Bellingham puts forward case for England starting berth
Bellingham celebrates scoring for Borussia Dortmund (Getty Images)

Gareth Southgate is a regular attendee at the Etihad Stadium. Manchester City possess fine English talent for the national team manager to observe from the directors’ box. However, on the night that England’s most exciting midfield prospect was in town, Southgate chose to attend Chelsea’s Champions League game with Salzburg at Stamford Bridge.

Instead, it was Southgate’s assistant, Steve Holland, who was at City’s 2-1 comeback win over Borussia Dortmund and watched Jude Bellingham’s latest performance. Holland will have plenty to relay back to Southgate.

Bellingham put forward another compelling case for a starting place at the World Cup finals in Qatar. The midfielder played centrally but, in truth, does a bit of everything and appears in all sorts of positions. He is the most multi-purpose of midfielders. It is his mobile nature and strong work ethic that comes across when watching him at close quarters.

His goal, which gave Dortmund a 56th-minute lead, was of the quality normally associated with a leading striker. The timing of his run into the six-yard area and the positioning of his body to meet Marco Reus’s cross were exemplary, and the nonchalant header past Ederson was controlled and sent the travelling German supporters wild. The BVB Army love him.

Bellingham opens for scoring for Dortmund against City (Getty Images)

That goal was every bit as good as the one scored against the same opponents in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final in April 2021. On that occasion, he received the ball on his left, shifted it quickly to his right and, with little back lift, curled a shot into the top corner from just inside the penalty area.

Clearly, Bellingham has a nose for goal, but equally has an eye for a pass and the will to make a tackle. The manner in which he rallied, organised and cajoled his more-experienced team-mates was also noteworthy and belied his 19 years of age. No wonder a stampede of clubs will vie for his signature next summer. Whoever secures the flourishing star, will have a player capable of doing it all.

The most multi-purpose of midfielders

A sequence in the first half summed up Bellingham’s importance for his current club. He broke up the play on the edge of his own area and 30 seconds later it took a fine Rodri tackle inside the City penalty box to dispossess him.

Jude, like all the other players, gave a great performance in offensive and defensive terms,” the Dortmund head coach, Edin Terzic, said afterwards. “He blocked so many passes and crosses and also got forward. Once again, he was very good against Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola went as far as labelling Bellingham as an “exceptional player” and dished out high praise. “I was impressed three seasons ago when he was just 17,” he said. “He is able to defensively follow Gundo [Ilkay Gundogan] or Kevin [De Bruyne] in the pockets and in transition he is fast. He is an exceptional player. I think everyone knows it, not just because the manager of Manchester City tells you. Everybody knows it.”

The expectation will be on Southgate to start Bellingham in England’s Uefa Nations League games against Italy and Germany next week. Some were frustrated that Bellingham did not play more at Euro 2020, when the manager favoured a more conservative midfield pairing of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips.

Former team-mates Bellingham and Haaland speak after the final whistle (Getty Images)

However, Phillips has been dogged by injuries since and that has not changed despite moving to City in the summer. He came on in second-half stoppage time here for a fleeting cameo. For a manager who selects on form and playing time, Southgate cannot choose Phillips ahead of Bellingham, who continues to show he can perform on the biggest of stages.

Bellingham is currently operating several levels above Phillips and even Jack Grealish, who experienced a frustrating game. Bellingham should be a starter in Qatar and his diverse skill set will stand him in good stead.

It’s tough to see them [positives] now. I’m gutted. We were 15 or so minutes away but that’s football against big teams,” Bellingham said after seeing his team squander the lead his goal afforded them. Raw disappointment for the teenager should give way on reflection when he looks back on his display and realises there were only positives to take.

As Guardiola said, everybody already knows how good Bellingham is. Now Southgate should reward him for his fine form and make the midfielder an integral part of England’s starting line-up at the World Cup.

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