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Foden v Bellingham – the battle for England’s number 10 shirt

BBC SPORT

Manchester City and Real Madrid are evenly poised as they head into their Champions League quarter-final second leg at Etihad Stadium – and it will be another audition for two of England’s greatest talents.

Phil Foden has lit up the Premier League this season with his performances for City, while Jude Bellingham’s form for Real Madrid has caught the eye across Europe.

Both players will be key to England’s hopes at Euro 2024 but Gareth Southgate has a welcome dilemma – who will play in the number 10 role?

They both started in that position for their opposing clubs in a frantic first leg which finished 3-3 in Madrid last week.

Foden was a standout performer, picking up the man of the match award after scoring in the second half, taking his opportunity in a position he has enjoyed on nine occasions for City this season.

Bellingham has notched up 24 games in the position for Real this campaign and he is likely to play another key role in Wednesday’s return leg – so how do the two players compare statistically?

What do the stats say about their roles?

Football stats website WhoScored has rated them almost identically in the number 10 position this season with Foden scoring 7.84 and Bellingham 7.83 according to their metrics.

Foden has seven goals and three assists in his 10 appearances, only contributing to more goals (12) from the right-hand side, where he has played on 18 occasions across all competitions for club and country.

Bellingham has contributed to an extraordinary 24 goals (16 goals, eight assists) as an attacking midfielder, but he has played two-and-a-half times the number of games in that position than Foden this season.

The Real Madrid star does seem to generally perform better in the middle – he also has two goals and one assist from 12 games in a deeper central midfield role.

For England, Bellingham has had first dibs as the number 10 this season. He has started four matches as an attacking midfielder, one game on the left behind a front three and was rested in October’s friendly win over Australia.

With Bellingham injured in November, Foden started against North Macedonia in the number 10 shirt – the only time he has done so under Southgate this season – while he was used on the right against Malta, where has he played most for England in 2023-24.

Overall performance stats in all positions this season
Minutes playedExpected goalsTackles per gameInterceptions avgKey passes avgDribbles avgFoden3,9797.20.60.31.91.3Bellingham3,8047.91.70.91.61.9

‘I like Foden in the middle’

What Foden’s best position is remains up for debate, although he said this year he “100%” prefers being a number 10.

Former Manchester City defender Micah Richards told BBC Match of the Day: “Sometimes when I watch Phil Foden out on the wing I feel like he gets isolated. It’s almost like a 2 v 1 situation at times.

“But he does pick out acute spaces between the midfield and the defence. Even when it’s tight and the defence drops really deep, he can come and get it in the midfield and make those passes. So I like him in the middle.”

Asked about using him out wide as opposed to centrally more often, England boss Southgate said in September: “He doesn’t [play there often] for his club. Presumably there is a reason for that. It depends on the level of the game.

“In the middle of the park, everyone wants to talk about ‘with the ball’ but there is a lot of detail without the ball.

“You’d have to speak to Pep [Guardiola], who is the best coach in the world, who plays him from wide. He’s always got the freedom to drift if we play him wide and that’s important.”

Meanwhile, although Bellingham has on occasion played in a deeper midfield role because of his strengths defensively, Southgate clearly sees him as a number 10, where he has thrived for Real Madrid.

Before the first leg of their quarter-final tie, City boss Guardiola said Bellingham has had a “massive impact” since moving to Spain.

“It’s a different [Real Madrid] team from last season. His influence is obvious, and we have to try to discover what he does to control it.”

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