World Cup: Master and apprentice offer England their own beat
Bellingham provided the assist for Henderson's goal (Getty)

The drums barely skipped a beat, and neither did Jude Bellingham. The precocious teenager takes it all in his stride just like he took the ball from Harry Kane and then provided a cut-back for Jordan Henderson. No wonder Henderson pointed at his midfield partner as soon as his neat first-time finish flew past Edouard Mendy.

Bellingham is England’s youngest World Cup goal creator since 1966, Henderson the oldest World Cup goalscorer since Tom Finney — and quite a partnership they make. The pair have formed a master-and-apprentice dynamic at this tournament and here was Bellingham repaying his mentor with a goal on a platter to open the curtain on England’s 3-0 victory.

It’s clear that there is a budding relationship between the pair and that came to the fore in the celebrations. Henderson charged towards Bellingham, pointing at the 19-year-old as if to say “this is your goal” and then pushed his forehead into Bellingham’s, shouting loudly, revelling in the goal and in his team-mates myriad skills.

As England found their groove, scoring twice before half time and adding another shortly after the break, eyes were drawn to this midfield duo. Gareth Southgate had stuck with the same midfield that defeated Wales in the final group game, with Declan Rice a little behind Bellingham and Henderson.

Again England dominated the centre-field with Bellingham and Henderson being the driving forces from midfield. After a shaky first half an hour, England came into their own and the ignition was sparked by that quick break and Henderson’s third goal for the national team.

Southgate believes 32-year-old Henderson is playing at his highest level in his 73 games for England. “With Jordan, this is probably the best version I’ve seen of him with us,” Southgate said. “His influence on the group every day, on everything we are doing. We are fortunate we have four or five club captains in the squad and that shares the load on keeping standards high.”

Bellingham and Henderson's partnership in midfield is flourishing (Getty)

Henderson is a leader in this England squad and is known to be as equally as demanding setting high standards for the national team as he is when back at Liverpool as club captain. On the pitch against Senegal, Henderson organised the team and set England’s press.

However, to hone in on Henderson’s ability to coax and cajole those around him overlooks his quality. The manner in which timed his run and addressed the ball before sweeping it past Mendy should bring overdue recognition.

Southgate’s decision to start Henderson against Senegal’s 4-2-3-1 shape was in part as a means to provide some freedom to Bellingham. It worked as Aliou Cisse’s team struggled to get sufficient numbers to halt Bellingham’s marauding runs.

'Teenager will become best in world'

Overall this was a show-stopping performance from Bellingham. Senegal simply could not cope with his energy through the middle, his touch and athleticism and pass selection. For one so young, his decision-making is so mature. Whether Senegal’s suspended midfielder, Idrissa Gueye, would have fared better at stopping Bellingham remains unknown.

Bellingham would go on to set Kane’s goal in motion by running from the edge of England’s penalty area, riding challenges and making good ground before passing to Phil Foden who laid off the England captain. The teenager was also involved in the build up that brought England’s third on the night and Saka’s third of the tournament.

I don’t think we could have predicted how quickly he would mature,” Southgate said of Bellingham. “Even in the last six months, or three months, that has gone to a different level.”

Bellingham was involved in all three of England's goals against Senegal (Getty)

Foden was likewise full of praise for Bellingham. “I don’t want to big up Jude Bellingham too much because he’s still young, but he’s one of the most gifted players I’ve ever seen,” the attacker said. “I don’t see a weakness in his game. He’s got everything, and he’s going to be the best midfielder in the world.

Bellingham’s display was the headline of another positive evening for England. Not only did Kane register his first goal of the tournament to take him within one of equalling Wayne Rooney as England’s all-time record scorer, but England also kept another clean sheet.

This was England’s third shutout in a row and had much to do with Jordan Pickford’s strong left hand to deny Boulaye Dia when the game was goalless, that was a big moment in the first half.

The prospect of Bellingham and England now facing France, the reigning world champions, in Saturday’s quarter final is mouth watering. Southgate spoke of the ‘fantastic challenge’ of trying to advance past France, who England last defeated at a major tournament in 1982.

Southgate is likely to revert to a back-three for the game with Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker performing a two-man marking job on Kylian Mbappe, the tournament’s leading goalscorer with five. That may be seen as a pragmatic, defensive move by some — and a switch from the front-footed approach England have turned up with so far — but others will say it is tactically astute.

Whichever way Southgate decides to line up his team, he will have Bellingham inked in in midfield. Having risen to the occasion against Senegal, he is likely to make an impact again on Saturday.

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