'Man City want the title back - and Phil Foden could prove key'

Manchester City give champions Liverpool a guard of honour
Manchester City gave champions Liverpool a guard of honour before kick-off on Thursday

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola did not hang around as Mohamed Salah walked slowly past.

As soon as Salah, the last Liverpool player, had gone by, Guardiola was out of the guard of honour and back to his seat in the dug-out, plotting the immediate downfall of the team that has not so much taken the Premier League title he has won for the past two seasons as scarpered down the street and disappeared with it before City even knew it was missing.

And while Liverpool can dismiss a 4-0 thumping at Etihad Stadium as a post-title celebration hangover, it is through Phil Foden that they can be sure Jurgen Klopp was right when he said on the eve of the game: "I can't see the end of anything for Manchester City."

Faith in Foden to pay off next season?

Like Guardiola, Foden will be around next season.

The Stockport-born lifelong City fan would probably play for the club if it was the era when they were in the third tier of English football, such is his devotion to the cause. The threat of a couple of seasons out of Europe is not going to disturb him too much.

Phil Foden
Foden looks set to play a big part in City's title challenge next season

There has been much debate about Guardiola's handling of the 20-year-old since he made his debut in November 2017. As former academy team-mate Jadon Sancho prospered after leaving for Borussia Dortmund, it appeared Foden was being left behind.

But, rather than quitting, or leaving on loan as many suggested, Foden stayed right where he was.

Guardiola said: "What we have done with him is try to protect him so that he doesn't play every game. In this period you have to be careful in the first steps.

"He has an incredible thing that makes me have no doubt he can be an incredible player for the next 10 years. There was not one single day since we met each other he had a bad face or bad behaviour because he didn't play.

"Every action is positive in training sessions. He's a huge competitor, he scores incredible goals, he is so fast, defensively so strong and he is a reality. He played in Old Trafford, he played today here, and against incredible top teams, and he was there playing at a high level.

"We can count on him for years to come - as a midfield player, as a winger, as a striker because he has an incredible sense of goal and vision. I don't want to say anything wrong but Gareth Southgate has an incredible talent for the national team on his hands. I saw many players in my life, I trained with incredible players, and Phil will be one of them."

He has now made 30 appearances this season, and played in all City's games since the resumption, scoring three goals and looking a major threat on every occasion.

Top flight - up to age 20 years and 35 days
Jack GrealishWayne RooneyRaheem SterlingJadon SanchoPhil Foden
Games23109806935
Starts117662548
Minutes1,2017,3045,7064,949923
Goals13115275
Assists11511333
Goals and assists24626608
Mins per goal/assist60115921982115

Moving Euro 2020 back a year looks to have opened a door he will stroll through next summer.

City and Guardiola are not bothered about that of course. They want their title back. With Foden and a rejigged defence, they will have a pretty persuasive argument for getting it.

A defining fortnight ahead?

It says everything about Guardiola's managerial career that in 11 seasons as a manager this is only the third time he has failed to win the domestic championship. In 2011-12 Barcelona finished nine points behind Real Madrid. In his debut campaign at City, the gap was 15 points to Chelsea.

On the first occasion it was the prelude to him quitting the Nou Camp because of the strain of it all. On the second, he spent £200m in a single summer to revolutionise a City team that went on to become the first to reach 100 points in a top-flight English season.

And we already know Guardiola is going nowhere this summer.

For, although there are a lot of uncertainties around City at the moment, he has already pledged to stay for the final year of his contract.

The precise details of the 2020 rebuilding job will be shaped by a decision that will emerge from Switzerland.

In around 11 days, City will discover the outcome of their appeal against a two-year Champions League ban for breaching Uefa's Financial Fair Play regulations. If they are successful, expect the Blues to be busy. If they are not, Guardiola's first task will be to persuade the key players he already has to stay and gain fulfilment in domestic challenges they have already conquered.

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