It was heralded as Erling Haaland’s big comeback into Manchester City’s starting XI. Perhaps a shootout could take place with Brentford striker Ivan Toney, who is also recovering after spending some time on the sidelines following his gambling ban.
For a while there was a glimpse that Neal Maupay might outdo them both when he gave Brentford a shock lead midway through a first half made memorable by challenging Mark Fleken in the home goal. But in the end, it was all about another striker whose talent can seem utterly irresistible on nights like this.
The Premier League title is back in City’s hands after Liverpool’s defeat at Arsenal on Sunday – exactly where they like it. Phil Foden had the ball at his feet in front of goal, even his head at one point, and that’s exactly what he prefers.
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Foden doesn’t score much with his head, but he did here to put City up 2-1. He had got the equalizer (chest, bounce and finish) while saving the best for the hat-trick, a blast off Haaland’s lay-off, where every touch was perfect, leaving no one around him with even the slightest sniff.
City are on an ominous run, winning all seven games since their victorious return from the Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia.
Pep Guardiola recently said that he can feel his players’ desire to win and keep winning. Brentford had done the double over City last season, but no one in the red and white stripes could stop Foden. Will someone be able to do the same with their team? The demand is pounding with increasing force.
The problem with City is that resistance can seem futile. Few have put up as brave a fight as Fleks in an extraordinary first-half performance. The statistics show that he made eight saves, the majority of which were shoddy. He even got the assist for Maupay’s goal. But full-time he was a footnote.
Maupay’s goal was a bull’s-eye for the Sky Blues, stunning in its surprising value, because at that stage Flek’s goal was under fire. Everything changed – briefly – when he launched a long ball forward, although perhaps the real assist should have been credited to Toney. He set a screen against Nathan Aké, basketball style, allowing Flek’s clearance to continue running to Maupay, who rolled past Ederson.
Maupay seems to take disproportionate pleasure in liquidating opponents. He clashed with Rúben Dias at a defensive corner, earned a yellow card for a late charge on Rodri and had a lengthy exchange with Guardiola in the closing stages after apparently saying something to infuriate Kyle Walker. No one can say Maupay isn’t on fire in front of goal. He has now scored in five games in a row. Maybe he should stick to that.
Guardiola was pleased to hand Haaland his first start since a broken foot in early December. For the first time since the opening match of the league season, the City manager immediately had Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne in the starting line-up. It’s all part of the story that makes the club ready to run to the finish line.
Brentford’s poor results are well documented – it is now seven defeats in eight, although their performances have earned them more – and Fleks was called upon to deny Julián Álvarez twice and Walker within the opening 15 minutes. Those in front of him put their bodies on the line, one block away from Ethan Pinnock to thwart Haaland on seven minutes, especially vital.
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Fleken made a one-on-one save against Haaland after a loose backpass from Vitaly Janelt and did well to keep out a Josko Gvardiol strike, while City had other near misses in the first half, including then a Bernardo goal Silva hit Mads Roerslev. fly wide.
Brentford threatened before the break when Ederson clawed away Sergio Reguilón’s cross and Dias had to make an important intervention to block Janelt while Ederson was off his line. However, Foden eventually restored parity in stoppage time after Pinnock’s poor header from De Bruyne’s cross.
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.
Against this city it can feel brutal and inevitable and they went ahead after 53 minutes; after all Brentford’s hard work at the back it was another soft concession. No one closed down De Bruyne and no one followed Foden’s run. The cross was beautiful. Foden flexed his neck muscles to generate the power and accuracy.
Brentford refused to stop believing. They created opportunities for the equalizer. Christian Nørgaard was denied by a big Dias block and Toney put too much on a side volley when he was well placed. Foden would kill them.
“Only Phil will define his limits,” Guardiola said. “The way he moves in small spaces, his impact, you have the feeling he can score. It is difficult to find the movement as well as to be like a knife.