Sterling scored and assisted Phil Foden‘s stoppage time goal, as City took 1,025 touches to the visitors’ 392. Dinamo Zagreb completed just 53 percent of their passes, were out shot 20-2, and had just 19 percent possession.
City now has six points, and has beaten both of the teams in the group who boast wins. A pair of matches with winless Atalanta are next.
Three things we learned
1. Zagreb frustrates with five (plus) at the back: City had more than 80 percent of the ball and almost all of the shot attempts, but the persistent and well-drilled visitors proved difficult to break down.
2. Rodri and Gundogan rule the roost: While Man City’s forwards to their time to find footing, Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan were very strong in the midfield. Gundogan completed 113 of his 120 passes, while Rodri converted 116 of 126 passes (92 percent) including a sensational “hockey assist” on Sterling’s opener.
Again, let’s do the math: 229 completed passes between two midfielders. Outstanding.
3. Super sub Sterling supplies breakthrough: The winner was very much a team goal, as Sterling had been in the game for less than 10 minutes when he took a pass from Riyad Mahrez to make it 1-0.
And to combine points Nos. 2 and 3, how about that scything pass from Rodri
Every season, a handful of previously unknown — or even unexpected — players turn in performances of the highest quality and find themselves being talked about as the Premier League’s latest “breakout player.”
This will undoubtedly be the case again in 2019-20, but will it be? Here are 10 players primed to reach new heights over the next 10 months…
Miguel Almiron, Newcastle United — Here’s the thing about the former Atlanta United star: he can really play. It didn’t take long for the Paraguayan to flash his skill and promise after moving to Newcastle last January. Now, try to imagine what he can do with a full offseason and preseason under his belt… if only the departure of Rafa Benitez doesn’t derail this freight train.
Mason Mount, Chelsea — With the Blues suffering through a two-window transfer ban, new manager Frank Lampard will have no choice but to rely upon a handful of academy players, beginning with the 20-year-old midfielder with whom he worked at Derby County last season. Eight goals and five assists in a solid haul for a teenager, and Mount has made the most of his every chance this preseason.
Reiss Nelson, Arsenal — After a season on loan at Hoffenheim (seven goals), Nelson faces an uphill battle for playing time in a thoroughly stacked Arsenal attack, but he’s got the complete package, plus the versatility, required to force his way into regular minutes.
Lloyd Kelly, Bournemouth — Smart clubs in the PL’s bottom half will have done extensive scouting on EFL Championship players ready to make the jump to England’s top flight, only to be held back by employment at a smaller club. Lloyd Kelly can play left back and center back, and he was outstanding for Bristol City last season. He’s one of a few potential answers to the question “who’ll be the next $60-million British defender?”
Max Aarons, Norwich City — How does a PFA Championship Team of the Year, EFL Team of the Season and EFL Player of the Year campaign sound for a potential breakout star? Norwich City’s Max Aarons achieved all of the above last season, at the age of 18 and 19, in his first season as a professional.
Morgan Gibbs-White, Wolverhampton Wanderers — The same age as Aarons, Gibbs-White is already a seasoned professional with three seasons under his belt. Now that Wolves are on the path to the Europa League group stage, Nuno Espirito Santo will be forced to rotate his team far more than last season, and he undoubtedly find that Gibbs-White is a handy option in midfield.
Moise Kean, Everton — Kean is fairly well known among those who follow the rest of Europe somewhat closely, but PL-only fans are in for a real treat when the 19-year-old Italian attacker gets his feet under him at Goodison Park.
Youri Tielemans, Leicester City — How Tielemans tumbled this far down the transfer pyramid (all due respect to Leicester, of course) is truly a mystery. It’s not as though he was unknown in any way, or that he’s untested in the PL (he spent the second half of last season on loan to the Foxes), or that any number of PL club could have used a midfielder of his caliber.
Declan Rice, West Ham United — Sure, Rice announced himself onto the PL stage last season, but 2019-20 feels like the time when he’ll go from “good young player” to “how much will Man City or Liverpool or Man United have to pay for him next summer?” West Ham being more consistent as a team and pushing for top-seven wouldn’t hurt Rice’s stock one bit.
Phil Foden, Manchester City — Is this the year Foden finally pushes his way into Pep Guardiola‘s regular rotation? We’ve been waiting for him to do so for two seasons now, yet he won’t turn 20 years old until after the 2019-20 season ends. Central midfield is still relatively thin at Man City, though that hasn’t stopped Guardiola from refusing to rotate and give Foden chances in the past.
Phil Foden may be just 19 years old, but not only has he forced his way into the Manchester City first-team squad, he’s also drawn spectacular praise from one of the world’s most renowned managers.
Speaking from Japan ahead of Manchester City’s friendly against J-League side Yokohama FM, Pep Guardiola called Foden “the most talented player I have ever seen,” quite high praise from a manager who has the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Robert Lewandowski, Gerard Pique, and Manuel Neuer among others on his managerial resume over the course of his career.
In fact, Guardiola said the only person standing in Foden’s way at the moment is himself.
“He is the most talented player I have ever seen,” Guardiola said during his pre-match press conference. “His problem is sometimes his manager doesn’t put him in starting XI. He deserves all the minutes. He works incredibly. He knows I’m here to help him.”
Guardiola’s position is understandable given the talent in the squad at the attacking midfield position. Manchester City boasts Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, and the departing David Silva all in a similar position, yet Foden saw 13 Premier League appearances last season and scored in his first start of the year, a massive goal in the 1-0 win over Spurs down the stretch of the title run.
“I am lucky to be part of it,” the 19-year-old said of the Man City squad while sitting alongside Guardiola in the pre-match press conference. “It is a special team. The success comes from the depth of the squad. Anyone who plays will put a shift in and play well.”
City’s match against Yokohama is their final preseason game, after which they will return to England to prepare for the Community Shield on August 4 against Liverpool followed by their first Premier League match against West Ham six days later.
A flop from either would’ve been understandable given the 7-goal thriller at midweek, but both provided fine accounts of themselves as Phil Foden was the match-winner.
Ederson: 9 – *Man of the Match* here was plenty of luck in his thwarting of Lucas Moura‘s late deflected strike, but the Brazilian will enjoy a clean sheet following Wednesday’s second leg.
Kyle Walker: 6 – Would VAR have him conceding a second half penalty for handball?
John Stones: 6 – Not terrific, though his partial block that led to Ederson’s last big save was bigger than we realize.
Aymeric Laporte: 7 – A notable error between Laporte and Stones late takes this down a point, but he was huge along with Ederson in the early stages.
Oleksandr Zinchenko: 7 – Is City in the UEFA Champions League semifinal with a healthy Zinchenko in place of Mendy, Delph, et. al.
Kevin De Bruyne (Off 38′): N/A – His injury will be alarming for City, given recurring knee troubles this season.
Ilkay Gundogan: 6 – An unspectacular display as time ticks down on his career at City.
Phil Foden: 8 – The fifth-minute header could hardly have been a more important first Premier League goal.
Bernardo Silva: 8 – A delightful dribble and cross to the back post set up the opener, as the Portuguese playmaker continues a fine season.
Sergio Aguero (Off 66′): 7 – Perhaps a bit quieter than usual, but his headed assist was what City needed early at the Etihad.
Raheem Sterling: 7 – Absolutely in the discussion for Premier League Player of the Season, and has been switched on from moment one.
Subs Fernandinho (On 38′): 7 – Easy to applaud anyone who comes on for an hour off the bench and doesn’t miss a beat. Broke up some serious Spurs threats. Leroy Sane (On 66′): 7 – Short spell, but effective. Should’ve collected an assist for his set-up of Sterling
Paulo Gazzaniga: 7 – Solid enough and made a great point-blank save in the second half from Sterling.
Juan Foyth: 7 – A little lost at right back early on, but worked hard and made some important tackles against Sterling and improved as the game went on.
Davinson Sanchez: 6 – See above. Solid on his return to the starting lineup. Maybe could have done better on the goal as Aguero peeled off him.
Toby Alderweireld: 7 – As dependable as ever. Good block from Aguero in the second half, which had a hint of handball, but the Belgian knew nothing about it.
Jan Vertonghen: 7 – Dominant display and tried his best to get Spurs moving forward when he could.
Ben Davies: 6 – Struggled to cope with Bernardo Silva, but then again most defenders have this season.
Eric Dier: 5 – Has been out with injury for a while, and looked rusty on his return to central midfield.
Christian Eriksen: 7 – Some lovely balls forward for Son, and he was denied by Ederson in the first half when he should have probably scored.
Dele Alli: 6 – A few majestic flicks in the first half, and appealed for a penalty kick on Kyle Walker. Looked a little jaded, which is understandable.
Lucas Moura: 7 – Hurried and chased all game long, and nearly got in to score in the second half but Ederson denied him.
Heung-Min Son: 6 – Another sharp display, but will be disappointed he didn’t score after having three big chances in the first half. Led Spurs’ charge on the counter attack.
Subs Danny Rose: 6 – Did okay and brought his usual energy to the left back position. Victor Wanyama: 5 – Booked. Did his best to provide a better shield than Dier in front of the Spurs defense. Fernando Llorente: 5 – Hardly touched the ball in his brief cameo on the pitch. No hip/arm touches today…