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Foden outshines Bellingham in faceoff between England's best playmakers

Clive Brunskill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

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Phil Foden won the battle between two of England's brightest stars to give Manchester City the upper hand after a thrilling Champions League quarter-final first leg against Real Madrid ended 3-3 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

In a game lit up by stunning strikes, none was better than Foden's smash into the top corner to haul City level at 2-2 midway through the second half.

Further rockets from Josko Gvardiol and Federico Valverde left it all to play for at the Etihad on April 17.

However, City will feel confident thanks to a stellar home record in the Champions League, that includes hitting Madrid for four in each of the past two seasons.

Pep Guardiola's men are unbeaten in their last 30 home Champions League games, stretching back to 2018.

A 4-3 victory over Madrid was not enough two years ago in the semi-finals as the Spanish giants staged a remarkable recovery late in the second leg on their way to a 14th European crown.

City got their revenge last season in a 4-0 thrashing that was arguably the high point of Guardiola's glorious eight-year reign.

Bellingham escapes ban

A tighter tie was anticipated this season in large part thanks to Bellingham's spectacular debut season in Spain.

The 20-year-old rejected the advances of City and other Premier League giants when offered a chance to return to his homeland in favour of becoming a darling of the Bernabeu.

Yet, his hot streak in front of goal has cooled off just as Foden has hit top form in 2024.

A booking would have ruled Bellingham out of the second leg and he was lucky to escape without a suspension as he took out his irritation at some perceived rough treatment on Ruben Dias in the first half.

Bellingham's one big chance to twist the knife into City's defence of the Champions League arrived early in the second half with Madrid leading 2-1.

He twisted and turned Bernardo Silva but failed to find the far corner on his weaker left foot.

By contrast, Foden is lethal on his left side and Madrid were made to pay for leaving him too much space on the edge of the box to fire into the top corner for his 22nd goal of the season.

"I just felt this sweet connection," Foden told TNT Sports.

"It's something I always practice in training where you receive it on the edge of the box, and thankfully today I saw it go into the top corner."

At just 23, Foden already has a medal haul most retired footballers could dream of.

Yet his prime years still lie ahead of him, and he stood up to be counted on a night City needed him without Kevin De Bruyne.

The Belgian took his place on the bench, but he had fallen ill in the hours before kick-off to force Guardiola into a late change of plans.

"In the last meeting in the hotel he was playing. (Then he) started to feel bad and vomit, he didn’t feel well to play," said Guardiola.

"One of the secrets at a high level is adapt to the chaos. There's no time to complain."

Luckily for City, Foden has been thrust into filling the void left by De Bruyne for much of this season in an injury-hit campaign for the 32-year-old.

"He has this spark," added Guardiola. "This incredible talent, to score goals, to create something, it is the truth."

Often a victim of his own versatility for most of his career, Foden has been forced out of a central role to accommodate others.

Bellingham's rise to stardom has seen Foden play second fiddle at international level as well as at City.

But his case to be trusted as the creative hub for both his club and country, with England among the favourites for Euro 2024, is becoming impossible to ignore.

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