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Phil Foden’s recent form should put the Bukayo Saka debate to bed for good



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In this week’s City Xtra column, Amos Murphy examines the Phil Foden vs Bukayo Saka comparisons and dispels claims the Arsenal man is superior to Manchester City’s ‘Stockport Iniesta’. 

More fool me for getting dragged into a pointless online debate about two of England’s most talented players, but just like that extra chocolate over the Christmas period, some things are too hard to resist. 

Let’s face it, it’s a guilty pleasure for us all. But with Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka comparisons continuing to spring up, both online and in the wider footballing world, it’s only right to tackle them head-on. 

The simple answer is that the pair are two of England’s – and in truth Europe’s – most promising talents. Foden at 23 and Saka at 21 are destined for greatness in the game, with the two all but guaranteed to be among the best players on the continent for the next decade or so. 

And that’s backed up by the numbers too. The duo are matched for goals so far this season, having both netted nine across all competitions. In the assists column, Saka tracks just in front, boasting 12 to Foden’s eight. 

In terms of underlying numbers though, things, once again, even themselves out. When comparing Foden and Saka’s expected goals and expected assists numbers, the two both average around 0.50xg per 90 minutes. Or in old money, they come close to scoring or assisting every other match. 

So on the surface, with the numbers crushed, there’s nothing to compare, right? Well, not quite. 

When it comes to comparing the two – if we must – it’s the intangible aspects of the game that tip things in Foden’s favour. 

Saka has been a revelation at Arsenal ever since he broke into the first team as a teen, but as another Gunners title challenge looks like it could be floundering, questions about Saka’s character are starting to be asked.

While those shouts may be levelled unfairly, Saka is currently, like it or not, a great player in a good team. Not a superstar ready to shoulder a title challenge, like Arsenal look as if they’re in desperate need of right now. 

Critics will point towards the fact that this has been the case for Foden too, with the Stockport-born starlet having struggled to carve out a permanent spot in the City side. But unlike Saka, Foden has had the luxury (or depending on how you look at it, the disadvantage) of shadowing some of the Premier League and European football’s best-ever players during the early parts of his City career. 

Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and the now-retired David Silva are just some of the players Foden has had to battle for game time against, with Pep Guardiola taking the patient approach to his development. 

But the fact that at just 23 years old Foden has already racked up close to 250 senior club appearances, while grappling for minutes with such greats of the game, goes to show the City star is already that one step ahead of Saka.

Saka’s rise has been phenomenal, but largely unopposed. The same cannot be said for Foden, who has had to earn his minutes in the side. 

Add into the mix Foden’s achievements with City and it’s another tick in the Englishman’s column. Foden has won 16 major honours while at City, including five Premier League titles and last season’s maiden Champions League triumph.

They aren’t token trophies either, with Foden having played a huge role in City’s recent success. His first-ever Premier League goal came in a 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur during the title run-in of the 2018/19 season, while the forward was named Man of the Match in the 2020 League Cup final win against Aston Villa. 

And then there’s the starring role he played in City’s 2020/21 run to the Champions League final, along with the winning goals against Brentford and Everton during another title-winning campaign two seasons ago. 

Or what about his hat-trick in the Manchester Derby against Manchester United last season, to go with his 15 goals across all competitions as City went on to win a historic treble? I’m sure you get the point… 

Foden is, and always has been, a key cog in the machine for City – something once again on show this season, as he’s helped shoulder the burden left behind during Kevin De Bruyne’s spell out of the side, stepping into the role of City’s chief creator in the middle of the park. 

Who knows, maybe one day Saka could match Foden’s level, or perhaps even eclipse it. Granted, unlikely, yet it remains a possibility. 

But as it stands, if you want to talk Foden vs Saka, there’s only one winner, and as is often the case when it comes to City vs Arsenal, it’s the reigning Premier League, European and World champions who come out on top.