Guardiola to hand 'stronger' Foden Lyon start
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola believes Phil Foden has grown in strength and confidence as he prepares to hand him a rare start against Lyon in a potentially pivotal Champions League clash.
Foden has again been used sparingly this season and, although his manager's faith in the 18-year-old has been underlined by the fact the England U-21 international is to sign a new six-year contract, the lack of first-team football is a concern.
With that in mind, and given City will qualify for the knockout stages as group winners if they can win in France tonight, a start for Foden - his first since playing against Oxford United in the League Cup in September - would be a timely vote of confidence in his ability.
With Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan all injured, Foden will not have a better opportunity.
"He is definitely ready to start," said Guardiola, whose side surprisingly lost to Lyon in their opening group game. "I had the feeling in pre-season. I was incredibly impressed. He's stronger, he's more conscious that he's able to play with us.
"In the last game (against West Ham) he played 20 minutes at a high level.
Without the ball, he's so intense. Every time he has played this season, he has been good. Getting 90 minutes is always good for a player. He is always part of the squad, but he's definitely ready to start (this match)."
Guardiola admitted at the start of this European campaign that he felt his players needed to experience a tough qualification round in order to be better prepared for the knockout phases. This clash with Lyon fits into that category.
It is an important test to pass for a side under more pressure than ever to succeed in Europe. With City having had just one semi-final appearance in the Champions League, under former manager Manuel Pellegrini, Guardiola admitted people would say he had failed this season if he did not at least match that.
"For the people who don't love us too much, then we have failed if we do not win the Champions League," he said with a smile. "I'm pretty sure our fans don't have regrets for what these guys have been doing. That is the best compliment, the best success a team can have.
"We want to continue at the same level in the Premier League and arrive in the knockout stages in this competition in the best condition possible."
Lyon v Manchester City,
Virgin Media Extra 1/BT Sport 3, 8.0