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Man City's Phil Foden admits he prefers playing in the middle after scoring hat-trick vs Aston Villa

Manchester City hat-trick hero Phil Foden says he prefers playing in a central attacking midfield role rather than out wide after his treble helped demolish Aston Villa 4-1.

Pep Guardiola's treble winners were locked in a 1-1 scoreline against Unai Emery's fourth-placed side before Foden struck with three stylish goals - one from a free-kick before half-time, then two in the second period, capped off by a brilliant long-range effort.

Foden's 'best position' has been the subject of much debate among fans of both City and England - with Guardiola and Gareth Southgate rotating him between the wing and the attacking midfield position.

The 23-year-old's preference is clear, though. "I seem to have some really technical play in the pockets and out wide, I can do that job but I prefer it in the middle," he told TNT Sports.

"This year, I'm growing into the game. The manager spoke on showing rhythm and slowing the game down. I've added that to my game.

"He said, 'you'll grow into that position'. Because before I was going so quick, attacking every action. Now I'm getting the balance just right."

Foden's first strike of the evening saw him win then convert a free-kick from the edge of the box, finding a gap between Nicolo Zaniolo and Ezri Konsa in the wall, leaving Villa goalkeeper Robin Olsen stranded.

The England attacker admitted he was not meant to take the set-piece, but felt confident enough to ask designated free-kick taker Julian Alvarez to hand over the ball.

"I don't actually take free-kicks, I don't know why I took that one," Foden said.

"Julian was on it, I just felt confident at the time saying, 'Julian, do you mind giving me this one?' And, to be fair to him, he gave it to me. It paid off in the end."

Guardiola was less enthusiastic about Foden's free-kick technique. "It was more a mistake for Aston Villa, they opened the wall," the City boss said. "If they didn't, he wouldn't score.

"It's not a perfect goal, but it's important to score the second goal before half-time."

Foden's second saw him get on the end of Rodri's slaloming run in midfield, before sweeping in off the post from the edge of the box.

"I'm always trying to arrive in the box, that's where the goals are at," he said about that goal.

"You get at least five a season by arriving into the box late. So I've been working on all aspects of my game in the midfield. Still a lot of improve on, but I'm enjoying that position."

Asked about the impact of Rodri, Foden added: "Lost for words of this guy. He can do everything.

"He's adding goals to his game. He can do it all, dribble. I don't see a weakness in his game. He's our most important player. When he doesn't play, it's a big difference."

On the last goal, Foden mentioned the similarities between that and the thunderous volley Wayne Rooney scored in frustration for Manchester United against Newcastle in 2005.

Foden felt he should have been given a free-kick for a foul in the build-up, before getting back up and smashing home into the top corner.

"When I was running off celebrating [the third goal] I was with Jack (Grealish) and he said 'Wayne Rooney goal'. That's what it reminded him of," said Foden about the hat-trick-sealing strike.

Asked about Foden's overall play, Guardiola replied: "When he plays in central positions, he has a sense of goals. He has goals in his veins. And we have to use them."

Sky Sports' Adam Bate at the Etihad Stadium:

This was stunning from Phil Foden. Two goals from outside the box, including his first Manchester City goal direct from a free-kick, the one from inside the area might have been the most picture perfect of the lot, beautifully placed into the bottom corner.

He was not credited with the assist for the opening goal but he was its architect, splitting the Aston Villa defence to find Jeremy Doku. It was a joy to watch him enjoying himself in that central role and with freedom to burst into the spaces vacated by Julian Alvarez.

Pep Guardiola will be reluctant for the aftermath of this victory to morph into a conversation about whether City are more fluid without their star forward Erling Haaland, dropped to the bench for this 4-1 win. But it is a legitimate topic for debate given the performance.

City have won six and drawn one of the seven Premier League games that Haaland has not started this season. Perhaps even more significantly, given that they win most of the ones he plays too, they have scored at least two goals in each of those seven games.

They average more goals per game without him than with him. And the sight of Foden, Bernardo Silva and Rico Lewis popping the ball around, made it easy to see why. This felt like City close to their best, how a Guardiola team tends to look. With Foden at its heart.

Speaking in his press conference afterwards, Guardiola said: "What can I say when he scored three goals? I think he did not start well, but the goal helped him a lot with the mood. Everyone has their own talents and Phil has assists and goals in that position."

Asked about his potential, he added: "He can do whatever he wants. I think he is a really top-class player. We know it.

"He has to be focused, sometimes he is a bit distracted. But he has a natural talent a gift, a gift that is special. And, after, an incredible sense of goal. You have the feeling he is going to score. It is not easy to find it. That is why he is so special."

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