MANCHESTER, April 4 — Phil Foden has an incredible gift for scoring goals, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said after his young forward scored a sublime hat-trick in a 4-1 thrashing of Aston Villa yesterday that kept them on course to retain the Premier League title.

With City’s league-leading scorer Erling Haaland an unused substitute, Foden stepped up, finding a gap in Villa’s wall with a superb free kick just before halftime to net his first goal.

“His work ethic is amazing. He plays in central positions and has an incredible sense of goal — he has goals in his veins and we have to use him,” Guardiola said. “He has a natural talent, a gift, that is special.”

The 23-year-old England international completed his hat-track with two strikes seven minutes apart in the second half, including a rocket from 25 yards to move on to 21 goals across all competitions this season.

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Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates scoring their third goal against Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester April 3, 2024. — Action Images via Reuters
Manchester City's Phil Foden celebrates scoring their third goal against Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester April 3, 2024. — Action Images via Reuters

Guardiola said the sky was the limit for Foden.

“He can do whatever he wants,” said the manager. “He is a really top-class player, we know it.”

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Guardiola also praised Foden’s team mates, particularly Rodri who assisted on his second goal.

“And when we’re right there (in the final third), (Foden) has the sense, he doesn’t need a lot of touches to put the ball into the net,” Guardiola said.

“Football it is the most difficult thing to score goals, the guy who puts the ball in the net. When you have that, it is a gift for the team, absolutely.”

Former City defender Joleon Lescott compared Foden to Wayne Rooney, who plundered 183 Premier League goals for Manchester United.

“I always speak so highly of him and Phil Foden is similar to him in that he is obsessed with football, completely,” Lescott said on the TNT broadcast.

“Rooney was the first player I met that wanted to win, had to win more than me — Phil has taken that to a whole new echelon. The desire to constantly have the ball at his feet, around hotels, the training ground etcetera.

“I worked with him at England U-21s and we had to ban him from doing extra sessions after training because you couldn’t get him off the pitch.”

Although Haaland leads the league with 18 goals, Guardiola chose to rest his prolific striker along with midfielder Kevin De Bruyne with a league game looming on Saturday at Crystal Palace and a trip to Real Madrid for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday.

“The schedule is terrible, (games every) three days, three days, three days,” Guardiola said. “We need fresh legs and we only played three days ago against Arsenal. We needed it because of the schedule so we needed the rest.”

Arsenal climbed above Liverpool to claim top spot on 68 points with a 2-0 victory over Luton Town yesterday and City are third, level on 67 points with Liverpool who can move back to the summit with a home win over Sheffield United today. — Reuters