LONDON • Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has played down expectations on Phil Foden to fill the void left by injured playmaker Kevin de Bruyne.
League Two outfit Cheltenham were close to pulling off one of the great FA Cup shocks after taking the lead through Alfie May in their fourth-round tie.
But nine minutes from time, Foden equalised against the fourth-tier side before Gabriel Jesus and Ferran Torres struck to secure the team’s passage to the fifth round with a 3-1 win and an away meeting with Championship side Swansea.
Guardiola’s side were without de Bruyne, who picked up a hamstring issue in Wednesday’s 2-0 Premier League win over Aston Villa. The injury is set to rule the Belgium playmaker out for up to six weeks, a hammer blow as he has been their chief creative force with a team-leading 10 assists in 17 top-flight games.
Starring against fourth-tier opponents does not mean that Foden is going to take over from de Bruyne as City’s assist king. However, the England midfielder will certainly play a lot more now.
While Foden has made two assists and scored four goals in the league this season, he has not featured as often as he would have liked, with only eight starts, but he has an opportunity to nail down a place in Guardiola’s first XI.
The Catalan is counting on the 20-year-old City academy graduate to step up in de Bruyne’s absence but has told him to ignore the hype.
“We have the players. Phil has to be Phil and not be Kevin de Bruyne because there is only one Kevin de Bruyne,” Guardiola said.
“He needs to keep doing what he has been doing in terms of when we are in a bad moment or when we are losing in terms of what he gave to the game.
“Phil can play in the middle, can play winger, can play in a false nine position up front. He’s clinical in front of goal. He’s playing really well, again in the right moment, he scored a goal.”
Still, with nine strikes in all competitions to become City’s top scorer this term, Foden is showing he is already filling the boots left by the departure of club stalwart David Silva on a free transfer last summer.
“We don’t mention the word potential any more, we’re seeing this every week,” pundit and England great Alan Shearer said.
“An incredible player. Forget about putting too much pressure on him because he’s on the biggest stage and delivering now.”
City, who still have a league game in hand at Everton, face strugglers West Bromwich Albion tomorrow and can go top of the standings with a win.