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Phil Foden scores brilliant hat-trick for Man City amid Haaland, De Bruyne noise

Phil Foden scores brilliant hat-trick for Man City amid Haaland, De Bruyne noise

The Manchester City noise will always surround Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland, but just because Phil Foden is condemned to a life of *quiet* brilliance doesn’t make him any less brilliant.

No Premier League striker had a worse goals per shot record than Neal Maupay last season, who scored one from 32 efforts. He was – not to put too fine a point on it – a laughing stock, and had essentially become an ex-goalscorer having failed to find the net between September 2022 and November 2023. He’s now scored three in three Premier League games for Brentford, doing what Erling Haaland couldn’t on Monday, in calmly slipping the ball past an onrushing goalkeeper.

Signed with Ivan Toney’s ban in mind, though we can’t imagine for one second that Maupay would have been deemed a like-for-like replacement by Thomas Frank, the Everton loanee’s return to goalscoring form has coincided with the return of the large to his little. After each of them scored in the 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest and the 3-2 defeat to Tottenham, Toney turned provider for Maupay against City.

Mark Flekken has been credited with the assist, and does indeed deserve the credit that his manager made a literal point of giving him as his goal kick bounced through the City backline for Maupay, who finished clinically. But in a delightful example of the immeasurable impact of a footballer, Toney made the goal by actively trying not to touch the football.

He pinned Nathan Ake, blocking the City defender’s path to the ball, and steering clear of it himself so as not to risk Maupay being ruled offside. It was footballing IQ of the highest order.

And one example of many in this game, and previously against Brentford – who did the double over Pep Guardiola’s side last season – of City not liking it up ’em. In fact, on near enough every occasion Brentford managed to get into City’s box, whether on the break or through set pieces, the defence wobbled and at least a half chance was created. Ederson was particularly shaken, scuffing a clearance to an opposition player when way out of his goal in the first half and rushing out of his penalty area to clatter into Ethan Pinnock in the second.

Toney volleyed over when he should have done better, while Christian Norgaard and Maupay both had shots well blocked. There was little doubt watching this game that City really don’t enjoy playing against Brentford, who will feel in many ways they gave as good as they got, as will their manager, who was by no means outclassed by a superior tactician.

It came down to quality; that of Phil Foden in particular.

At the end of a first half in which City had huffed and puffed and forced Mark Flekken into more saves (9) than in any other half of Premier League football since Opta starting recording such things, mainly from efforts from outside the box, Foden capitalised on a weak Pinnock header to chest the ball down and finish past the stubborn goalkeeper to bring the scores level.

Flekken Haaland

Mark Flekken was excellent for Brentford against Haaland and Man City.

Soon after the break he flicked a header beautifully into the corner from a perfect Kevin De Bruyne cross before completing his hat-trick with the best of the lot, allowing Rodri’s pass to roll by him into the feet of Haaland, before turning and collecting it from the striker, dribbling into the box and slotting it into the corner.

It wasn’t in doubt, because he’s a brilliant footballer having a quietly brilliant season. Quiet because the Manchester City noise is reserved for De Bruyne and Haaland, who will undoubtedly have a big hand in the title run-in, but have been given the platform to win it from by Foden, Julian Alvarez, Bernardo Silva and Jeremy Doku, who have all been excellent in the absence of their more illustrious teammates.

All the talk ahead of kick-off, not unreasonably, was about the first look at Haaland and De Bruyne together since the opening day, and that pair will inevitably grab plenty of headlines between now and the end of the season – they’re world class footballers.

But their quality shouldn’t diminish the acclaim afforded to the other world class footballers in this team, who have got them into the position of having one more point this season than at the same stage last, with Foden as important as any of them.

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