Although the magic of the FA Cup may be fading in the eyes of some, it does provide some interesting alternatives to the monotonous routine of the Premier League.
The world’s most prestigious domestic competition is now a hotbed for young fringe players to demonstrate their worth to their coaches, gaining precious experience in senior football.
One man who must watch the domestic cup draws intently is Manchester City starlet Phil Foden. The 19-year-old has demonstrated at youth level for England – and in flashes during his brief spells on the Etihad Stadium turf for the Citizens – that he is an absolute star in the making.
And the Man City faithful were treated to a dose of Foden-ball from the first whistle against Fulham on Sunday afternoon.
Amid a team full of superstars and match-winners, it can be very difficult to shine brighter than those around you.
So the biggest compliment that can be paid to Foden regarding his performance against Fulham, is that he rarely looked out place when standing shoulder to shoulder with the Premier League’s elite.
The starlet began the match in a wide-left position, and it was a role that clearly didn’t accentuate his strengths. Foden looked isolated at times, and occasionally seemed uncomfortable in attacking situations, unable to drop deeper in search of the ball.
His timing upon arriving into the penalty box was typically impeccable, but his finishing was rather rash on this afternoon.
The second half saw Foden occupy a more central role, and this was really where he came into his own.
The 19-year-old is so graceful when in possession, gliding between the lines and ghosting beyond opposing defenders with an ease and air of a man who can play the game effortlessly. His ability to move the ball quickly with teammates was noticeably impressive, but not surprising of a boy who has all the technical attributes to go to the very top.
The youngster continued to offer Man City width when attacking down the left-hand side, but tucked inside intelligently when his teammates held possession on the other flank, floating into space to link up neatly with his fellow diminutive midfielders.
Foden’s moment almost arrived late in the second half, when his drilled shot at goal looked destined to rustle the back of the net, only for Fulham goalkeeper Marek Rodak to pull off a superb stop. The ball fell to the grateful forehead of Gabriel Jesus, who nodded home to add the Citizens’ fourth of the match.
It’s not hard to see why Man City fans love him, and each passing performance will only build the hype surrounding the talented youngster. Many will feel that Foden is wasting his early years by remaining around the club and not seeking a loan move for some experience at a lower level.
But it’s evident just how much he is learning from his fellow Man City stars, who are presenting him with better experience and development opportunities than he could receive at any other club in the country.
Patience is needed, but Phil’s time will come.