A touch of class from Phil Foden, coupled with Manchester City’s newfound defensive strength, proved to be the difference as Manchester City recorded a narrow 1-0 victory over Brighton on Wednesday night.
After two flawless and title-winning campaigns, Pep Guardiola’s side could hardly meet a challenge for the Premier League title last season, with champions on the run from Liverpool – and the Citizens’ vulnerability at the back has been a major factor in their failure to defend their crown.
After a somewhat unconvincing start to the 2020/21 campaign, City have gotten a bit in good shape lately. Their victory over Brighton was their seventh on the rebound, and their recent success was built on their new strong defensive foundations.
Ruben Dias – evidence to suggest that if you throw in enough money to fix a problem, it could eventually go away – and John Stones forged a very good central defensive partnership, with the pair complimenting each other well. They are self-assured, calm, and collected – and you don’t mind they got them wrong… a concern that Stones was once guilty of.
Center-back pair of Dias and Stones have kept 11 clean sheets in the 14 games they’ve started together. With City’s back line finally settled and sorted, they were able to flourish in the future.
This was not necessarily the case against Brighton. After putting on lavish offensive performances against Chelsea and Manchester United in early January, City were slightly more subdued on Wednesday night.
Partly that’s a credit to Brighton, who have been compact, stubborn and frustrated with Guardiola’s squad for long stretches of the game.
But that’s where Foden’s class shone.
The Manchester City youngster has not been used as extensively in the Premier League as expected after David Silva left this summer.
However, Foden had been at the heart of City’s recent victories over Chelsea and United, and he turned out to be the game winner on Wednesday as well.
The 20-year-old passed Joel Veltman and conceded Kevin De Bruyne’s pass over the edge of the box, before overtaking Adam Webster with a fabulous first touch. Having single-handedly created the space inside the area, Foden then found the bottom corner with weak, precise effort.
It was a demonstration of Foden’s growing importance to City, who wouldn’t have taken all three points against Brighton without the England international’s quality moment.
In this season’s most bizarre title races, sitting four points off first place with a game in hand, a consistent and solid defensive base, and Foden’s winning abilities is a pretty healthy position.