The match was hyped up as Erling Haaland’s triumphant return to the Manchester City starting lineup. There was potential for a showdown between Haaland and Brentford’s Ivan Toney, who is also making a comeback after a prolonged period on the sidelines due to a betting suspension.
Initially, there seemed to be a possibility that Neal Maupay could outshine both players when he surprised Brentford with a goal in the middle of the first half, which was also marked by Mark Flekken’s impressive performance in the home team’s goal. However, in the end, the focus shifted to another attacker whose skill is almost unstoppable on occasions like this.
City now holds the Premier League title once again, as Liverpool suffered a loss against Arsenal on Sunday. This is the perfect position for them, as Phil Foden had control of the ball right in front of the goal, even using his head at one point, which is his preferred position.
Foden is not known for scoring goals with his head, but he managed to do so in this match, giving City a 2-1 lead. He had previously scored the equaliser with a chest, bounce, and finish, but his best goal was the hat-trick, where he explosively struck the ball off a lay-off from Haaland. Every touch was executed perfectly, leaving no chance for any defenders inside the penalty area to stop him.
The City team is currently on an alarming winning streak, having won all seven matches since their triumphant comeback from the Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia.
Recently, Pep Guardiola stated that his players have a strong hunger to win and continue winning. Despite Brentford defeating City twice last season, none of their players in red and white could prevent Foden from scoring. The question now is, will any team be able to replicate this success against Guardiola’s team? This question grows in intensity.
The unique aspect about City is that resistance may appear pointless. However, Flekken put up a valiant fight during an incredible first half, making eight impressive saves. He even contributed to Maupay’s goal with an assist. By the end of the game, he was merely a small detail.
Maupay’s goal was a bolt for the sky blues, stunning in its surprise value because at that stage, Flekken’s goal was under siege. Everything changed – briefly – when he launched a long ball forward, although maybe the real assist ought to have been credited to Toney. He set a screen against Nathan Aké, basketball-style, which allowed Flekken’s clearance to keep on running to Maupay, who rolled past Ederson.
Maupay appears to derive great pleasure in provoking his opponents. He engaged in a confrontation with Rúben Dias while defending a corner, received a yellow card for a late and aggressive challenge on Rodri, and had a heated exchange with Guardiola towards the end of the match, possibly saying something to anger Kyle Walker. It cannot be denied that Maupay is in excellent form when it comes to scoring goals, having now achieved this feat in five consecutive games. Perhaps he should focus on that aspect of his game.
Guardiola was pleased to have Haaland start for the first time in December after recovering from a foot injury. This was also the first time since the beginning of the season that both Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne were in the starting lineup. This is all part of the story that shows the club is prepared to make a strong push towards the end of the season.
Brentford’s recent lackluster record has been widely reported – they have now lost seven out of their last eight games, despite putting in strong performances. In the first 15 minutes, Flekken had to make two saves to keep out shots from Julián Álvarez and Walker. The defense also played a crucial role, with Ethan Pinnock making a crucial block to stop Haaland’s shot in the seventh minute.
Flekken made a critical save against Haaland in a one-on-one situation following a poor backpass by Vitaly Janelt. He also did a commendable job stopping a powerful shot by Josko Gvardiol. In the first half, City had other opportunities that came close to scoring, such as a shot from Bernardo Silva that hit Mads Roerslev and went wide.
Brentford posed a threat before halftime as Ederson saved Sergio Reguilón’s cross that doubled as a shot. Dias also stepped in to make a crucial block on Janelt’s attempt, with Ederson out of position. However, Foden equalized in added time after Pinnock’s unsuccessful header clearance from a De Bruyne cross.
Facing this team, it may seem never-ending and unavoidable, and they took the lead in the 53rd minute; despite Brentford’s strong defensive efforts, they gave up another easy goal. De Bruyne was left unmarked and Foden’s run went unnoticed. The delivery was impressive as Foden used his neck muscles to generate the necessary strength and precision.
Brentford persisted in their belief and continued to create opportunities to tie the game. Despite a strong block from Dias preventing Christian Nørgaard from scoring, and Toney missing a good chance with his side-on volley, Foden ultimately secured the win for his team.
Guardiola stated that Phil alone will determine his own boundaries. The way he navigates in tight areas and his influence give the impression that he is capable of scoring. It is challenging to find someone with both the agility and precision.