England manager Gareth Southgate has claimed Phil Foden cannot play in the middle for the big games and told anybody who disagrees - just ask Pep.
Southgate confirmed he has discussed the issue with Foden’s Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and insisted he has not seen any evidence to suggest he can currently start anywhere other than from a wide position for England.
Foden, who is in contention to start against Scotland at Hampden Park on Tuesday night, has said on a number of occasions that his favoured position would be as an advanced central midfielder, but Southgate said: “He doesn’t [play in the middle] for his club. So presumably there is a reason for that. It depends on the level of the game, really.
“In the middle of the park, everyone wants to talk about the [team] with the ball, but there is a lot of detail without the ball and in games, like at the weekend [against Ukraine]. You are playing opponents who are so clever with their passing and movement that you have to be spot on with pressing angles, your responsibilities and if you don’t, you don’t get the flow of the game.
“You’d have to speak to Pep, who is the best coach in the world, who plays him from wide. He’s always got the freedom to drift if we play him wide and that’s important.”
When it was put to Southgate that Foden has said his best position is in the middle, he shot back: “But he doesn’t play there!” And on whether he has discussed it with Guardiola, he answered: “Yes, yes.”
Kevin De Bruyne’s injury has given Foden a chance to fill in for the Belgian, as he did impressively against Newcastle United, but Southgate was adamant it has not resulted in a change of position for City.
“Newcastle, he played wide right and he drifted – [Erling] Haaland and [Julián] Alvarez as nine and 10, Phil defended right-wing in a 4-4-2. He drifted in off the touchline with [Kyle] Walker going round him in possession,” said Southgate.
“He definitely picked the ball up in those areas a lot, but his start position was wide on the right so – I know it was a really eye-catching game and we were really pleased to see it but tactically and positionally it was him coming in from the right.”
Despite dismissing Foden’s hopes of playing centrally for England for now, Southgate did stress how highly he still rates the 23-year-old and still believes he can have a big impact on his team.
“We are very happy with Phil,” said Southgate. “He’s played in the Euros, came on in the semi-final of the Euros and had a big impact, he’s played in World Cups for us, he’s only 23 years old, he’s got amazing experiences. He is still progressing and learning but he is a super player for us to have.”
Asked if Foden has fulfilled his promise for his country yet, Southgate added: “But we’ve got a lot of really good young players, so it’s not been straightforward.
“We have expectations of every player and he’s a player who has been with us from a young age and was on the team that won the junior [Under-17] World Cup, but he’s battling against Bukayo [Saka] and Marcus [Rashford], and all of the other players we have in that area of the pitch for us – and at his club, with an incredibly high level of players.
“Again we are not involved in his day-to-day development, but I’m sure that Pep would feel the same. He has played in really important matches for them, in a team that has won so much, so we are happy with his progress.”
But Southgate reiterated his faith in Henderson, by revealing he had run further than any other player [11km) against Ukraine despite moving to the Saudi Pro League.
“We have been monitoring his running, in terms of his training,” said Southgate. “Obviously, we have got good contacts at the club so we have been monitoring his level. The physical outputs have been mixed because the climate has been different for different games, but he was in good physical condition. All of his data, he was hitting what he should have done. And his outputs on Saturday were the highest he has had at an England game.
“In terms of the job he was doing, he had to cover a lot of space. We had talked about it a lot. That midfield weren’t as tight as we might have been and Hendo and Dec covered a lot of ground and closed a lot of spaces up. He was absolutely critical to us not losing the game.”