Europe’s most-wanted striker may well be the headline-maker and driving force behind Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League dream, but in the second leg against Sevilla last week it was not only Erling Haaland who received the plaudits.
Jude Bellingham put in a performance which defied his age, bossing the midfield at 17 to ensure Dortmund’s name is among those in the pot for Friday’s draw.
As well as making eight ball recoveries, two take-ons and two clearances, Bellingham topped the billing in that match for most duels won (15), most tackles made (six) and most fouls won (five).
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It was arguably his standout performance in a season where he has started 12 Bundesliga games and six in the Champions League. It is also a campaign where he made his senior England debut, and it could yet end with an appearance at Euro 2020.
Despite his age, this would be no gamble. This would not be Gareth Southgate’s Sven-Goran Eriksson picking Theo Walcott for the 2006 World Cup moment, it would be an astute selection earned on merit.
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Given Bellingham has already played for England, coming off the bench against the Republic of Ireland in November, the Walcott comparison is not entirely fair.
Walcott had made zero Premier League appearances when Eriksson named him in England’s World Cup squad 15 years ago. That’s where the similarity with Bellingham begins and ends, for the latter has been doing the business in Germany instead.
The signs are pointing towards a Thursday inclusion in Southgate’s England squad. The Three Lions boss will announce who’s in and who’s out at 2pm, and Bellingham looks set to get the nod – so long as potential Covid restrictions do not deter Dortmund.
His omission from the U21 squad for their March matches is perhaps the biggest indicator, with coach Aidy Boothroyd admitting both Bellingham and Reece James will likely be required by Southgate for the World Cup qualifiers San Marino, Albania and Poland.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson will miss this international break with an adductor injury, and with Harry Winks out of favour at Spurs, the path is somewhat clearer for Bellingham despite the fact he may well have secured his spot this time around by virtue of his own performances.
Last November, he was drafted into the senior squad to replace the injured James Ward-Prowse, and the Southampton midfielder will be another hopeful to make the squad on Thursday.
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Southgate opted for a bumper 29-man squad four months ago, eventually reduced to 28, and though that must be 23 for the Euros this summer, it looks likely four central midfielders will make the cut.
Whether defender-midfielder Eric Dier is part of that thinking remains to be seen, but it leaves at most two spots up for grabs given Henderson and Declan Rice are certainties if fit.
You therefore have Winks vs Bellingham vs Ward-Prowse, with Kalvin Phillips thrown in there too. It could be a close-run contest, but at this rate Bellingham has every chance of making it.
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