Kalvin Phillips strode out of the Etihad on Saturday evening, a smile on his face and hopeful that he is finally on the verge of starting his Manchester City career in earnest.
Whether the England midfielder still has that same spring in his step when Rodri returns from his upcoming three-match suspension for his red card on Saturday will say much about whether Phillips was right to reject the opportunity to leave Pep Guardiola’s team this summer.
Since quitting Leeds for £42 million in the summer of 2022, Phillips has started precisely two Premier League games for Guardiola, and played a total of 347 minutes of league football.
Gareth Southgate, watching City for the second time in four days in the 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest, has handed the 27-year-old four starts and a total of 401 minutes of international football in the same span - an anomaly that raises questions every time the national manager names Phillips in an England squad, which is to say, every time he names a squad.
Now, thanks to Rodri’s moment of ill discipline in planting his hands around the throat of Morgan Gibbs-White early in the second half against Nottingham Forest on Saturday, his three-match suspension will offer Phillips the chance to discover, once and for all, whether he can ever expect to feature in Guardiola’s plans.
“It’s probably the biggest week or so in my Man City career so far,” said Phillips. “I am looking forward to it.
“Hopefully. It is something that I have been looking forward to if the chance comes. Obviously I need to work hard, keep concentrated and train well.”
Training is the area in which Phillips most obviously appears to have come up short when it comes to Guardiola’s exacting standards. At one stage last season, the manager even took the almost unprecedented step of calling him out publicly for being overweight.
‘I wanted to stay and give it another shot’
It was no surprise, therefore, that City indicated in the summer that they were prepared to allow him to leave; an offer Phillips quickly rejected.
“When I came in for pre-season I said I wanted to stay and give it another shot,” he explained.
“In previous years a lot of players have done well in the second season and I had a talk with the club and they said that if I wanted to go out on loan they would be happy for me to do that, and I just said ‘no it’s not something I am thinking of’.
“I just want to concentrate on playing for Manchester City so, yeah, that was the end of it.
“I am not going to have just one season at City and just because I am not playing just say ‘oh well I have been here for a year and enjoyed it but it’s not for me.’
“I wanted to try and break my way into the team even though it’s very difficult. I want to try and make a name for myself at Manchester City.
“That’s the reason I came. I didn’t come here to just to sit on the bench and be happy with doing nothing. I want to continue in some way and hopefully I can do that.”
In the short-term, City travel to Newcastle on Wednesday in the Carabao Cup with Guardiola admitting his will be an academy-heavy line-up but Phillips, surely, can expect a start.
‘We are going to play with the guys who need it’
Thereafter, there are league games at Wolves and Arsenal where Phillips’ involvement is far less certain. Guardiola has already announced new signing Matheus Nunes can play Rodri’s holding midfield role, as, too, can Mateo Kovacic, who is returning from injury.
“Some players who’ve had a lot of minutes are not going to play against Newcastle,” said Guardiola.
“The likes of Kyle (Walker), Ruben (Dias) playing 90 minutes for us, 90 for the national team, they are exhausted already. That’s why we are going to play with the guys who need it, the academy, maybe me - my back is getting better so I might manage a few minutes!”
Ultimately, Phillips’ performances in the coming weeks - if he is allowed to make any - could determine whether Southgate will persist in naming him all the way through to next summer’s Euros.
At his last squad announcement, he admitted that a lack of regular first team minutes for the likes of Phillips and Manchester United’s Harry Maguire could eventually present him with problems should it persist.
At least, in the short-term, Guardiola was making the right noises for Phillips’, and Southgate’s, hopes as he prepares for three games without the brilliant Rodri.
“We knew Kalvin when he was at Leeds, we asked a lot of questions,” said Guardiola. “I know for some time he’s struggled for something we need.
“He played really well today, the type of game that we needed. I’m so pleased for him because he’s an incredible guy. He’s not fazed about his minutes and he’s a national player with England. With us he hasn’t played much but he’s really helped us.”