Phil Foden’s stunning hat-trick against Aston Villa revives Manchester City’s title challenge

Phil Foden’s hat-trick earned Man City a vital win over Aston Villa (AFP via Getty Images)

If hat tricks were the personal domain of Erling Haaland, a rival is emerging. Manchester City may have the Norwegian’s biggest collection of balls but it was something to watch as Phil Foden scored his second hat-trick of 2024 and his third in 19 months. For a non-striker, Foden is trying to score almost every one of them – if not his Norwegian team-mate – and his Aston Villa dismissal took him into unprecedented territory. He now has 21 goals for the season, reaching 20 for the first time in his career.

And this was another victory that Cahir can attribute to its greatest man. It’s just a description with a difference now. Last season, it would be a reference to Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne, the players with 52 goals and 29 goals respectively. This year, if the individual honors remain at the Etihad Stadium, the awards will not go to Haaland but to Rodri or Foden. With Haaland and De Bruyne watching on from the bench, Rodri and Foden underlined their importance by powering City to a comeback victory. The Spaniard started them, making it the rarest goalless debut for City in 57 attempts at the Etihad Stadium in the past. Then Foden took the head, his three other stat expulsions. City had not won a league game against a team in the top five this season, until their 22-2 win over them in December.

The gamble on resting Haaland and De Bruyne has turned out to be less of a risk – officially due to the proximity to Saturday’s early kick-off against Crystal Palace, although Real Madrid may have played a bigger role in Pep’s thinking Guardiola. Partly because Villa’s resources were arguably more stretched than those of a City team also without Kyle Walker, John Stones, Nathan Ake and Ederson. But, because Foden and Rodri stayed they are enough, in great style at last.

Foden's first goal, and City's second, came from a free-kick (Reuters)Foden's first goal, and City's second, came from a free-kick (Reuters)

Foden’s first goal, and City’s second, came from a free-kick (Reuters)

The script that the Spaniard now knows was delivering an important goal; It hardly seems that he delivers a different type and if the team sheet gave him more responsibility, he understood it. Rodri stole in unchecked to meet Jeremy Doku’s low cross to rifle a shot into the roof. Robin Olsen was the beaten, but not the blame, goalkeeper, who was added late to the line when Emi Martinez withdrew with illness. And although City won the derby of exhaustion and although Olsen conceded four, the absence of a World Cup winner hardly felt crucial, given the quality of the finish.

And, indeed, a costly error. On the stroke of half time. Foden hit a free kick through the wall as Nicolo Zaniolo tried to jump out of the way. That probably wasn’t what Austin McPhee, Villa’s hyperactive piping coach, taught his charges, but City’s initial irritation that Douglas Luiz wasn’t given a second yellow card for a foul on Foden took pleasure in restoring the lead.

Rodri scored the opener and set up Foden's second to prove how vital he is to City's title challenge (AFP)Rodri scored the opener and set up Foden's second to prove how vital he is to City's title challenge (AFP)

Rodri scored the opener and set up Foden’s second to prove how vital he is to City’s title challenge (AFP)

It felt symbolic that his second goal, taking the game beyond an enterprising Villa side at times, came from a combination of star men, Rodri stepping forward with a smart footwork to set up Foden for the first time. His third was a shot that went up 20 yards after he got the ball back himself.

It ensured that Villa remain the last team to beat City, but in December, 24 games ago, and this was the antidote to Sunday’s stalemate with Arsenal; it was more action – although it would be difficult to have less folk action – because City were more hazy and lively. If some second-tier players seized opportunities, two of City’s mainstays played the decisive roles.

But fresh legs gave energy; there was a spark on every side, even without some of the familiar faces. And Villa’s goal came from men usually found on the bench.

Substitute specialist John Duran was given a rare outing from the start. Injured substitute Ollie Watkins made up for the top scorer’s absence in the best possible way, finishing ably after a Morgan Rogers one-two. It was only Duran’s second Major League start, only Rogers’ third, but the rookies were in no doubt.

Jhon Duran's superb finish gave Villa an equalizer (Action Images via Reuters)Jhon Duran's superb finish gave Villa an equalizer (Action Images via Reuters)

Jhon Duran’s superb finish gave Villa an equalizer (Action Images via Reuters)

Villa had an enterprising side but ended up with an 18th win in their last 19 league visits to the Etihad Stadium. Arguably it could be heavier. With Haaland unused, Julian Alvarez led the line and showed comprehensibility. He hooked a shot into the side netting after two minutes and perhaps should have scored when released by Rico Lewis, but Olsen made a fine save. The Swedish goalkeeper then tipped his header over. He saved well from Bernardo Silva, too, and was kept busy as City collected 24 shots, Sergio Gomez hitting the post in injury time.

But the second-choice goalkeeper also had his moments. City needed Stefan Ortega to parry Douglas Luiz’s effort and Clement Lenglet’s header in quick succession. A few minutes later, Rodri Foden set up his second as they created a deadly new City double act.

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