Football

Guardiola praises record-setting City teen Foden

Young star only spark in an otherwise 'really, really poor' second-half display

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola hailed Phil Foden as perhaps the only bright spot in their 2-1 home defeat by FC Basel in the Champions League last 16, second leg yesterday morning (Singapore time).

City advanced to the quarter-finals 5-2 on aggregate, thanks to their 4-0 first-leg win in Switzerland but, while Guardiola fielded a weakened side at the Etihad Stadium, he was still unhappy with his team's first home loss since December 2016.

Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus put City ahead in the eighth minute, but the visitors drew level nine minutes later when Mohamed Elyounoussi buried the ball in the bottom corner.

In the 72nd minute, Michael Lang blasted past City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo at the near post for his second winner against Manchester clubs this season.

Guardiola handed Foden his second start in the Champions League and, in doing so, the 17-year-old midfielder became the youngest English player to play in a Champions League knock-out match, as well as the youngest to play in a knock-out game for an English club.

"He was good," Guardiola was quoted as saying in the Metro.

"In the second half, maybe him with Leroy, Foden was the only one who tried to be aggressive, tried to do something, to get the ball and move forward.

"It's good for the rhythm of the future."

Foden's future with Man City seems assured after Guardiola suggested at the end of last month that the club would offer him a new long-term contract when he turns 18 in May.

"He knows, his family knows, his manager knows - we want to keep him with us for a long time," Guardiola said.

"He is a good player for the future. He has to grow up and be stronger, but the huge quality is there."

The former Barcelona coach, however, had less positive words for the rest of his team, labelling their second-half performance as "really, really poor" and said their possession play had been largely pointless.

City completed 978 passes, the most recorded by a side in a Champions League match since such statistics began being recorded in 2003, but Guardiola was not impressed.

"The first half was quite good but, in the second half, we forgot to attack, to play," he said.

"Just to pass the ball for itself is nothing and the second half was really, really poor.

"It is not easy to play with a 4-0 lead. We spoke about that and in the first half... We showed we wanted to win. We created a lot of chances and we were good.

"But, after 1-1 in the second half, it didn't happen. We just passed for itself and, when that happens, that is not football."

The result ended a 36-game unbeaten run for City at the Etihad Stadium in all competitions and the Spaniard acknowledged that his team selection had impacted the outcome.

EURO CONTENDERS

"You will find all the clubs in the world when you make six or seven changes, always the team are not the same," he said.

"That's why I insisted to start well and we did well in the first half. In the second half, we just passed the ball to pass the ball, without rhythm."

Basel coach Raphael Wicky praised his side for a "very special" win, but said he expects City to be title-contenders for the Champions League.

"It wasn't an easy situation and they produced a really good performance," Wicky said.

"I'm really happy and proud. The special thing about this result is we have a certain pride. To win against a team who are beating one team after another every three days is very special. We can be very proud.

"Man City are one of the top two or three teams in the world at the moment.

"They have showed that for months in all competitions. They are one of the favourites for the Champions League, but we all know that this is a competition where it depends on the form on the day.

"The draw has to go right. It is difficult to say how it will go in terms of quality and momentum."

Football