Phil Foden offers glimpse of how Man City might approach next title defence

A collective gasp went around the main stand as Phil Foden plucked a Kalvin Phillips cross-field pass out of the sky, let it bounce, and guided a lovely lob towards the top corner.

For a second, it looked as though the ball would drop under the bar and into the side netting, but there was just too much on it and the chance went inches wide. It wouldn’t take away from a fine return to the team for a player who has done little wrong to find himself out of it.

Starting in central midfield for only the third time this season, Foden was part of a much-changed Manchester City starting XI that reflected the fact that the Premier League title had been won the night before.

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The teamsheet said more about who was on the star-studded bench rather than who was starting, and maybe one or two players were shoe-horned into the XI to give others a much-needed rest. A midfield trio of Phillips, Foden and Rico Lewis certainly suggested as much.

There were merits to each selection, too, however, with Lewis effectively playing as a number eight for large portions of the season and Phillips in desperate need of a start. Foden playing inside also accommodated Cole Palmer on the wing, who was another who could do with a positive performance.

Foden has started two games in midfield until this point, once against Sevilla in a Champions League dead-rubber, and another in the FA Cup demolition over Chelsea at the Etihad, where he got a goal and assist. It was Chelsea again who had to cope with Foden being the creative spark from midfield – and while it was another dead rubber of sorts, he played with a point to prove.

Having found himself out of the first-choice starting XI that put City into two finals and crowned Premier League champions, Foden was, in one sense, playing for a place at Wembley and in Istanbul. But he won’t start either game in midfield, so in another sense he was auditioning again for a long-term role in the centre.

It’s a position that he has long been earmarked for Foden, and one which Guardiola has gone from insisting he needs more tactical development to giving him the game-time to learn on the job.

Foden’s run across Palmer for City’s only goal allowed space for Julian Alvarez to take and convert, while he was popping up in the box to try and convert if the opportunity arose. His glorious lob was another highlight in an encouraging performance.

Sunday’s coronation was possibly the last time captain Ilkay Gundogan and influential playmaker Bernardo Silva feature at the Etihad for City. Gundogan is out of contract, with no decision yet made on his future, while Bernardo’s long-term stance that he would like to leave will surely dominate the summer’s transfer rumour mill.

If Jude Bellingham is Madrid-bound, and there are few alternative, world-class midfielders on the market to replace one (or both) of Gundogan and Bernardo, Foden may get more than three midfield starts next season.

It may have to be a transitional season for him in that regard – like Bernardo’s quieter campaign in 2019/20 where he learned how to be a midfielder under Guardiola at the expense of some of his creativity.

The next two league games could hint at whether Foden is indeed being given a trial in midfield, or will be given a chance to force his way into the starting XI that will try and complete the treble.