Manchester City tonight cemented their place at the top of Group F of the Champions League with honestly one of the most underwhelming performances of the season so far. Expectations were low going into the game with many expecting an almost academy looking line-up to face the Dutch champions. It was a surprise then, when a relatively strong side was fielded and an even bigger surprise perhaps when that side failed to produce anything exciting for the majority of the game. We were saved yet again by super Sterling with a lovely chipped finish over Brad Jones in the dying embers of the game. This game will however be remembered for its significance as young academy starlet Phil Foden made his first team debut.
Here’s what I learned from Manchester City vs Feyenoord.
We got the job done
We’ve been treated to some scintillating displays so far this season but this was not one of them. Coming into the game expectations were relatively low for a number of reasons. We’d just lost a key player in John Stones to injury and now more than ever, with a brutal winter fixture list upon us, we had to utilize opportunities to rest important players and this was considered to be one of those opportunities. This was verbally confirmed by Guardiola as he spoke ahead of the game and stated that ‘he would change the team entirely’. Although we now know that wasn’t exactly true, he did make a number of first team changes.
As well as these changes the context of the game meant that, should the likely scenario of Napoli beating Shakhtar at home occur, then a point would suffice in us topping the group. How/if this affected Pep’s approach to the game is unclear but it did seem to affect a number of players on the pitch, most noticeably Sergio Aguero. The striker looked disinterested for large parts of the game and was often indecisive and just plain wasteful in key moments in the match that could have turned a dull affair into the standard 4/5-0 spanking we’ve been giving teams. He wasn’t all to blame though as others such as Yaya Touré and Bernardo Silva were equally lacklustre in a performance that evidenced these certain players don’t play together week in week out.
However, we won. What’s often credited as the mark of champions, the ability to win a game badly, was for sure on show tonight and coming away from tonight that’s got to be the most important thing. It’s a vital aspect of a winning mentality to not give up on the game no matter how it has unfolded so far and our ability to pursue the win to the very end is reminiscent of another particular side that saw their efforts rewarded with a full trophy cabinet.
Foden and his future
After Foden had an impressive U17 World Cup and Pep made those comments about changing the team completely ahead of this game, many fans – including myself – dreamt that the young lad from Stockport would start against Feyenoord. In hindsight it’s definitely a good thing that he didn’t as we may not have won this game and a disappointing performance on his debut could have damaged his confidence for some while. Instead, he came on for 15+ minutes replacing Yaya Touré, a man twice his age.
His contribution to the game was pretty minimal in all honesty but that’s not a bad thing in the slightest. It must be so difficult being a highly touted youth player in today’s game. You put in a few good performances at academy level, your name starts circulating amongst fans on Twitter, in this instance industry heavyweights like Gary Lineker and Gary Neville start talking you up in the media and all of a sudden you’re the ‘next big thing.’ You finally get the nod from the manager that you’re going to play and all of a sudden it hits you that there’s going to be a fair few people out there absurdly expecting you to bag a hat-trick in your literal 15 minutes or else you’ll be written off. You know this isn’t what the manager expects of you but you’re conflicted. This is your shot. Do you play it safe and just try not to do anything bad that loses the game, or do you try to show everything you can do in this little window of opportunity that might not come again for a while?
Basically what I’m trying to say is that there was an unbelievable amount of pressure on this kid tonight. He made his debut in arguably the greatest footballing competition in the world but he can’t even buy a pack of Stella from Tescos after to celebrate. He has taken the first step on what is hopefully a long and successful journey with Manchester City and as fans we need to be very patient with him and how much he plays. Part of this expectation comes from the fact that we all desperately want him to make it so much. He’s a local lad, City fan, from this new academy that is yet to produce any fruit from its labour. Overcoming this expectation mentally is a feat in itself and so is simply making your debut, getting the experience of playing in front of tens of thousands against veteran professionals with hundreds of games under their belt.
It may so happen that Foden only gets one or two more appearances over the season but this is not cause for concern and we need to avoid getting frustrated by this. Pep is working with him every day and he knows what’s best for him, his development and ultimately the team.