Phil Foden ensured Man City took advantage of Liverpool’s slip at Arsenal to move within two points of the leaders as his hat-trick saw them come from behind to win 3-1 at Brentford.
The treble winners were stunned as Neal Maupay latched onto Mark Flekken’s long goal-kick for a route-one opener after 21 minutes, and they found the Brentford goalkeeper in inspired form as they sought an equaliser.
But just as Arsenal and Liverpool – both of whom have played a game more than City – were beginning to let themselves hope, Brentford’s resistance was broken when Ethan Pinnock’s weak clearance allowed Foden a simple finish moments before the break.
The midfielder then kept City’s charge back towards the top on track when he ghosted in to meet Kevin De Bruyne’s deep cross to complete the turnaround eight minutes into the second half.
Foden completed his own personal milestone with the second hat-trick of his career after latching onto Erling Haaland’s lay-off and coolly slotting home a third 20 minutes from time to seal City’s fifth successive league win, and 15th-placed Brentford’s seventh defeat in eight.
Brentford: Flekken (7), Collins (6), Pinnock (6), Mee (7), Roerslev (7), Norgaard (7), Jensen (5), Janelt (5), Reguilon (7), Maupay (7), Toney (6).
Subs: Lewis-Potter (5), Yarmolyuk (6), Damsgaard (6), Ajer (6), Baptiste (n/a).
Man City: Ederson (6), Walker (7), Dias (7), Ake (6), Gvardiol (7), Rodri (8), Silva (6), De Bruyne (8), Alvarez (7), Foden (10), Haaland (7).
Subs: Doku (7), Kovacic (n/a).
Player of the match: Phil Foden.
How Foden cast off City’s Brentford curse
Brentford’s pre-match video played around the ground reminded anyone still in doubt about their role as the only team to do a Premier League double over City in 2022/23.
Few gave them a chance of making it a hat-trick, but the hoodoo would not go quietly. From the Bees’ first chance of the game, Maupay slotted them ahead, latching onto Flekken’s long goal-kick after Ivan Toney held off Nathan Ake.
The City defence had anticipated Toney getting a touch which would have ruled the Frenchman offside, but it never came.
- Brentford handed a full debut to Sergio Reguilon, who replaced Lewis Keane-Potter.
- Erling Haaland made his first Man City start since December 6 as one of three changes from the win over Burnley.
They would have envisaged an easier night against Flekken, too, given no team had saved a lower proportion of shots on target than Brentford this season coming into the game.
But they found the Dutchman in inspired form as he twice denied Julian Alvarez with full-length stops, though his sprawling save to keep out an Erling Haaland effort with his right boot was the pick of the bunch.
It made the manner of Man City’s equaliser on the stroke of the interval feel all the harsher, when Pinnock’s weak header under little pressure fell kindly for Foden and left the goalkeeper helpless to stop him levelling up.
He was less blameless for the midfielder’s second, a free header he could only get a glancing hand to, but Foden had been given the freedom of the penalty area after ghosting in between two defenders.
The pick of the bunch was yet to come. With Pinnock and Nathan Collins both lured towards Erling Haaland, the striker’s deft lay-off found Foden again untracked as he danced into the Brentford box and slotted home for his hat-trick.
Brentford could have given themselves hope of taking something from the game but for an acrobatic volley blazed over by Toney and a Christian Norgaard volley which was blocked by Ruben Dias at close range.
The hosts still paraded the pitch come the full-time whistle, following a performance making up in heart what it lacked in quality, while Foden led the charge to the away end with the match ball in hand and City’s surge to the top in full flow, their hopes of a fourth successive title firmly in their own hands.
Carra: Why shouldn’t City target another treble?
Sky Sports‘ Jamie Carragher on Monday Night Football:
“Why isn’t it a possibility? They’re going to be favourites for every competition they’re in. I don’t see anyone close to them, too much, in the Champions League.
“They’ve got over that barrier last season by putting that to bed in terms of winning it – and they’re big favourites in the other two as well.
“From Arsenal and Liverpool’s point of view, there will be a sense that City are back and they’re going to go on another long run.
“Arsenal and Liverpool have both got to play City. If you’re going to win the league, you’re going to have to beat City. You’re going to be favourites in the other games you go into, so it’s important for the players, staff and supporters not to get too downhearted with what Manchester City are doing.
“Forget City. When you play them, do the job, but apart from that just concentrate on your own game and drag it out for as long as possible. Then, who knows what can happen?”
Analysis: The sky remains the limit for fabulous Foden
Sky Sports’ Ron Walker at the Gtech Community Stadium:
“It takes some reminding that Phil Foden is still only 23 years old. The way he ghosts into space – like for his second goal – and how he glides past defenders – like for his third – are not something you would associate with a player still a few years from their prime.
“There is credence to Pep Guardiola’s assertion that Foden is among the most dangerous players in tight spaces he has ever worked with.
“It always seemed like he would end up playing in a more central role at some point given that priceless quality. And now he is thriving in it.
“Haaland was the perfect foil for two of his three goals, drawing two defenders towards him on both occasions and leaving space for Foden to work his magic. Not everyone would anticipate that and react accordingly, but he is as intelligent as he is technically gifted.
“Two questions remain. Where does he fit for England – because surely, he fits somewhere – and how far can he go from here?
“At international level, the left flank seems the likely fit given his experience there for Man City and Gareth Southgate’s current preference to play Jude Bellingham as his most advanced central midfielder.
“In terms of his potential, it’s perhaps best to channel his club manager and mentor. ‘His limits, he will decide,’ he said when asked to ponder that same thought.
“Given what Foden has decided in his short career to this point, that may well mean there is still plenty more to come.”
Frank: We need to take chances against world’s best team
Brentford manager Thomas Frank on Sky Sports:
“I think overall it was a good performance – especially in the first half but actually throughout the game. We defended very well and we limited them to shots outside the box except the chance to Haaland in that first half due to our own poor back pass.
“The boys defended so well but then make a minor mistake for 1-1. We talked a lot about closing down De Bruyne but then he made an unbelievably precise pass and they showed the quality for 2-1.
“We had a big chance for Norgaard and for Ivan and those are the chances we have to take to beat the best team in the world.”
Guardiola: We were fortunate to be level at half-time
Man City manager Pep Guardiola on Sky Sports:
“It was a very tough game as what they do from experience, at corners, is really hard to defend against. The way they link with Toney is unstoppable. But we had a lot of shots in the first half and their goalkeeper was amazing.
“I think we deserved it but at the same time we were fortunate to go in 1-1 at half time.
“In the second half, we were much better.”
On Foden: “He’s a guy who can play in so many positions but he likes to play in the pockets. To have a player who can play in these tight spaces is really important.
“He’s a guy who has a lot of weapons. He’s playing his best season since we’ve been together. His goals and assists in this central position is unbelievable.”
Brentford visit Wolves in the Premier League at Molineux on Saturday; kick-off 3pm. Meanwhile, Manchester City host Everton at the Etihad Stadium on the same day; kick-off 12.30pm.
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