Football Features

Bukayo Saka vs Phil Foden: Who is the better player in the Premier League this season?

By Harry Edwards

Published: 17:45, 5 March 2024

England manager Gareth Southgate has a wonderful conundrum on his hands ahead of this summer’s European Championships.

Right now, two of the best players in the Premier League are English and they both play on the right wing. Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden are both flying in the Premier League, aiding Arsenal and Manchester City respectively in their title charges.

While it is best to just sit back and enjoy watching two young players at their absolute best — while also dreaming of their ceilings given they are 23 (Foden) and 22 (Saka) — it can be hard not to compare these two superstars.

Although Foden has played across the midfield, at the moment Pep Guardiola is getting the best out of the Englishman on the wing, and he has stepped up massively when Man City needed him most. Saka, meanwhile, continues to grow and his influence on Arsenal’s attack is unrivalled. Even when he doesn’t get among the goals, Saka is involved.

Foden is yet to miss a game in the Premier League this season for Man City, one of just two ever-presents for Guardiola’s side, with more minutes than any other outfield player. Saka has missed one game for Arsenal due to injury, but ranks third for minutes for the Gunners.

Despite fewer minutes, Saka has scored more goals than Foden as well as providing more assists. In the Premier League, only Ollie Watkins (26), Mohamed Salah (24) and Erling Haaland (23) have been directly involved in more goals than Saka, with 13 goals and eight assists. Saka is then followed by Son Heung-min (19) before Foden comes in on 11 goals and seven assists.

Enter the Comparison Matrix

However, four of Saka’s 13 goals have been penalties, while Foden hasn’t scored from the spot. Of course, all goals count no matter how they come, but it’s worth a note that Foden does do all of his damage from open play.

As you look further down the winger-based metrics on our Comparison Matrix, you’ll see that Saka and Foden are pretty evenly matched per 90 minutes. Head-to-head, Saka just about edges it at 10-8, but there are a few interesting points. Saka averages more take-ons completed per 90 minutes than Foden (1.6 to 1.5), but the Man City man has a better success rate (52.17% to 46.25%). Saka has also contested more ground duels per 90 (10.9 to 7.7), but Foden has won a higher percentage of his (54.21% to 50.95%). It’s the same for crosses, with Saka attempting more (5.9 to 2.6) but Foden being slightly more accurate (25% to 24.82%).

Although the pair are level of shots per 90 minutes (2), Foden does have a better accuracy (70.83% to 59.57%) and hits the target more (1.4 to 1.2). However, when it comes to chance creation and assists, Saka shines averaging 2.8 chances created per 90 minutes and 0.4 assists; Foden isn’t too far behind though, with 2.4 chances created per 90 minutes and 0.3 assists. Saka also has a higher xG (11.5 to 8.15) and xA (8.84 to 5.59) than Foden this season.

As mentioned, Saka has played 26 times in the Premier League and he’s either scored or assisted in 19 of those. Since New Year’s Eve, Saka is on a streak of eight games in which he has either scored or assisted in the Premier League. Foden, by comparison, has scored or assisted in 14 of his 27 league appearances this season, with his best streak being three consecutive matches (achieved twice).

In terms of importance for their teams, Saka has played a bigger role in Arsenal’s attack than Foden has for Man City this season, though it is very close. With 21 goals and assists, Saka has been directly involved in 30.88% of Arsenal’s Premier League goals this season. And that’s when you don’t include goals like their second against Sheffield United, when Saka’s cross forced an own goal from Jayden Bogle. This is a higher percentage than any other Arsenal player, with Martin Odegaard next up on 17.65%.

Foden, on the other hand, has been directly involved in 29.03% of Man City’s 62 Premier League goals – the second-most important of Guardiola’s players in that regard. The first, of course, is Haaland who has been directly involved in 37.10% of Man City’s goals.

Four of Foden’s 11 goals in the Premier League this season have been game-winning goals. To clear that up, a game-winning goal is the one that makes the difference in a match — so if it’s a 6-0 win, it would be the first goal, or the fourth in a 5-3 win, as well as the more recognisable examples. Foden scored the opener in a 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest, the second (and all three) in a 3-1 win over Brentford, the only goal in a 1-0 win against Bournemouth and the winner in a 2-1 victory over Man Utd. He has also scored against Man Utd home and away, as well as netting in a 3-3 draw with Tottenham.

Saka, meanwhile, has scored three game winning goals in the Premier League this season. His first made it 2-0 on the opening weekend as Arsenal beat Nottingham Forest 2-1, repeating that feat in the return fixture. Saka also scored the opener in a 4-0 win over Bournemouth, setting the Gunners on their way. Saka has also scored against Tottenham, Liverpool and Newcastle among the tougher clubs in the Premier League.

Focusing on Big Six matches as a whole, Foden has scored or assisted in three of his seven games against Arsenal, Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham – with blanks home and away vs Chelsea, as well as two against Arsenal and Liverpool. Saka, on the other hand, has scored or assisted in four of his five games against Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham (missing the win over Man City due to injury). The Englishman’s only blank game against came against Liverpool in the 1-1 draw before Christmas, but he made up for that with a goal in the 3-1 win at the Emirates last month.

Rio Ferdinand caused a stir last month when he said that Foden had “to be in the conversation and nearing” being talked about as world class, before saying Saka isn’t yet as “he hasn’t done it at the top level”. But it is Saka who just about edges things on the head-to-head right now.