It is a statistic the sharpest analytical minds in football prize when recruiting offensive players: how involved have they been in goal-creating actions?
In this season’s Champions League, that metric is topped by Phil Foden. Another golden marker – progressive carries – is unsurprisingly led by Lionel Messi. Manchester City’s 21-year-old hybrid of dynamism and efficiency, however, ranks a close second.
And so, on Saturday, when Pep Guardiola’s juggernaut aim to establish themselves as a superpower by gaining ‘champions of Europe’ status, much is owed to the escalating brilliance of an academy graduate.
Their opponents, Chelsea, have motored to this point against logic courtesy of Thomas Tuchel’s refinement, and the craft of Mason Mount’s tactical awareness aligned with his supreme manipulation of space.
Many of the midfielder’s finest gifts are unquantifiable but lie at the core of everything good the team does. Through their Jekyll-and-Hyde campaign, he has been a consistent creative force: goalscorer, game-changer, a galvanising figure.
Like Foden at City, Mount joined Chelsea at the age of six and is breaking the mould at the mega-rich. The Stamford Bridge side financially flexed last summer, spending over £220m in a Covid-impacted market, yet he has been their guiding light.
The £65m arrival of Ruben Dias at City allowed Guardiola to implement an offensive-protection approach, removing their glass jaw of getting blitzed in transition, but the development of Foden has been the gold dust of their campaign. He is not a kid coming good, he is already king in so much of what they do.
Often drifting in from the left, he can also function as a playmaker, but the joy of Foden is that he has so much in his armoury that he does not need to be boxed into a position. Mount, meanwhile, has transitioned into more of a complete attacker under Tuchel rather than a box-to-box operator, with his work off the ball as impressive as his exemplary use of it. He has the tools to be stationed deeper as a controller, too.
The pair are not simply outperforming peers that cost gigantic outlays and establishing themselves as crucial for their powerhouse clubs, they are also altering perceptions of the ‘typical’ English player.
Technically and tactically astute, able to shape-shift and excel in multiple roles, they are products of the Elite Player Performance Plan that overhauled the Premier League academy system and zoned in on creating more quality homegrown options.
England’s recent success at youth level – Foden was the tournament’s best player during the Under-17 World Cup triumph four years ago – speaks to this new, modern breed that relishes possession and thrives in a pressing system. Both are silky players, but their their efforts when not on the ball are equally significant. Guardiola and Tuchel expect their attackers to morph into disciplined, defence-minded markers when possession is lost.
Foden is responsible for the second most successful pressures in the Champions League, Mount for the third most in England’s top flight. By every measure of judgement, they are elite which explains their guaranteed first XI status.
At Estadio do Dragao on Saturday, as they line up against each other in the grand showpiece, these young men are not only unified as being the symbol of their team’s future, but England’s too.
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