There was a chilling efficiency in the way Phil Foden took Brentford apart. Instead of a repertoire of tricks and tricks, all the Manchester City forward had to do was think faster than his opponents, avoid his markers with the brilliant movement of the ball and show no uncertainty every time he was in front of the goal.
The small fluctuations were too much for Brentford to absorb. While some attackers stand still and make life easy for defenders, Foden never stops. He doesn’t admire his steps and doesn’t do anything for show. Nothing is wasted and nothing is frivolous. Other young attackers should take this into account. Foden is always on the move, always looking for space, and Brentford couldn’t figure out how to contain him.
Related: Manchester City closes the gap at the top as Phil Foden’s hat-trick takes the lead at Brentford
On another night, Ethan Pinnock’s errant attempt to clear Kevin De Bruyne’s cross on the stroke of half-time would not have been met with such a devastating penalty. Foden, however, was alert. Was it luck that he was in the right place when Pinnock’s header fell out of the sky? Probably not. More likely it was a sign of his intelligence. Foden was ready. No one was near him when he fired City level at the end of the half, notable for an opportunistic route-one opener from Neal Maupay and some heroic saves from Brentford’s goalkeeper, Mark Flokken.
It was not an easy 45 minutes for the champions. At times they threatened to sink into the Maupayverse, a strange, disorienting world where a very annoying striker argues with everyone and spends an inordinate amount of time obsessing over the correct placement of opposing free kicks.
Nothing went right for a while. Julian Álvarez, Erling Haaland, Josko Gvardiol and De Bruyne all failed to beat Fleken and City were behind when the Brentford goalkeeper pumped a goal-kick forward, only for Ivan Toney to claim something of a phantom assist, his presence alone enough to Nathan Aké and make room for Maupay to run through and slide a low shot past Ederson.
City could have crumbled at that stage. Last season they lost twice to Brentford and were almost 2-0 down when Sergio Reguilón delivered a cross to the far post. Ederson reacted well and prevented the ball from creeping in. It was a crucial moment.
Foden soon had his say. There is an increasing maturity in his game: more sharpness, more decisiveness, more determination to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. This season he has already scored fifteen goals for club and country. Last year he got sixteen.
The challenge is to keep pushing the boundaries. Foden has hardly been a bit-part player for City. He has contributed important goals and played in many big games. But as City cruised to the treble last season, Foden was not a regular starter. He was on the bench when City faced Manchester United in the FA Cup final and Internazionale in the Champions League final, although he came on in the latter match and made a positive impact after replacing the injured De Bruyne in the first half .
Foden will hope a change has taken place. He was nominally based on the left against Brentford, although in reality he was allowed to roam freely. There was no fixed point. City’s traditional players, Jack Grealish, Oscar Bobb and Jérémy Doku, were on the bench. Guardiola instead opted for interchangeable makers: De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Álvarez and Foden lined up behind Haaland and took turns wide.
It became overwhelming. Pinnock paid for his loss of focus and it wasn’t long before City scored again after the break. De Bruyne did the damage again with a cross from the left, and no one saw Foden’s run. All alone in the area, his run untracked, he was free to place a sliding header past Flokken.
There was no way back for Brentford, even though they fought hard and had a few chances to equalise. City were always able to raise their level. The killer goal was a good example of this. Brentford must have thought they were safe. Their form was good. They had players back. They defended with discipline.
Phil Foden’s hat-trick earned Manchester City an important comeback win at Brentford – and also took the total number of goals scored from the weekend’s top ten matches to 45 – a new record since the Premier League was reduced to 20 teams in 1995.
The previous high mark of 44 was reached twice – in 2021 and 2023, overtaking the 43 goals set in February 2011. The highest goal total in the Premier League era is 53, achieved in the final weekend of the 1992–93 season with 22 goals. ploughing.
45 goals (3-5 February 2024)
Everton 2-2 Tottenham, Brighton 4-1 C Palace, Burnley 2-2 Fulham, Newcastle 4-4 Luton, Sheffield Utd 0-5 Aston Villa; Bournemouth 1-1 Nottm Forest, Chelsea 2-4 Wolves, Man Utd 3-0 West Ham, Arsenal 3-1 Liverpool; Brentford 1-3 Manchester City.
44 goals (29 April – 2 May 2023)
Brighton 6-0 Wolves, Brentford 2-1 Nottm Forest, C Palace 4-3 West Ham; Bournemouth 4-1 Leeds, Fulham 1-2 Man City, Man Utd 1-0 Aston Villa, Newcastle 3-1 Southampton, Liverpool 4-3 Tottenham; Leicester 2-2 Everton; Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea.
44 goals (19-21 September 2021)
Everton 5-2 West Brom, Leeds 4-3 Fulham, Man Utd 1-3 C Palace, Arsenal 2-1 West Ham; Southampton 2-5 Spurs, Newcastle 0-3 Brighton, Chelsea 0-2 Liverpool, Leicester 4-2 Burnley;
Aston Villa 1-0 Sheffield United; Wolves 1-3 Man City.
43 goals (5–6 February 2011)
Aston Villa 2-2 Fulham, Everton 5-3 Blackpool, Man City 3-0 West Brom, Newcastle 4-4 Arsenal, Stoke 3-2 Sunderland, Spurs 2-1 Bolton, Wigan 4-3 Blackburn, Wolves 2-1 Man United States; Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool; West Ham 0-1 Birmingham.
53 goals (May 8-9, 1993)
Arsenal 3-0 C Palace, Blackburn 1-0 Sheffield Wed, Coventry 3-3 Leeds, Ipswich 2-1 Nottm Forest, Liverpool 6-2 Spurs, Man City 2-5 Everton, Middlesbrough 3-3 Norwich, Oldham 4-3 Southampton, Sheffield Utd 4-2 Chelsea; QPR 2-1 Aston Villa, Wimbledon 1-2 Manchester United.
But Foden would give a masterclass in how to pierce a low block. He dummyed a pass from Rodri and immediately set off, darting forward, the damage done even though the ball was elsewhere. This way, scoring goals could seem easy. Brentford saw what was happening, but it was too late. Haaland played the pass, a beautiful, heavy pass, and Foden had all the time in the world to take it leisurely, position himself and slot a shot past Fleks.
It was an unstoppable goal from a fearsome team. For Arsenal and Liverpool, the scary thing is that City are not dependent on Foden. If it hadn’t been him, it would have been De Bruyne, Álvarez or Haaland. They have so many weapons, so many ways to win, and knowing he is not under pressure to solve every problem alone seems to have done wonders for Foden’s development.