A touch of class from Phil Foden coupled with Manchester City’s newfound defensive solidity proved to be the difference as Manchester City recorded a narrow 1-0 win over Brighton on Wednesday evening.
After two flawless, title-winning campaigns, Pep Guardiola’s side could hardly muster a Premier League title challenge last season, with Liverpool runaway champions – and the Citizens’ vulnerability at the back was a major contributing factor in their failure to defend their crown.
After a slightly unconvincing start to the 2020/21 campaign, City have come into a bit of form of late. Their victory over Brighton was their seventh on the bounce, and their recent success has been built on their newfound solid defensive foundations.
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Ruben Dias – evidence to suggest that if you throw enough money at a problem it might actually go away eventually – and John Stones have forged a really nice central defensive partnership, the pair complimenting each other well. They’re assured, calm and composed – and you don’t get the fear that they’ve got a mistake in them…a concern that Stones has previously been guilty of.
The centre back pairing of Dias and Stones have kept 11 clean sheets in the 14 games they have started together. With City’s backline finally settled and sorted, they have been able to flourish going forward.
This wasn’t necessarily the case against Brighton. Having turned in sumptuous attacking performances against Chelsea and Manchester United at the beginning of January, City were slightly more subdued going forward on Wednesday evening.
This is in part a credit to Brighton, who were compact, dogged and frustrated Guardiola’s side for large periods of the game.
But this is where the class of Foden shone through.
The Manchester City youngster has not been used quite as lavishly in the Premier League as had been expected following the departure of David Silva in the summer.
However, Foden had been the beating heart of City’s recent victories over Chelsea and United, and he proved to be the match winner on Wednesday too.
The 20-year-old drifted past Joel Veltman and collected Kevin De Bruyne’s pass on the edge of the box, before getting the better of Adam Webster with a fabulous first touch. Having singlehandedly created the space inside the area, Foden then found the bottom corner with a low, pin point effort.
It was a demonstration of Foden’s soaring importance at City, who would not have taken all three points against Brighton were it not for the England international’s moment of quality.
In this season’s most bizarre of title races, sitting four points off top spot with a game in hand, a consistent, solid defensive base and the watch-winning capabilities Foden is a pretty healthy position to be in.