Southgate expected 'fabulously exciting' Foden to be England's best player

By Sports Desk October 09, 2021

Gareth Southgate was not surprised by Phil Foden's outstanding England display against Andorra, while he backed Jadon Sancho to recover his best form at Manchester United.

Foden came into the international break having dazzled on the left wing for Manchester City in last week's 2-2 draw with Liverpool, scoring one goal and having a hand in the other.

The 21-year-old was not on the scoresheet in Saturday's 5-0 World Cup qualifying win, but he controlled the game from the centre of midfield.

Having played the pass that cut Andorra open for Ben Chilwell's opener, Foden got an assist for Bukayo Saka's second. The last England duo aged 21 or under to combine for a World Cup qualifying goal had been Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen against Germany in 2001.

Tammy Abraham, James Ward-Prowse and Jack Grealish added goals after half-time, but Foden remained the star.

Although there was one wild, wayward shot, he created three chances and completed 94.7 per cent of his 76 passes, including 93.1 per cent of 58 in the Andorra half.

England have been accused of lacking control in the centre of the pitch in their biggest games, so manager Southgate was intrigued by Foden's display – even if he expected the City man would thrive.

"The quality we know," Southgate told a news conference. "For us, it's really interesting the possibilities with him in terms of his positioning moving forward.

"Today was a perfect game, because the whole team had no need for defending, so you're only analysing one part of the game against a certain level of opponent.

"Nevertheless, to see the passes and to have the quality to hit the passes he did is apparent for everybody.

"Not just him, but as one or two others in that midfield get stronger, I think it's exciting to see how we might evolve as a team in certain matches and how that balance and creativity might continue to progress.

"I'm not surprised that his performance was the standout tonight. We half-expected it when we named the team, really.

"I think [identifying his best position] is difficult, because frankly he's one of those players that is effective across that front line, if you play him seven, 11, 10, eight.

"A traditional 4-3-3 formation, with a six, eight, 10, [he would be] the 10 within that but with the capability to drop lower and to build the play at times as he did tonight.

"I think part of that is as he gets stronger, and part of that is the balance of the type of player who might play as the other eight, as well, and their qualities.

"Look, it's fabulously exciting, isn't it, when you're trying to break down a defence as you are tonight and you've got a player who can see the passes that he sees and hit them and execute them in the way that he did.

"Towards the end of the game, there were some lovely bits of combination – Foden, Mount, Grealish, Saka – the type of play that our players are capable of producing is really exciting."

While Foden has two goals and two assists in six club games this term on one side of Manchester, new United signing Sancho has yet to register one of either in nine outings.

He got two assists on Saturday, though, including teeing up Chilwell after Foden's pass.

Southgate said: "It was not easy for a winger in the game tonight, because quite often you're receiving the ball with two, sometimes three defenders really close.

"You've got to pick the right moments to set the ball off and the right moments to back yourself to maybe take one or two of those players out. I thought he did that exceptionally well.

"It was important that he got the assist, because you've also got to have that productivity, and the right pass or the right cross at the end of those packages of play.

"When I've spoken to him this week, we shouldn't be surprised that for a young player to have such a big change in his life – new league, new club, different style of play, different training regime, back living in Manchester, moving house, everything that's involved in that – that's a lot to take in.

"It's going to need time, but he showed a lot of the qualities he has, and I know that will come with the club as well."

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