Brentford boss singles out ‘magic’ Man City star who evaded headlines

Phil Foden took the plaudits for his terrific hat-trick but it was another Manchester City star who wrecked Brentford’s plan

Pep Guardiola was asked plenty about Phil Foden after Manchester City’s win over Brentford. The 24-year-old gave more evidence of his immense talent with a wonderful hat-trick that turned a difficult evening into a comfortable one in west London and moved them to within two points of the Premier League summit.

City’s coach was also asked about Erling Haaland, who started for the first time in two months following a stress fracture to his foot. Haaland is inevitably a talking point wherever he goes, although Guardiola chose to focus on the space the No.9 created for his teammates rather than any missed chances in front of goal.

The City name on Brentford boss Thomas Frank’s lips, however, was Kevin De Bruyne. His team had tried to restrict City in the second half yet the plan had fallen short because of a Belgian who could navigate through a storm without needing to see.

“We knew that De Bruyne was the key player to close down, but he found that magic pass,” Frank said. “Some of the things were good but, when you face the best team in the world, you need to be perfect.”

It should take nothing away from the run and finish that, just like two seasons ago on this fixture, it was De Bruyne who found the space that nobody else could and executed an unstoppable delivery. All the hard work of the Bees undone with one swing of a De Bruyne boot.

It seems banal to say that City have sorely missed De Bruyne, yet sometimes the most simple answers are the best ones. The Belgian has been back for three league games and has made match-changing contributions in each of them.

Monday’s assist took him clear into third place on the list of all-time Premier League assists and also up to three for a league season in which he has only played 221 minutes. With 17 games to go, how safe is Ollie Watkins at the top of the assists charts on 10? How safe does Ryan Giggs feel in the all-time list with 57 more than the 32-year-old?

More importantly for City, the more De Bruyne plays the more opposition teams have every right to be nervous about their plan to contain him. Newcastle, Burnley and now Brentford have all been out-thought by him inside a month to result in nine points for Guardiola’s side.

Foden, Haaland and Julian Alvarez are more than capable of scoring the goals to punish teams but while the Blues have De Bruyne on the pitch their chances of creating those opportunities shoot up. If City are to come on strong in the second half of the season, much will be down to the simple fact of having one of the world’s best back from injury.

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