A routine victory for the Carabao Cup holders delivered a memorable storyline for Phil Foden, who scored the first of what will surely be many goals in a Manchester City shirt on a landmark night for the 18-year-old.
His emotional celebration showed just how much the goal meant to him, even if it was scored in front of a car park, and he also set up Riyad Mahrez with an exquisite pass for City’s second as well as having a hand in the opener.
It was some performance from Foden, who was making his 14th appearance for City and starting for the fifth time. It prompted Karl Robinson, Oxford’s manager, to use the word “genius” afterwards and draw comparisons with Andrés Iniesta. “We planned to press, and after three and a half minutes three of our players pressed him and I blinked and he was through them,” Robinson said. “He has feet to die for.”
Asked about any parallels with Iniesta, Pep Guardiola baulked a little and replied: “Andrés is a big, big word. But I said many times that we’re delighted with Phil. The way he celebrated his first goal, it was like the final of the World Cup, but that’s because he’s a City fan – he loves to play for the club. He’s an exceptional young player and for the next decade Manchester City will have an amazing player.
“I’m not going to say he’s going to become Andrés Iniesta, because that will put a lot of pressure on him and Andrés is by far one of the best players I ever saw in my life.
“But we are so satisfied Phil’s part of the group. He arrived last season and we showed him he was special and that’s why we decided not to buy any attacking midfielders, or people in that position, because we have Phil.
“He belongs in our team and he will have his minutes. When he plays, he always plays good. He made an amazing pass for the first goal, the ball to Riyad for the second and finished off the third goal so good. He has a mentality to score goals.”
Foden seized his chance on a night when Guardiola made 10 changes to the side who thumped Cardiff on Saturday, with Nicolás Otamendi the only survivor. Aro Muríc made his City debut in goal, Danilo played for the first time since the World Cup, and Oleksandr Zinchenko was hugely impressive at left-back.
If that makes it sound like it was an experimental lineup, there was still plenty of experience on the pitch from the start, including Vincent Kompany and John Stones, who played in a deep-lying midfield role that gave David Silva and Foden the freedom to roam.
Oxford had their work cut out and the only surprise was that it took 36 minutes for City to break the deadlock. Gabriel Jesus headed in that goal from three yards out, after Brahim Díaz’s shot was deflected, but it was the raking diagonal pass from Foden in the build up that caught the eye.
The through ball that released Mahrez, 12 minutes from time, was even better. Mahrez finished emphatically and any lingering hopes that Oxford, who are second from bottom in League One, had of going to penalties.
Foden, however, was not finished. Set up by the substitute Raheem Sterling, he arrowed a left-foot shot into the far corner from 10 yards out and ran off in the direction of the City fans, kissing the badge on his shirt before sliding on his knees.