Pep Guardiola insists he has no fear when it comes to trusting Manchester City youngster Phil Foden in big games.
Foden was handed a start in Sunday’s EFL Cup final against Aston Villa and responded with a man-of-the-match display in a 2-1 victory – City’s third consecutive triumph in the competition.
There had been murmurs of discontent in some quarters over the lack of meaningful minutes granted to the 19-year-old this season and Guardiola is set to face further demands to select the playmaker after his Wembley outing sparked talk of an England call-up.
The City manager is content with this state of affairs, however, pointing to Foden’s goalscoring outing in a pivotal 1-0 win over Tottenham during last season’s knife-edge Premier League title race as another demonstration of his trust.
“I’m not scared in the important games to put in the players I decided. I play games without strikers. I play a final with Phil because I see Phil every day,” Guardiola said on the eve of an FA Cup fifth-round trip to Sheffield Wednesday.
“The only problem for Phil and other players who maybe do not have the minutes that they deserve is the squad – some players have more experience than Phil and something that he does not have just yet because he is 19 years old.
“Every time I decide to let him play he always plays good. Always he was at a high, high level.
“Last season he played against Tottenham to win the Premier League after being knocked out of the Champions League, he played against Leicester.
“When I select him, I do not have any doubts. When Leroy Sane was injured in the pre-season and the people said we have to maybe go to the market, I said, ‘No – Phil can play in the middle and play wide’.
Anyone else watching this bit of @PhilFoden magic on repeat?
— Manchester City (@ManCity) March 3, 2020
Guardiola shuffled his pack to produce some eyebrow-raising team selections last week, although he was ultimately vindicated as City claimed wins on the road at Leicester City and Real Madrid before retaining the EFL Cup.
Right-back Kyle Walker and central midfield duo Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan were the only ever-presents as their boss deployed a range of tactical shapes, while the consistency of City’s play in challenging circumstances pleased Guardiola the most.
“In all games we were like what we are. We changed some things in the way we attacked, the way we defend, but we played the way we are over the last years,” he said.
“We spoke about that – try to be ourselves whatever happens from the beginning – and we did it.”
One player seemingly still to get up to speed with these demands is Joao Cancelo.
The Portugal full-back was a high-profile close season arrival from Juventus but has so far struggled at the Etihad Stadium.
After remaining an unused substitute in Leicester and Madrid, Cancelo missed out on the matchday squad at the weekend.
Asked what the 25-year-old must do to get back in favour, Guardiola replied: “Be himself, open-minded, listen, try to do his best. We are here to help him – the normal things I want from all the players.
“It depends on him, absolutely. We can suggest but the rest, the players have to decide.”
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