“Phil Foden’s Mystery: Guardiola’s Winning Blueprint Ignored by Southgate – What Went Wrong?”

Phil Foden: A Star Dimmed by England’s Tactical Constraints at Euro 2024

Phil Foden’s performances are under intense scrutiny at Euro 2024 as England struggles to find a system that maximizes the potential of their talented squad. “The key for Phil is where he ends up, not his starting position,” said Gareth Southgate in May, hoping to quell the ongoing debate over Foden’s role ahead of the tournament. Yet, England’s third lackluster performance saw them stumble into the knockout stages as group winners, prompting frustration from fans and pundits alike.

The spotlight is predictably on Foden. How can a player who was so electrifying for Manchester City last season become so ineffective for England? For Southgate to truly harness Foden’s abilities, he must take a page from Pep Guardiola’s playbook, not by uttering platitudes but by providing Foden with the tactical support he needs.

At City, Foden faces similar obstacles to becoming a No. 10 as he does with England. With Kevin De Bruyne firmly entrenched in that role at City, and Jude Bellingham occupying a similar position for England, Foden often finds himself displaced. However, Bellingham has not facilitated Foden’s play as De Bruyne does. During De Bruyne’s injury last season, Foden thrived as a No. 10, demonstrating his game-changing prowess. He continued to excel when coming off the flanks, raising the question: why can’t he replicate this impact for England?

When playing centrally, Foden benefits from the rotational support of De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, or sometimes Julian Alvarez. These players understand when to cover Foden’s position, create a dual No. 10 system, or drop deeper as needed. Additionally, Kyle Walker’s overlapping runs from the right allowed Foden to exploit the inside channels effectively. On the left, Josko Gvardiol provided similar support, creating space for Foden to operate.

At the Euros, Foden is confined to the left wing with a right-footed left-back, Kieran Trippier, who neither overlaps nor advances sufficiently. Foden’s frustration was evident against Slovenia, where he looked more effective only when swapping with Bellingham at No. 10 or when Walker switched to the left. Foden needs his full-back to engage multiple defenders, not just a one-on-one battle.

With Walker and John Stones in the lineup, England has the personnel to switch to a three-man defense, allowing more fluidity and support for Foden. Wayne Rooney aptly noted that England plays like City but without the timing or tact. Additionally, Foden enjoys more space at City because Erling Haaland constantly stretches defenses by staying on the shoulder of defenders. In contrast, Harry Kane drops deep into spaces Foden would naturally exploit, disrupting the young forward’s rhythm.

To optimize Foden’s contributions, Southgate should look at how the Premier League Player of the Season operates across the front line rather than being confined to the left. Foden needs the backing of a proactive full-back, a striker who creates space, and a dynamic No. 10, none of which he currently has. Guardiola even found success using Foden as a No. 8 in the Champions League, showcasing his versatility.

It is puzzling to see one of the world’s most adaptable forwards so constrained by his manager’s tactics, especially when the solution appears straightforward. Southgate is correct that Foden’s starting position shouldn’t matter, but the system and support around him are crucial. Until these elements align, Foden’s brilliance will continue to be stifled on the international stage.

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