Phil Foden dazzles in new midfield role in England’s drubbing of Andorra
It may only have been Andorra and it was, as Gareth Southgate pointed out, a game in which you couldn’t really judge a player’s defensive capabilities. But even so Phil Foden’s performance was eye-catching coming a week after he had shone so bright for Manchester City against Liverpool.
The 21-year-old, who missed the Euro 2020 final three months ago because an injury which has also disrupted the start of this season, is maturing into a midfielder who might one day bear comparison to one of the greats in Paul Gascoigne, the player he paid homage to last summer with his peroxide blonde hair.
Gareth Southgate doesn’t really do overstatement but was he moved enough last night to say: ‘It’s fabulously exciting, isn’t it, when you have a player who sees the passes he sees and hit them and executes them as he did?’ Foden regularly picked out players throughout the game with precise passes over 50 yards or more but notably in setting up Jadon Sancho to provide the assist for Ben Chilwell’s opener and for England’s second scored by Bukayo Saka.
Phil Foden dazzled for England in a new role as the Three Lions drubbed Andorra 5-0
The Manchester City star played in the pivot and pulled the strings all night for England
‘The quality we know,’ said Southgate. ‘For us it’s really interesting the possibilities in terms of his position moving forward. Today was the perfect day, no defending needed so you’re only analysing one part of the game against a certain level of opponent. But nevertheless, the passes he hits and the qualities he possesses is apparent for everybody. I’m not surprised his performance was the stand out tonight. We half expected it when we named the team.’
England’s issues in the biggest games of all, the semi-final against Croatia and the final against Italy, has been ball retention, our traditional flaw. It’s hard to see that being such an issue if Foden, Mason Mount and Jude Bellingham are growing into our principle midfielders with Kalvin Phillips or Declan Rice to anchor them.
‘As one or two others get stronger in that area, it’s really exciting to see how we might evolve as a team in matches and how that balance and creativity might progress,’ said Southgate.
Gareth Southgate gushed at Foden’s ‘fabulously exciting’ display on Saturday evening
Foden’s best position is still unknown but he has been primarily played out wide for his club
As to Foden’s best position, he has been used principally as a wide attacking player by Pep Guardiola and Southgate. Yet there is a sense that he might be ready to drop back into midfield and dictate games from a more central position.
‘His best position is a difficult one because frankly, he’s one of those players effective anywhere across that front line,’ said Southgate. ‘He can play No.7, No. 11 or No. 8. In a traditional 4-3-3 midfield with a No.6, a No. 8, and a No.10, he could be the No.10 with the capability to drop lower and build the game as he did tonight
‘I think part of that is as he gets stronger and part of that is the type of player who might play as a No.8 as well. Towards the end of the game there were some lovely bits of combination play from Foden, Mount Grealish, Saka. The type of play our players are capable producing is really exciting.’