There is no sure way to know when a teenage prodigy is at last ready to step into the high-stakes games, but in the case of Phil Foden, his manager Pep Guardiola has decided that now in April, amid the intensity of the tightest Premier League title race in years, the moment has arrived.
Seventeen days previous Foden made his first league start at home to Cardiff City and then on Saturday afternoon, less than three days after the Champions League epic between these two clubs on the same pitch, he made the difference for a team that had to win. “Now I am a genius,” Guardiola joked later. “He scored a goal. How good is the manager?”
It was Foden’s first Premier League goal, headed in from close range after seven minutes that divided these two teams on a day when it was as warm in Manchester as it was in Barcelona. This was Part IV of Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur’s momentous 2018-2019 season and it ended with the champions back on top, although in this relentless title race, victory once more came at a cost.
They lost Kevin De Bruyne to injury in the first half, and later Guardiola said that it would be unlikely that the Belgian would play in the derby at Old Trafford on Wednesday, which could well dictate the course of the title. One man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity and although Foden started instead of David Silva it means that the 18-year-old now has a much better chance of playing in the game against Manchester United that City must win to take control of the title race.
It can be easy to forget that Foden will not turn 19 until ten days after the FA Cup final next month, so well trailed has his career been over the last two years. The boy who was part of the World Cup-winning England Under-17s team 18 months earlier seized his chance as he has done throughout this season. He now has seven goals across four competitions in a side that is one of the most competitive in the world.
When one considers that City can buy any player outside of a few elite clubs in the world, it is remarkable that they have found one in Stockport for nothing, but that is the beauty of development. Foden gave Guardiola’s team the energy that the Catalan said they needed to press Spurs when the opposition had the ball and although it is still early days for the teenager, his goals showed that he capable of making those critical runs into the area.
Foden has scored in the demolitions this season of Rotherham, Burton Albion, Newport County and Schalke in the three cup competitions but this was the goal that City could not do without. It was not a comfortable afternoon for them, with Mauricio Pochettino returning to the Etihad Stadium with a shrewd line-up that included four centre-halves in a five-man backline.
Playing for only his third league game since the new year, Juan Foyth did a fine job as a right wing-back against Raheem Sterling who had one of his quieter games in a while. It was notable that Spurs had as many shots on target as City – four in all - but ran into Ederson in fine form. The Brazilian goalkeeper stopped all of them – two from Heung-min Son, and one each from Christian Eriksen and Lucas Moura. Pochettino said that City’s goalkeeper had been their best player.
There were five changes from the Spurs side that prevailed on away goals on Wednesday, including the absence of their injured goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Yet they were in this game until the very end. Their ability to frustrate City’s plan to draw opponents out of position and pass through the gaps meant that Spurs were very hard to beat once again.
Spurs’s striker Son had already gone past Kyle Walker and forced the first save out Ederson when City took the lead in the seventh minute. The goal was crafted out on the right by Bernardo Silva who weaved in on his left foot and picked out Sergio Aguero at the back post. His perceptive header was onto the run of Foden who launched himself at the ball and followed it head-first into the net.
The injury to De Bruyne came around the 35th minute when he seemed to drag his left ankle awkwardly underneath him. He played on for a few minutes and then sliced the ball angrily out of play to stop the game and dropped to the ground with a general attitude of despair. As he came off in the aftermath Guardiola said that the player had indicated that his hamstring was the affected area and this could yet be the end of a season that has been plagued by injury.
Both goalkeepers were excellent throughout the match and Paulo Gazzaniga stuck out a leg to block a shot from Sterling in the second half. Pochettino switched later on, playing Danny Rose in midfield in place of Dele Alli whose chief role had been to close down the space in which De Bruyne operated. There were penalty handball appeals for both sides against Walker and Toby Alderweireld but referee Michael Oliver decided that neither had been intentional.
Fernando Llorente, a late substitute for Spurs, was booed by some of the City fans for what one can only assume they feel was an intentional handball on Wednesday night for his goal that changed the course of the Champions League tie. That was, to say the least, an intriguing verdict on the events of that particular game. As for Spurs, they next face Brighton at home on Tuesday and will finish in the top four providing they win their remaining four games.
They also have the matter of a Champions League semi-final against Ajax Amsterdam although Pochettino says that no-one at his club is currently thinking about that match. For Guardiola, the derby game on Wednesday will be just one more examination of whether his team really can stay the course for the domestic treble. He says, as ever, that his team have nothing left to prove and only the finest of margins can deny them now. There is, of course, great merit to that argument although it will not feel that way if United beat them at Old Trafford.
Manchester City (4-3-3): Ederson 8; Walker 6, Stones 6, Laporte 7, Zinchenko 6; De Bruyne 6 (Fernandinho, 38), Gundogan 7, Foden 7 (D Silva, 85); B Silva 8, Aguero 6 (Sane, 65), Sterling 6.
Subs: Muric (g), Mahrez, Otamendi, Jesus.
Tottenham (5-3-2): Gazzaniga 7; Foyth 7, Sanchez 6, Alderweireld 6 (Llorente, 79), Vertonghen 7, Davies 6; Eriksen 6, Dier 6 (Wanyama, 61), Dele 6 (Rose, 69); Moura 6, Son 7.
Subs: Vorm (g), Janssen, Walker-Peters, Skipp.
Man of the match Bernardo Silva
Not frustrated, that is football. I think was an even game, we deserve more at least a draw, the Man of the Match was Ederson but that sometimes happen. I am happy with the performance.
Very good performance with all the circumstances, we compete really well. After five minutes we concede a goal, it was tough. At least we deserve a little bit more but I'm so happy with the performance.
Look, I'm not going to complain. I am trying to be fair in my comments, you know VAR is there to help the referee, I think the referee was in a good position to see the clear handball but he didn't give it. I accept that, the referee can make a mistake, we move on.
We are going to try to win Tuesday, then we have semi-final of Champions League. It's going to be tough because we are fighting with big sides.
Generic question one: how important was that win?
A lot. Really important.
Was tight, they had more chances than previous two games. After defeat Wednesday the last two days was really tough and if they come back with this sunshine, you know tough day. I give more credit to this game than the previous ones this season.
It's two seasons. You discovered the character of this team? No my friend. 24 months doing that, we make 86 points right now after what we did last season, winning two titles, being in the final of the FA Cup, you can judge whatever you want but the team was incredible all season. The team don't have to show me character.
The top four is incredible season, to play the semi-final is nothing to lose but we could lose the Premier League. We felt incredible the pressure today, they don't lose anything, we lose the Premier League today. That's why it's totally different.
On De Bruyne
I don't know. But if he went out it's something muscular, but that's normal after injury. When they come back they're not ready to take a game every three days. It's a pity because we're going to miss him.
City players react
We knew after that game two days ago we wanted to give a response, to keep the Premier League title alive. It was a great win for us, it was really warm outside, if I'm not mistaken four more to go and we need four wins.
We were nervous, there's pressure, we felt the atmosphere, the support were amazing today - without them it's impossible to fight for these titles.
Bernardo is given MOTM and says he wants to give it to Foden.
I want to give it to Phil, I think he deserves it. He's so young and did so well.
Kun did great to head it back to me, I was just happy to help and get the win. I try and get in the box as much as I can cos that's where you score goals.
Every players I play with I look up to them and try and learn off them, this guy didn't stop running. Well done mate.
This title race is very exciting
25 - Manchester City have won 25 home games in all competitions this season, the most they’ve ever won in a single campaign and the most by a top-flight club since Man Utd in 2010-11 (26). Determined. #MCITOTpic.twitter.com/H3qgUmmtdO— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 20, 2019
And that's it! The final whistle goes and City have won!
90 mins +4 - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Sterling is held back as he tries to run onto a ball lifted over the top but the referee's not buying it! Bernardo goes down as Davies flies in but the referee's not buying that either! Spurs keep chucking the ball forward but City are clearing their lines and hanging on. Sane's gone down with an injury, Fernandinho Sunday Leagues the ball out of play.
90 mins+2 - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Sterling's bought a free-kick there. He sprints wide to get onto a forward pass and goes down when Sanchez bounces into him. Really harsh free-kick.
Sterling and Vertonghen are having a scrap now! It's all heated up. Sterling gets Vertonghen's head forced into his chest, really petulant.
The referee books Sterling for his involvement and then goes over to book Vertonghen as well.
90 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Rose runs across the pitch and nobody gets close, opening up the space for a shot from distance... but it's harmlessly wide. Ironic cheers from the Man City crowd greet it.
Rose is really fired up, he's flying into tackles. A City player might get stuck in quite soon... if it was the old Man Utd, for example, Roy Keane would be letting Rose be aware he was around.
88 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Pochettino looks calm on the touchline, Guardiola as manic as ever. Spurs keep coming but time is running out. "I remember playing in games like this and you keep looking at the clock but time never goes down," says Gary Neville.
86 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Foden is replaced by Silva. City want to just pass this ball around for the rest of the half. Wanyama slides in on Fernandinho and is booked.
84 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Rose and Bernardo are getting fired up having had a couple of little battles on the right wing. Sterling has a fall out with the Spurs goalkeeper, Sanchez and Vertonghen as he holds onto the ball a little longer than he should after the whistle is blown.
David Silva is about to come on to try and help City keep hold of the ball and slow this game down.
81 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Rose wins the ball from Bernardo but the referee sees it as a foul. City seem anxious. Spurs really in the game now.
79 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Llorente is about to come on. Spurs have done their waiting and want to try and snatch something late on. Alderweireld is coming off, meaning the team will revert to a 4-4-2 diamond rather than the 5-3-2 they've had.
76 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Spurs defend superbly again and are able to come away with the ball this time. Walker is back to clean up, Ederson boots the ball up the pitch. Spurs are growing into this, City are starting to look a little tired.
73 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
All of a sudden Moura is running at goal! He's blocked by Ederson and recovering defenders then the subsequent cross is caught. City still aren't safe here.
although, neither side are yet to record a shot on target in the second half.
71 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
STERLING MUST SCORE! SAVED! So close.
It's a great run from Gundogan, picking up a loose ball in midfield, driving forwards then playing in Sane on the left. He cuts the ball to the six yard line and Sterling is there to tap in! He goes for it with his left foot and Gazzaniga sticks out his right foot and blocks on the line.
69 mins -Man City 1 Spurs 0
Laporte does really well to read a long ball over the top towards Son, heads it to control and then passes rather than waiting for Ederson to collect, just in case.
Wanyama is on, having replaced Dier and Bernardo bounces off him.
Alli is taken off for Rose. I have no idea what the plan is for that.
66 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Sterling lollipops his way past Davies but turns back, Bernardo tries to dribble past Foyth but cuts back and crosses to Aguero, who goes for a spectacular flick shot and misses.
Leroy Sane is coming on! Aguero goes off. That'll be Sterling to centre-forward, Sane on to terrorise the Spurs right-back.
65 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Sterling runs at goal and has Aguero alongside him against one defender! Sanchez flies in from nowhere to recover and the chance is gone.
62 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
This looks like it might be the moment De Bruyne realises his season is over. 2018/19 has been tough for him. He'd just found form recently too and looked to be getting back to his best so hopefully nothing serious has happened.
59 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Spurs have the ball again, knock it long towards Alli and he wants a penalty! It came off Walker's arm... and if VAR had been around well my friend, that would be a penalty!
56 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Spurs are slowing things down a bit, trying to get into the game. City are in total control at the moment but just aren't creating the chances they want.
53 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Vertonghen catches Aguero with a heavy, late slide tackle. Bernardo darts away, finds Aguero and he takes the defender wide. The slide tackle is fine initially but the follow through wraps around Aguero's ankle and shin. Seems fine to play on though.
City attack again, Bernardo's shot is blocked and Foden runs in to get onto the dropping ball... and goes down! Never a penalty. The referee agrees.
50 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Bernardo runs at goal, goes outside his man, turns back, does it again, and again and then tucks a pass inside. Foden moves it on for Gundogan but the ball is blocked and Bernardo takes care of it again.
Walker bursts forward, cuts back from the goalline and finds Aguero! His shot is blocked, drops to Foden... and he can score! He scuffs his shot and boots it wide before dropping to the floor in mild despair at missing such a decent chance.
48 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Spurs start on the attack. It looks like Gundogan is sat beside Fernandinho in a midfield two when defending, Foden playing ahead of them in a slightly more central position.
KICK OFF 2
What will we see in this half? City need another goal.
Phil Foden's big day
- Phil Foden is the first player born in the 2000s to score a Premier League goal for Man City, and is their third youngest scorer in the competition overall (18y 327d).
Shot map for that half
City have had more efforts but they're mostly from range and on the right side since that's where Bernardo is playing. Spurs have had better chances... and but for Ederson's quick, forward thinking could well be level or behind.
Only the one goal this time and City have dominated. However, I really think Spurs can get something out of this one.
45 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
SON IS IN AGAIN! How has he done it?! The centre-backs are being destroyed by Son when he runs away at goal and once more Ederson has to come to the rescue. Son should've been booted off the park/pushed wide/blocked somehow but that's another battle he's won vs a City centre-back.
43 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Walker tries one from long range but blasts it over. City staying calm in possession in their own half as Spurs try to press them and turnover possession.
40 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
City come forward, Spurs have almost everyone behind the ball but that just encourages more City players to move up the pitch. Walker whips in a cross that nobody is in position to header, Spurs break, a great ball in from Foyth and MOURA IS THERE! Ederson catches. De Bruyne's injury has changed the energy in the stadium a little.
38 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
De Bruyne looks gutted as he hobbles off the pitch. He's replaced by Fernandinho.
37 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
De Bruyne tries one from 20 yards but is leaning back and lifts it over the bar and wide. City are winning the ball back every time Spurs try to clear it.
De Bruyne has gone down a few moments after that shot and has an injury. He'll need to come off. It looks like his knee jarred a little while taking the shot... let's hope he hasn't tweaked something.
35 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Bernardo cuts onto his left foot and tries to power one at the near post but is blocked and wins a corner.
City are still surging forward, Spurs can't counter because everyone is needed back to defend! Bernardo is getting closer to scoring. Another low shot fired between bodies is saved by the goalie.
32 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Dele Alli pulls off today's showboat with a brilliant studs roll nutmeg on Bernardo near the corner flag. Really clever. Neville on co-commentary says "That used to happen to me a lot. Used to drive me wild". If you or someone you know has suffered being 'nutmegged' please call 0800 nutmeg victim.
30 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
All City. They have Spurs chasing shadows in the Spurs half, the ball is switched from side to side, pinged forward, dribbled... and Spurs' way out is to launch the ball up the pitch and have Son produce some magic. Eventually Dier hits the ball straight out for a goal kick and City can start again.
27 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Bernardo has been brilliant so far. Such a player. He takes on two defenders, draws another two towards him and the pass to Foden is just a little too sharp and goes behind for a goal kick. Gazzaniga tries to dink the ball over a striker inside his own box and gives away a corner. City take it short and pass around - Spurs cannot get hold of the ball.
24 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
De Bruyne can't fit a pass through to Foden but Bernardo is alongside to win the loose ball, City keep coming, Foden fakes to shoot on the edge of the box and puts the ball onto his right and SHOOOOOTS! Straight at Gazzaniga.
21 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Bernardo goes down in the box after a lovely little dribble across players but the referee doesn't care. It looks close but Spurs maybe get away with one. Foyth can't win the ball off Sterling. Replays show Vertonghen kicking through the back of Bernardo's legs. It's one of those that looks both a penalty and a harsh decision at the same time.
18 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Spurs have figured out how to play here and they're finding ways through this City defence. It's really odd - the centre-backs are being pulled apart and Son is clean in. The centre-backs are playing on the halfway line and because they're not level, Laporte has to sprint to get back and slide in. He makes the block just as it looks Son is going to equalise!
Brilliant ball from Eriksen.
15 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Foden tries to threat Aguero in but overhits the pass - Aguero is captain today btw - and the ball goes out for a goal kick. Spurs try to pass their way into City's half and manage it, with men over! Somehow Eriksen is able to run in on goal! He can score here! City's defence has just opened up! And Ederson produces a brilliant save at the near post to block!
12 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Sterling has Foyth sussed out and has completely binned him on his first take on.
City are in total control of this game, Spurs haven't seen the ball for about five minutes and as soon as they do get it City are right on them.
9 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
Foden's just got away with one there. He chases Moura as the Spurs player races away on the counter and slides in from behind to take him down. It's a definite yellow but the referee's not handing out cards just yet. City are buzzing.
7 mins - Man City 1 Spurs 0
There's some noise in the Etihad after that! Foden celebrated by going to the crowd and basically demanding more. They look angry and fired up today.
PHIL FODEN HAS HIS FIRST PREMIER LEAGUE GOAL!
It's brilliant from Bernardo. He starts wide right, Walker overlaps, Bernardo runs across the box and chips to the back post. Aguero is there with a free header! He heads back across the box and Foden is there to throw his head at the ball and open the scoring!
4 mins - Man City 0 Spurs 0
Stones gives the ball away and Spurs counter Man City in exactly the same way they did on Wednesday. Son gets one v one with Stones and wins a corner rather than curling it into the top corner this time. City pressing high up the pitch.
3 mins - Man City 0 Spurs 0
Spurs staying nice and tight in the middle of the pitch, definitely in a back five, with Foyth staying close to Sterling then handing off to Sanchez. Sanchez wins the first battle and sees the ball behind for a goal kick.
Right then. Let's work out what this Spurs shape is! It looks like a 5-3-2. I think.
Here come the players!
It's the big one! Let's hope it's a good one. Gary Neville's just had blue confetti fired all over him.
How the teams might look
I can't work out the Spurs shape. Man City are definitely a 4-3-3 but I think Spurs could be in their same 4-4-2 diamond - because it really works very well against City - or a 3-4-1-2. The players Pochettino has named could fit into a formation like above, with Davies pinging up the wing but Foyth tucking inside to form three centre-backs. Sanchez or Vertonghen can play as defensive midfielder and drop back to a three in defence when needed too - it's quite a defensive setup (I think) but one which allows Spurs to press a little higher up the pitch with the three forwards who caused so much havoc on Wednesday.
It means Spurs have a forward on each of City's centre-backs and Alli stays tight to Gundogan to punish any loose bits of control or badly placed passes.
Can Raheem Sterling kill the ghost of Wednesday night? That emotional shift was like nothing I've ever experienced before watching football.
Good not quite afternoon! Welcome to our liveblog for Man City vs Spurs: REVENGE OF THE VAR. VAR isn't in play today so we won't get that incredible drama last seen in the Champions League on Wednesday night but we're sure to be in for a fascinating 90 minutes. Can Man City batter their visitors to get revenge for their European exit?
The starting lineups are in and they're pretty much as expected:
Well, except for Vincent Janssen who is on the bench. He's been exiled like Luke Skywalker on some abandoned, remote island and now he's back to Force project a goalscoring version of himself into this game like some crazy augmented reality trick. Could it happen? After Wednesday I'd believe anything.
Also, Phil Foden starts! Massive game for him. And everyone.
Oh and Hugo Lloris isn't playing either.
It's going to be absolutely great.