The 18-year-old Manchester City starlet Phil Foden made his debut for England U-21’s on Thursday night at the Proact Stadium in Chesterfield. England’s young stars ran over their opponents Andorra with an emphatic 7-0 victory and Foden’s performance, in particular, caught the eye. In this tactical analysis, I will focus on Foden’s first performance for England U21’s, which further cemented his extreme potential and will continue to excite England and Manchester City fans alike.
I had the pleasure of attending England U21’s 7-0 victory over Andorra as a member of the media and with the best view in the house, I was able to pay particular attention to a very impressive performance by Phil Foden.
Off The Ball Work
What stood out to me particularly was the intelligent work that Foden does off the ball. The Manchester City midfielder pressed relentlessly for 90 minutes but also pressed intelligently. Far too often we see footballers fixated by the ball and the action directly in front of them but a key aspect of Foden’s pressing is his proactive thinking when his side doesn’t have the ball. (Below are some examples)
Here we can see Phil Foden has positioned himself on the edge of the box as the ball is lifted into the Andorra area. Foden’s body shape here is ideal as he is looking to anticipate where the ball will land if it is cleared. The ball evades Ryan Sessegnon in the middle and Foden begins his movement across the edge of the box as shown by the dotted line stretching out from his feet. Andorra’s number 2 attempts to dribble out from the box but is cut off by Foden who wins the ball back for England U21 and they can restart the attack.
A similar situation is unravelling here. Andorra are looking to play their way out of the back following a breakdown in England U21’s attack. Again we can see Foden has positioned himself cleverly so he is able to press the ball carrier of Andorra as quickly as possible. On this occasion, the pass by the Andorra defender who has the ball is slightly loose and Foden covers the ground quickly and cuts out the pass again allowing England U21 to restart another attack.
Another key aspect of Phil Foden’s game is his intelligent movement when his side has the ball. It is well known that the best midfielders in world football play with their head on a swivel. They are constantly looking over their shoulders to see where the space is and where their teammates are so that they can play one and two touch football. This is the case with Foden. His clever movement and positioning allowed him and Ryan Sessegnon to combine effectively all game with Foden occupying the left half-space and giving Sessegnon the license to make runs in behind. (below are some examples)
Here we can see a perfect example of Foden’s positioning in the half-space and his link-up with Ryan Sessegnon for England U21’s. Kyle Walker-Peters plays the ball into Foden who has manoeuvred himself into some space behind Andorra’s midfield. As Foden is always aware of his environment he receives the pass from Walker-Peters and with his second touch he plays the ball through for the onrushing Sessegnon. The attack resulted in a corner.
An almost carbon copy of the same scenario occurred 20 minutes later. Again Foden has made some space for himself in behind the Andorran midfield. This time Foden is facing the goal and is receiving the ball from Sessegnon himself. Foden’s body shape allows him to return the ball to Sessegnon with his first touch and again the ball is turned behind for a corner.
England U21’s flexibility in midfield also benefited Phil Foden. Here was can see that instead of operating with two number 10’s supported by Lewis Cook in a single pivot, Tom Davies has dropped slightly deeper to form a double pivot. Foden has noticed this slight switch and as such moves more central to receive the ball from Lewis Cook. Foden is constantly moving when on the pitch as he is always looking for areas in which he can impact the game, this makes him very hard to pick up and we can see that again as he finds himself in acres of space in another dangerous area.
The final aspect of Phil Foden’s game which stood out to me was his selfless runs when his side have the ball. (below are some examples)
Ademola Lookman is a highly-skilled dribbler who is effective with both feet. Foden will know this and as such he looks to create space for him. Foden sprints in between two Andorran defenders who both take the bait and follow his run. This opens the centre of the field for Lookman. However, Foden knows his work isn’t complete, once he hasn’t received the ball he curls his run towards the goal and a second or so later he finds himself with the ball in the centre of the box and has a shot saved from 12 yards out. Many other players will have stopped running once they didn’t receive the ball but Foden knows that if he did this it wouldn’t be beneficial to him or the team.
Aidy Boothroyd the England U21 manager has clearly thought long and hard about the best way to maximise set-pieces. This was evident by the number of off the ball runs and movements when the corner taker was stood over the ball. One such run that was made almost every corner was that Phil Foden would come short from the edge of the area taking with him an Andorran defender. When the Andorra defence wasn’t quick enough to react this also presented England U21 with a 2v1 overload from the short option. On this occasion, Foden receives the ball and is forced backwards slightly before returning the ball to Ryan Sessegnon the corner taker. In true Foden fashion, however, he knows that once he has played the ball he needs to be on the move again. Sessegnon plays the ball into Tom Davies who is retreating from the by-line. As Sessegnon is playing this pass Foden makes the run shown by the dotted line from his feet. Foden isn’t tracked and Davies can lay the ball off to Foden who is now in space on the edge of the area.
My first experience of Phil Foden live was certainly a pleasant one and Manchester City fans should be very very excited. He is a tireless presser an intelligent mover and an expert with the ball at his feet and all this at the tender age of 18. It is very easy to overhype young players, particularly ones from the club you support and especially when they are playing against a side such as Andorra but as we all know it is very easy to look ordinary in games against lesser opposition and Foden looked the polar opposite of ordinary.
Here’s hoping he can carry this form over to his domestic performances and Pep Guardiola affords him as many opportunities as possible back at Manchester City.