Leroy Sane scored twice as City came from behind to beat the Bundesliga outfit 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday and secure top spot in Group F.
Highly-rated teenager Foden shone in midfield, particularly as City took firm charge of the game in the second half, having been given a long-awaited opportunity by Guardiola following a spate of injuries.
The 18-year-old almost got on the scoresheet himself when he forced a fine save from Oliver Baumann with a fierce left-foot volley.
Guardiola said: “Phil was incredible, the way he played.
“I would never have doubts about the quality of that guy. It is not just the quality with the ball. He looks skinny, not strong, but he’s really, really strong.
“He’s an outstanding young player, a huge talent. I think England has a diamond.
“He’s special, he has had minutes and in the future will have a lot of them. He played like a real man. He played so good.”
Phil Foden's performance in the second half against Hoffenheim confirmed his huge promise. The way he took the ball under pressure, always looking to attack. The strength to compete. The technique, including a volley tipped over. "England have a diamond," Guardiola said. #mcfc— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) December 12, 2018
Hoffenheim took an early lead with a penalty from former Leicester striker Andrej Kramaric but City responded well and hit the woodwork twice before Sane equalised with a brilliant free-kick.
Sane secured victory just after the hour as he took one of several chances City created that could have made the win even more comfortable.
Germany international Sane, who may have been keen to prove a point to an audience from his homeland, did receive some abuse from visiting fans. After the weekend’s incident involving Raheem Sterling, this did attract some attention but there was no suggestion it was racial.
Asked about the matter, Guardiola said: “I don’t know if anything happened. If it happened it’s bad news but I don’t know.”
Going through to the last 16 as group winners will assure City of a better seeding in Monday’s draw.
Guardiola said: “Before they scored we were flat, they were better, but after the penalty we were normal and created a lot of chances.
“We finished group stage in the best way. We’re in the best 16 teams in Europe.
“It’s a big compliment to everyone involved in the group because it was tough. It’s more difficult in the Champions League because the opponents are so much better. If you sleep a little bit you are in Europa League.
“All our teams are there and it’s really good for the Premier League.”
Guardiola added that John Stones was withdrawn at half-time due to a “little problem” in his knee.
Hoffenheim finished bottom of the group with three points from three draws but, having reached this stage for the first time, coach Julian Nagelsmann was pleased with his players’ showing.
He said: “I’m proud of the way we have played in the Champions League. As a newcomer to the Champions League, we’ve played well. We’ve done a lot for the club and we hope to do more of this in the future.”
Raheem Sterling returned to action for Manchester City in their Champions League clash against Hoffenheim at the Etihad Stadium.
Here, we take a closer look at the performance of the England forward, who was on the end of alleged racist abuse from a section of Chelsea supporters in Saturday’s Premier League game at Stamford Bridge and accused newspapers of helping to “fuel racism” with the way in which they portray young black footballers.
There was little evidence of Saturday’s events having an impact on the approach of the 24-year-old. Sterling was all smiles during the warm-up and got straight into the action early on, only to find himself flattened after running into Hoffenheim captain Benjamin Hubner as he darted into the penalty area. The England international, voted the Premier League Player of the Month for November, soon dusted himself down to go again, but often found himself doubled-up against as he looked to make an impact from the right. Saw the funny side when City somehow failed to score from his counter-attack after sprinting almost the length of the field during the second half.
Sterling remained a key part of City’s fluid frontline, helping in the transition from midfielders Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan. Provided usual outlet down the flanks, which stretched the Germans as both Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus made the most of the extra space. Sterling sprinted clear from a corner, and opted to unselfishly square for Sane, who then laid it off for Silva, but the keeper saved. It was, though, not long before Sterling’s clever play did help make the breakthrough as he played a neat one-two with Sane to help set up City’s crucial second goal on the hour.
No real opportunities came Sterling’s way during the first half as City looked to get themselves back on terms after trailing to an early penalty from Andrej Kramaric. Continued to remain dangerous in attack, and with hindsight may well have taken on his counter-attack chance himself. When another big moment came later in the second half following Foden’s vision, Sterling got his footing all wrong to knock the ball wide from six yards.
Juventus were also defeated 2-1 by Young Boys in the other Group H game but United’s result meant the Italians’ still finished top.
Carlos Soler opened the scoring in the 17th minute while Phil Jones stabbed one into his own net early in the second half.
Marcus Rashford pulled one back for United in the 87th minute but it was too little too late.
Here is our report card from the clash.
For Valencia – Keeping their shape
Scoring goals has been a problem for Valencia this season, fortunately they were helped out by United in that regard. Defensively though, only Atletico Madrid boast a better record in La Liga and you can see why. Marcelino’s side are well-drilled and rarely caught out of position. In truth, United did little to cause them problems so once they went a goal ahead, they were always likely to win.
For United – Substitutes?
There’s little to choose from for the Reds but surely the only glimmer of positivity came from the bench. Ashley Young and Rashford offered a notable improvement in attack and even combined for a goal in the last 10 minutes with the striker nodding home the former’s cross.
For Valencia – Striker
Valencia should’ve had more goals in this game. United’s defence is suspect and in this fixture, they fielded a makeshift backline which afforded the opposition every opportunity. Unfortunately for them, Michy Batshuayi was equally disappointing in front of goal, missing a header from inside the six-yard box in the first half. He went on to register four shots, none of which tested the keeper despite coming from good positions.
For United – Blunt attack
The team sheet said it all. Romelu Lukaku started up front and was flanked by Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata, both good players but completely lacking in pace. In the absence of Marcus Rashford or the injured Anthony Martial, United posed little to no threat going forward. Lukaku meanwhile, had zero shots.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Misfits in midfield
Nemanja Matic is overworked to the extent it’s affected his performances massively this season. It’s evident now why Jose Mourinho is reluctant to afford the Serbian a rest. Missing in action this time, Marouane Fellaini started in holding midfield but wasn’t in his element. He kept things tidy but didn’t really direct play and was easily bypassed. Meanwhile, Pogba seems to be lacking confidence and missed a sitter in the first half. Fred was afforded a rare start and did not take his opportunity, misplacing simple passes.
For Valencia: B
They can be pleased with a rather solid display, booking their place in the Europa League. Hardly stretched by an ineffective United attack.
For United: D
It’s just another in a long line of disappointing results for United this season. Barely competing with La Liga relegation battlers – at this moment at least – is a new low.