After three months without football, teams and players could be forgiven for being a little rusty. But while certain sides and individuals have stumbled out of the starting blocks, Manchester City's Phil Foden is already tearing down the home straight.
The 20-year-old has begun restart in irresistible form, piecing together the flashes of quality City fans had been treated to at an increasing rate prior to lockdown into complete, mature performances.
With David Silva's departure on the horizon and Euro 2020 delayed until 2021, Foden could be finding his form at just the right time.
The midfielder kick-started his return to action with a poacher's finish from the bench to seal a 3-0 victory over Arsenal, before starting from the off against Burnley and turning in a real eye-catching performance.
Although Foden's brace grabbed the headlines - his first goal was a sweetly struck low drive into the bottom corner from outside the area to finally break the Burnley resistance, his second epitomised his hard work and desire - it was his overall display that caught the eye, with Foden admitting that it was his best performance yet in a City shirt.
He drifted in from the left flank to occupy the little pockets of space between the Burnley midfield and backline, picking out teammates with an unnerving accuracy and producing the delicate, intricate little touches that enable City to move the ball and opposition around so quickly and eventually pass them to death. It's Pep Guardiola's brain child - an outrageously complex and detailed system - but aged just 20 Foden has already demonstrated that he has the intelligence, decision making and attention to detail to fit in seamlessly.
Foden's starring moment of the Burnley victory came just after half time when he sent Bernardo Silva away with a sumptuous disguised pass. The Portuguese international subsequently found David Silva, who tucked home City's fourth. Intelligence, decision making, attention to detail.
After missing the trip to Chelsea, the youngster was back in the squad and back on the bench for City's FA Cup victory over Newcastle, coming on and impressing once more with a stunning touch and turn to set up Raheem Sterling for City's crucial second.
Not only has Foden only just exited his teens, he's incredibly slight too. But not once does he look out of his depth or as if he's going to be forcibly shoved off the ball. He's simply too quick and too clever.
Guardiola largely restricted Foden to substitute appearances and cup cameos during his first three years in charge - for which he was heavily criticised. Outsiders urged him to send the midfielder out on loan. But it looks as if the Spaniard may have played it just right.
"??????? ???? ????? ???? ??? ? ???? ???'?? ??????? ?? ??????? ???..." ?@PhilFoden opened up about his first goal for @ManCity, Pep's praise and dreaming of a goal in the Manchester Derby! ?@nikefootball | @nikelondon pic.twitter.com/HXsvqJP0oD— 90min (@90min_Football) February 21, 2020
The City manager has left Foden's potential simmering away, with it set to reach boiling point just as the seemingly irreplaceable Silva departs. Guardiola has a ready made replacement, born just a train journey and a handful of tram stops away from the Etihad, itching to take his place.
Foden beginning to make his mark in the Premier League and establish himself in the City first team has been timed pretty perfectly internationally-wise too.
The City midfielder could be one of the main beneficiaries of the European Championships being placed on pause until 2021. After his player of the match performance against Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup final, there was talk of Foden making a last gasp dash into Gareth Southgate's Euros squad. If he had, it would likely have been as a periphery player - not quite Theo Walcott at the 2006 World Cup, but probably not Euro 2004 Wayne Rooney levels of involvement either.
Foden now has entire season to get himself to the very forefront of the England manager's plans.
The City academy product is everything Southgate has attempted to mould his side around - young, technically gifted and hungry.
Southgate has warned Foden that he needs to be playing regularly at City before he can receive a senior call up. However, the England manager did award Callum Hudson-Odoi his first England cap before he had started a Premier League game for Chelsea, while the instant faith he has shown in youngsters Jadon Sancho and Declan Rice demonstrates that his philosophy is very much if you're good enough, you're old enough.
And Foden is undoubtably good enough.
Source : 90min