A record-breaking weekend of football was brought to a conclusion on Monday night at the Brentford Community Stadium.
Manchester City’s comeback win is the focus of our final Scout Notes of Gameweek 23.
PHIL YOUR BOOTS
On a night of underwhelming returns for most of the well-owned players in this fixture, Phil Foden (£7.9m) delivered his biggest Gameweek score of the season.
A clinically taken hat-trick, his second ever for City, earned him a 20-point haul.
There was an irony that, with all the talk of him being displaced out to the flank by Kevin De Bruyne (£10.8m), he did it from a starting wide-midfield position.
This was no touchline-hugging role like Gameweek 22, however, with Foden operating from the left rather than the right. His remit: provide runs and support in the box rather than hold the width.
Three shots in the box and three goals followed, all of which were from close-range, central positions.
Above: Phil Foden’s xG shot map in Gameweek 23
“I said a few weeks ago that Phil is having his most influential season in the team in terms of goals and assists.
“He is reading the game really well. How he plays simple, or how is he more aggressive. Always he has the pleasure to score goals and the threat in the six-yard box, always he’s there. He’s an incredible runner, how he runs for the team. He’s an exceptional player.” – Pep Guardiola on Phil Foden
ALL OUT ATTACK
Guardiola found a way to get all of Foden, De Bruyne, Erling Haaland (£14.2m) and Julian Alvarez (£6.9m) in his starting XI, as well as Bernardo Silva (£6.5m).
He had done it before, back in Gameweek 1 – the last time he had all five of those players fully fit and ready to start a game.
We won’t see it in every match, not by a long stretch, but there is a lot more chance of it happening when City encounter deep blocks and five-man defences.
They’ll face Brentford again in Double Gameweek 25, so there is every chance that we’ll see something similar tactically from the reigning champions then.
City’s other Gameweek 25 opponents, Chelsea, may also be operating in a five-at-the-back shape by that stage, if reports are to be believed.
“We had three players [Foden, Alvarez, Haaland] today. They [Brentford] are so, so deep and the spaces are so difficult. Having players like this who move good in these spaces is important.” – Pep Guardiola
PEP ON HAALAND
Haaland’s first start in two months ended with a solitary attacking return: an assist for Foden’s third goal.
It’s difficult to judge how fit the Norwegian is as, even at the best of times, he cuts an ambling, anonymous figure who only comes alive when it matters most.
The positive was that he got through 86 minutes, which was more than owners were likely expecting after his recent lay-off.
He’ll surely be better for the game-time as a result.
His big moment came in the 22nd minute, when he latched onto a loose Brentford pass and raced down on goal. Mark Flekken‘s (£4.5m) outstretched leg saved the day, one of a remarkable 12 saves that the underfire Bees ‘keeper made.
The division’s worst goalkeeper for expected goals prevented (xGP), he chose Monday to morph into mid-90s Schmeichel.
Guardiola highlighted the attention that the hosts’ three centre-halves and central midfield trio gave Haaland, also pointing out that Alvarez, De Bruyne and Foden benefitted as a result.
Those three players racked up 14 shots between them.
Again, that might be something worth bearing in mind for Gameweek 25, when Haaland renews acquaintances with the Bees. We saw a very similar thing at the Etihad last season, with the Norwegian occupying the backline while Foden amassed seven shots.
“I cannot imagine one striker all around the world, playing against Brentford, surrounded by six players with only two to three meters distances between them, is a comfortable game. I cannot imagine, not even the best strikers in the world could survive in that.
“He needs time, today is the first time playing 90 minutes. The last game was 20, 25.
“But being there helps the players for the second position be more involved and get more chances to score a goal. Thanks to Erling being there, Julian, Kevin and Phil, they have more spaces.
“Without him, it would be more difficult so he helped us a lot today, massively.” – Pep Guardiola on Erling Haaland
A FULL GAME FOR DE BRUYNE
Also getting valuable game-time under his belt was Kevin De Bruyne, who lasted 90 minutes for the first time this season.
His radar was sometimes slightly off by his high standards, with his pass completion rate (69%) the worst of all the City players on show.
But the vision was still there, and it was from his superb cross that Foden nodded in his second. There were a couple of other genius moments, including a lofted pass for Josko Gvardiol (£4.8m), while it was from his half-cleared delivery that Foden ultimately scored his first goal.
Again, the biggest positive for his owners ahead of Gameweek 25 was him showing he could last the full game without any adverse effects.
One other line of note was De Bruyne’s dominance at set plays. Alvarez, who had been on most free-kicks and corners in the Belgian’s absence, didn’t take a single one.
ANOTHER GOAL FOR MAUPAY
The hosts had very little of the ball but did mount the odd dangerous counter-attack.
Echoing what we said last week, the front two were a real handful and seem to have struck up a good understanding.
It was thanks to Ivan Toney‘s (£8.1m) clever bodycheck that Neal Maupay (£4.9m) raced through to open the scoring, while both strikers later had good chances to add to that strike.
The budget Maupay now has seven attacking returns in nine Brentford starts this season.
Yoane Wissa (£5.6m) will be back for Double Gameweek 25 but on the evidence we’ve seen so far, it’s unlikely that Thomas Frank will want to disrupt the blossoming partnership.