England international on 10 occasions with forward passes, breaking the lines on regular occasions.

Kovacic's forward passes to Foden
Kovacic to Foden passes

Seeing Foden this influential for Man City was exciting to watch. If he can replicate this level consistently, 2023/24 will be his best season yet.

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