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Foden hat-trick sees champions come from behind to move two points off the top

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SO who’s the key to slaying your big, bad Brentford bogeymen on a cold Monday night in the shadow of the Chiswick Flyover?

Turns out it’s Phil Foden, the titchiest man on the pitch, who netted a cool hat-trick to send Manchester City into pole position in the title race.

Phil Foden bagged a hat-trick to help Manchester City come from behind

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Phil Foden bagged a hat-trick to help Manchester City come from behindCredit: Getty
Erling Haaland made his first start since returning from injury

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Erling Haaland made his first start since returning from injuryCredit: AFP
Foden collected the match ball for the second time in his career

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Foden collected the match ball for the second time in his careerCredit: Getty
Neal Maupay poked Brentford in front

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Neal Maupay poked Brentford in frontCredit: Getty

Thomas Frank’s Bees had completed the double over Pep Guardiola’s Treble-winners last season and they led again here through Neal Maupay.

But on the night when Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne were paired in the City starting line-up for the first time since August, it was England man Foden who stole the show.

There were question marks about where – even if – Foden would play once De Bruyne was fit again.

It turns out he plays here, there and everywhere. And especially in the box, where he scored a poacher’s hat-trick.

This match completed the highest-scoring round of ten matches in Premier League history – 45 in all – and there wasn’t a single one from Haaland, the Norse God of goals, back in the starting line-up for the first time in two months.

City are still two points behind leaders Liverpool but crucially, they have a game in hand – also against Brentford.

Guardiola’s men needed to capitalise on Liverpool’s defeat at Arsenal but this was not the fixture they would have chosen.

The Bees may be only three points off drop zone but their direct tactics unsettled the champions again until Foden’s equaliser in first-half injury time.

Foden was excellent and pivotal to City's win

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Foden was excellent and pivotal to City’s win
The champions dominated possession with 679 passes

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The champions dominated possession with 679 passes

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Ivan Toney’s return added to Brentford’s fear factor.

The striker’s comeback from an eight-month betting ban had already proved lively.

There had been two goals, a foam-related cheat storm against Nottingham Forest and a row with James Maddison over the thorny issue of miming dart throws.

And soon, Toney was delivering a dangerous cross which had Ruben Dias scrambling about.

Alvarez twice had long-range efforts pushed wide by Mark Flekken, who then pulled off a full-length stunner to deny Kyle Walker.

This fixture has probably the sharpest clash of styles of any in the Premier League, City possessing the ball like jealous lovers, Brentford tending to wallop it.

But sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned wallop, as Flekken proved when he became the first keeper to notch a Premier League assist this season.

The Dutch keeper leathered it upfield, Toney blocked off Nathan Ake quite legitimately, and suddenly Maupay was unmarked, clean through on goal, steering his shot past Ederson.

It was Maupay’s fifth goal in as many games, having suffered a drought of more than a year not so long ago.

Haaland almost equalised instantly, capitalising on a poor pass but having his shot thwarted by Flekken, sticking out a leg.

Next, the Bees keeper flung himself to push away a powerful drive from Josko Gvardiol.

It was Flekken this, Flekken that. At this point, it was basically ‘An Audience With Mark Flekken’.

Maupay escaped with a yellow for a horrible late lunge at Rodri.

But it wasn’t much more horrible than everything above-board that Brentford were doing to City.

When another long ball caused panic, Ederson came scrambling out of his area and the home fans were – wrongly – convinced that Bernardo Silva had committed a foul on Vitaly Janelt.

They were threatening a riot as Janelt lay prone while City countered and Bernardo almost scored.

A curling cross-shot from Sergio Reguilon then had Ederson improvising a save and soon the Brazilian was flat on his backside, making another desperate clearance.

It was difficult to remember when the City keeper, or his back four, had last looked so uncomfortable.

But Brentford will do this to you. If they were northern, and had an old-school British manager, people would mention it more.

Soon, we were back to our old friend Flekken, who was diving to his left to turn a curler from De Bruyne wide – his seventh save of the first half.

So the last thing we expected was for the Dutchman to concede a soft one in injury time.

De Bruyne’s cross was met with a weak Ethan Pinnock header, straight to Foden, who chested down and stroked it past a wrong-footed Flekken.

The second, eight minutes after the break, was simplistic. De Bruyne centred from the left and an unmarked Foden strolled past a dozing Reguilon to direct a header past Flekken.

As if stung by their own tardiness, Brentford surged forward – Mads Roerslev drove fiercely wide, Christian Norgaard and Maupay had efforts blocked, Toney skied a volley.

But it was no use because soon, Foden was at it again. Rodri pinged a pass forward to Haaland, who laid off for the England man to slip between two defenders and poke past Flekken.

City’s bogey team were blown away and the champions are looking ominous.

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