Manchester City’s Phil Foden hailed Andres Iniesta as being “on a different planet” after further comparisons between the pair.
The England Under-19 international starred in City’s 3-0 League Cup third-round win over Oxford on Tuesday night, playing his part in the opening two goals before adding a late strike of his own.
It was Foden’s maiden senior goal and capped a fine display on what was his first start since the Community Shield.
After the game, Oxford boss Karl Robinson drew parallels between Foden and former Barcelona star Iniesta.
While City boss Pep Guardiola played down the likeness, Foden has long been hailed as the ‘Stockport Iniesta’ by fans of the club.
The 18-year-old insists he pleased to have been given the nickname but has a way to go to match the World Cup winner, backing Guardiola to develop him in the best way.
Asked about the ‘Stockport Iniesta’ moniker, Foden replied: “I’m happy with that but come on – Iniesta is on a different planet!
“For them to call me that is massive, it means a lot. I’ll just keep getting these cup games and run-outs whenever I can and hopefully I can start a lot more games one day.
“There’s no need to rush. Pep knows what he’s doing and I’ll play at the right time. He’s good at bringing youth players through, he’s done it in his career before so just be patient, I’m still young and I’m still learning.”
Foden, who came off the bench in the latter stages of City’s Carabao Cup final victory over Arsenal last season, lauded his team-mates and assistant coach Mikel Arteta as influential in his improvement.
“Training with the likes of David (Silva) and Kevin (De Bruyne) and seeing what they do every day has brought me on as a player.
“Working with Pep as well has been a really big part of my game. Both him and Mikel have been a massive help. I just have to keep impressing and keep working hard and see where it gets me.”
Talking about his first City goal, which he celebrated with vigour in front of the travelling support at Kassam Stadium, Foden admitted it was a special feeling.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” he added.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to get my first goal for City. It meant a lot to me and I still get the enjoyment assisting and scoring. I like to do both and get both in my game.
“There’s a lot of things still to improve so I’m just going to keep my head down working to improve things like not giving as many balls away.
“That comes when you play. You need to grow and be mature and I’ll get that as I play more games.”
Pep Guardiola believes Phil Foden can be a Manchester City star for the next decade – but refused to liken the midfielder to former Barcelona ace Andres Iniesta.
Foden ran the show as holders City eased into the fourth round of the Carabao Cup with a 3-0 win at Oxford on Tuesday night.
The 18-year-old played a part in goals for Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez before rounding off the victory with his first senior strike.
Dubbed by City supporters as the ‘Stockport Iniesta’, Oxford boss Karl Robinson also drew comparisons with the former Spain international – who has won a World Cup and four Champions League titles during an illustrious career.
Guardiola did not want to burden Foden with such a parallel but feels the England Under-19 international can become a long-term regular at the Etihad Stadium.
“Wow. These are big, big words. I have said many times we are delighted with Phil,” Guardiola said of Robinson’s likeness.
“I am not going to say he is going to become Andres Iniesta because it puts pressure on him, Iniesta is by far one of the best players I ever saw in my life so we cannot put the pressure on Phil.
“But he has the quality to stay here for 10 years because I think he wants to stay, I think the club wants him to. But step by step, he needs to play regularly, but I think he has all the skills to play with us.”
— Manchester City (@ManCity) September 25, 2018
Robinson was suitably impressed enough by Foden’s display to make the Iniesta connection and also pleaded with other clubs to hold on to talented, smaller players.
“We planned to press, and after three-and-a-half minutes, we had three of ours pressed that one player. I think I blinked, the next thing he was through them,” he said.
“His ability, his orientation of himself on the football is genius. These are things when you’re working with young players, that you find that only very few coaching sessions can really bring that out. There’s a naturalness to that. And it’s something I’ve not seen for a long time.
“You’d almost put him in the same bracket as when you see… I remember seeing Barcelona live and seeing Iniesta playing in those sort of positions. He’s almost like that. He’s small.
“So please academies, don’t release small talented players. There’s a home for them in our country. We can grow them, we can develop them, we can aid them.”
Zola returned to Chelsea as Sarri’s assistant, 15 years after ending a glorious playing spell at Stamford Bridge, and says his fellow Italian has opened his eyes to a “new world” of football.
Hazard has been deployed in a more advanced position under Sarri, devoid of defensive responsibility, and has scored five goals in four Premier League starts this season.
Zola is convinced the Belgium playmaker, who hinted at a desire to join Real Madrid after the World Cup in a move which did not materialise, can get better and better.
“I don’t think, in my opinion, he’s reached his full potential,” said Zola, speaking ahead of Wednesday’s League Cup third-round tie at Liverpool.
“I believe he can use his skills in a better way. I truly believe in this.
“I think this year, the team, Maurizio in particular, will help him to reach his full potential.”
Experience will help Hazard, says Zola, who played in a similar role at Chelsea as the 27-year-old does now. It is a role Zola would have enjoyed.
The 52-year-old Italian added: “The way we try to play will benefit him a lot. We try to play (for) a long time in the opposition half.
“The closer we keep him to the goal, the more balls we can get him to receive the ball around the box, the more effective he can be.
“So far we play the majority of the games so far in the opposition’s half.
“You get a lot of touches of the ball, especially our strikers, in the last 20 metres, which is where a striker with my qualities would have enjoyed it very much.”
Hazard was excused last week’s Europa League trip to PAOK in Greece after twice telling Sarri he was tired. But Zola hinted Hazard would feature at Anfield.
“It looks like the more he plays the better he gets,” Zola added.
Wednesday’s match is the first of two in four days with Liverpool, who visit Stamford Bridge in the Premier League on Saturday.
Forward Pedro (shoulder), defender Antonio Rudiger (groin) and midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek (foot) are out and changes are anticipated at Anfield.
Sunday’s goalless draw at West Ham halted the Blues’ six-game winning run, including five in the Premier League. And Zola said the Blues were eager to return to winning ways in the double header with the Reds.
“Personally I think as Chelsea we are very greedy. We want to win both of them if we can,” Zola added.
Zola endured difficult management spells at West Ham, Watford and Birmingham, but is enjoying being back at Chelsea as a number two.
He said: “For me this is a dream of a situation. Everybody knows how much I care about this club. It’s a great opportunity.
“I’m here totally at the disposal of Maurizio and I really hope that I can give the best of myself for him to be successful. His success is going to be my pride and my happiness.
“For me, it’s a new world. Maurizio opened a big world in front of me. I thought I knew a lot about football. I was wrong. It’s been great as an experience.”