Gareth Southgate was not surprised by Phil Foden’s outstanding performance in England against Andorra while helping Jadon Sancho to regain his best form at Manchester United.
Foden came on international break after blinding for Manchester City in the 2-2 draw with Liverpool on the left wing last week, scoring one goal and playing the other.
The 21-year-old was not on the top scorer list in Saturday’s 5-0 win in World Cup qualifiers, but he controlled the game from midfield.
After playing the pass that opened Andorra for Ben Chilwell’s opening game, Foden received an assist for Bukayo Saka’s second goal. The last English duo, aged 21 or younger, to team up for a World Cup qualifying goal were Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen against Germany in 2001.
Tammy Abraham, James Ward-Prowse and Jack Grealish added more goals after half time, but Foden remained the star.
Despite a wild, headstrong shot, he earned himself three chances and completed 94.7 percent of his 76 passes, including 93.1 percent of 58 in the Andorra half.
England have been accused of not having control of the center of the pitch in their biggest games, so manager Southgate was intrigued by Foden’s performance – even if he expected the City man to thrive.
“The quality that we know,” Southgate said at a press conference. “For us, the possibilities with him in terms of his forward positioning are very interesting.
“Today was a perfect game because the whole team didn’t have to defend, so you only analyze part of the game against a specific opponent.
“Even so, it’s obvious to everyone to see the passes and have the quality to hit the passes they made.
“Not just him, but when one or two others get stronger in this midfield, I find it exciting to see how we as a team develop in certain games and how this balance and creativity can develop.
“I’m not surprised that his performance tonight was outstanding. We half expected it when we named the team.
Another win closer to our goal. Now it goes on Tuesday evening, see you soon pic.twitter.com/GrYE1uRQbc
– Phil Foden (@PhilFoden) October 9, 2021
“I think [identifying his best position] is difficult because honestly he’s one of those players who is effective across that front line when you play seven, 11, 10, eight against him.
“A traditional 4-3-3 formation with a six, eight, 10, [he would be] the 10 in it but with the ability to drop deeper and build the game sometimes like he did tonight.
“I think part of it is how he gets stronger and part of it is the balance of the types of players who could play as the other eight and their qualities.
“Look, it’s fabulously exciting, isn’t it, when, like tonight, you’re trying to break a defense and have a player who can see the passes he sees and hit them and get them in the way?” that he did.
“Towards the end of the game there were some nice combinations – Foden, Mount, Grealish, Saka – the kind of game our players can produce is really exciting.”
While Foden has scored two goals and two assists in six club games on one side of Manchester this season, newcomer Sancho has had one of two in nine games.
However, on Saturday he received two assists, including teeing off Chilwell after Foden’s pass.
Southgate said: “Tonight’s game wasn’t easy for a winger because you often take the ball up close with two, sometimes three, defenders.
“You have to pick the right moments to fire the ball and the right moments to support yourself, to maybe take out one or two of those players. I thought he did it exceptionally well.
“It was important that he got the assist because you also have to have this productivity and the right pass or cross at the end of these game packages.
“If I’ve talked to him this week, we shouldn’t be surprised that such a big change is taking place in his life for a young player – new league, new club, different style of play, different training regime, back to life in Manchester, relocation, everything what goes with it – that is a lot to internalize.
“It will take time but he has shown a lot of the qualities that he has and I know that will come with the club too.”