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Man City’s Guardiola raves about Foden: ‘Always he is there’

LONDON — Pep Guardiola called Phil Foden an “exceptional” player after the midfielder’s hat trick inspired Manchester City to a 3-1 victory over Brentford in west London on Monday, adding: “always he is there.”

City had looked as if they might be frustrated by Brentford after Neal Maupay put the home side in front in the 21st minute and goalkeeper Mark Flekken made a strong of saves to deny the reigning champions.

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But Foden equalised for City on the stroke of half-time before securing all three points for his side with two more goals in the second half to complete his hat trick.

The victory meant City moved within two points of league leaders Liverpool, having played one game fewer than Klopp’s team.

“We needed it [Foden’s performance] today,” Guardiola told a news conference. “I think Phil is playing … the most [influential] season for the team in terms of goals, assists. How he played simple, how he can be more aggressive. He has the pleasure to score the goals and the threat when he’s close to their box. Always he is there.

“So he’s an exceptional, exceptional player. He is [young] and already has more than 250 games for City, that shows the impact he has had since he arrived.”

Foden’s hat trick was the second that he has scored in the Premier League — his first coming against Manchester United on Oct. 2, 2022.

“I don’t know his limits,” Guardiola said. “He will decide. For him, football is the most important thing of his life. Of course aside from his family and kids, it is the most important thing.

“It depends on him, but he enjoys a lot. He loves to play football. When you see players like him playing in the street when you are a little boy, you have this sense of amateurism [in the way he plays].”

The match was also the first time for more than five months that Guardiola was able to name both Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland in a starting XI since the opening weekend of the season.

De Bruyne has been building back to full fitness in recent weeks after undergoing hamstring surgery, while Haaland made his first league start since Dec. 6 after recovering from a foot injury, but he failed to mark his return with a goal.

“I cannot imagine one striker all around the world playing against Brentford surrounded by six players in the space of two, three metres distance, something like that. It’s uncomfortable,” Guardiola said.

“I cannot imagine that even the best, best strikers in the world could survive in there. But being there helps the players in the second position to be more involved and [creates] more chances to score a goal.

“So thanks to Erling being there, Julian [Alvarez] and Kevin and Phil have more spaces. Without him it would be more difficult. So he helped us a lot today.”

Brentford were the only team to beat City both home and away in the Premier League last season.

“They’re so difficult [to play against],” Guardiola said. They’re an incredible team. Set pieces, corners, free kicks, throw ins, I’ve never seen a team better than this one.”

Towards the end of the match there was an incident between City defender Kyle Walker and Brentford forward Maupay which led to a short stoppage in play as the right-back spoke to referee Jarred Gillett.

Both Guardiola and Brenford boss Thomas Frank both declined to elaborate on the incident when asked by reporters after the match.

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