Injuries could force Jude Bellingham to play a bigger role at Euro 2020 than expected. And despite his tender age, the 17 year old is ready for the task.
On the outskirts of Warsaw at the Stadion Polonii as the sun beamed down on spectators, eyes squinted towards an array of young talent.
The U17 final at the Syrenka Cup in 2019, saw three of Euro 2020’s youngest players make their first mark in an international tournament; Jamal Musiala, Kacper Kozlowski and Jude Bellingham.
All three were sublime throughout the prestigious competition in Warsaw. But neither Kozlowski or Musiala could compete with Bellingham.
Wearing the captain’s armband for England Jude Bellingham announced himself on the stage in the same vein as a poet writing their first soliloquy.
Throughout the years the Syrenka Cup has seen players like Zinedine Zidane grace the autumn Warsaw turf, and to many Bellingham’s audition evoked the same raw emotion.
Spraying passes all over the pitch and controlling the midfield, it was clear, Jude Bellingham would become a future England international.
Though perhaps no one expected it to come less than two years later.
On the back of his first international trophy in Warsaw, Bellingham used the momentum to fight himself into the starting line-up at Birmingham.
The rest is history.
At Borussia Dortmund the 17 year old has established himself as one of the football world’s best phenoms.
There are not many who already have a number retired after their name.
But such is the confidence around the Three Lions’ young star.
The 17 year old is a rare blend of talent combined with exceptional intellect.
Bellingham is a model character who lives and breathes football and helps out in his local community during his spare time.
On the pitch he plays like a seasoned pro.
One of his best performances, against Manchester City left even Pep Guardiola speechless.
‘I cannot believe it, maybe he’s a liar! (on his age) He’s so good for 17-years-old, he’s fantastic,’ Guardiola said back in April after witnessing Bellingham in the flesh for the first time.
‘There was one moment when he didn’t get the ball from central defenders, how he shouts and demands that ball to him at 17 means a lot,’ the City coach continued. ‘I spoke with his manager, Edin (Terzic), and he told me what you see in these two games is like every training session.’
Time to make a mark at Euro 2020
Those qualities are beginning to show at senior level for England too.
In his first start for England vs Austria, Bellingham was one of the best players on the pitch.
He completed 2 dribbles, took 2 shots, with one on target and his defensive and ball winning qualities also shone.
He won 8 out of 13 defensive duels and made a total of 5 interceptions.
Bellingham’s pressing ability, especially in the final third could make him a valuable asset for Gareth Southgate.
Considering Jordan Henderson’s lack of fitness, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder could be the perfect replacement.
Bellingham have averaged 23.23 pressures per 90 via Fbref this season. Only Kalvin Phillips has a marginally better average for midfielders in the England squad with 23.62 per 90. Mason Mount averages, 21.40, Declan Rice 15.46 and Jordan Henderson only 9.75.
Crucially Bellingham makes a lot more pressures in the final third compared to Southgate’s other options. Bellingham averages 5.66 pressures in the opposition’s final third per 90, meanwhile Phillips’ average is 2.48, Henderson 2.06 and Rice 1.15.
Against Austria his ability to win the ball high up the field often paid dividends. As it did in a late cameo vs Romania.
Bellingham averages a tackle or interceptions 3.9 times per 90. Higher than Henderson (2.53), Mount (3.46) and just below Phillips (4.55) and Rice (4.53).
He contributes in attack too.
Jude Bellingham averages 4.8 progressive runs per 90, which is higher than Phillips (2.2) and below Rice (5.1), Henderson (7.93) and Mount (8.2)
This is slightly below Southgate’s other options.
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However, it is important to note where Bellingham and his fellow England midfielders are progressing the ball on the pitch.
Bellingham tends to progress the ball through offensive runs much higher up the field compared to Henderson, Rice and Phillips.
As a result Bellingham averages 0.31 carries into the penalty area per 90, compared to Rice (0.21), Phillips (0.07) and Henderson (0.05). Only Mount has a better average (1.18)
Bellingham’s confidence to dribble past opponents is a valuable asset for a midfielder. Blessed with quick feet and a great technical ability, he averages the most dribbles per 90 out of his fellow England midfielders this season.
And Bellingham measures up in success rates too. Considering he averages more dribbles than his co-stars, a 60.8% success rate is impressive. Compared to Rice (89.2%), Phillips (65.4%), Mount (63.3%) and Henderson (53.8%).
His ability to bring the ball forward through carries could offer Southgate an important offensive midfield outlet at Euro 2020.
Ready for the next step
Bellingham’s is able to progress the ball in attacking transitions and he can contribute defensively in higher ends of the pitch too. He can regain possession in the final third and instigate attacks – which not many of Southgate’s other options are able to do.
Behind Mount, Bellingham ranked at 2nd for shot-creating actions per 90 (2.17) and goal-creating actions (0.37).
For passing he completed 83.2%, only below Rice and Henderson who averaged 86.2 % and 86.8% respectively. And above Mount (82.3%) and Phillips (82.2%)
Of course it is important to look at where Bellingham’s passes were going to get a clearer picture.
When it comes to penetrative passes at higher ends of the pitch Bellingham is one of England’s best options.
For passes into the 18 yard box Bellingham averaged 1.43 per 90 at Borussia Dortmund. Slightly below Henderson (1.59) and Mount (1.81) but well above Phillis (0.59) and Rice (0.66).
There is a reason why managers like Pep Guardiola are looking at Bellingham with awe.
At 17 years of age, he has the ability to dominate games of extreme intensity like the Champions League quarter final between Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund.
For that reason Southgate should have no qualms about throwing him in at the deep end. Especially in the potential absence of Jordan Henderson against Croatia.
If he does start, the people at the Syrenka Cup will not be surprised.
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