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Jude Bellingham: Will ‘complete’ Borussia Dortmund wonderkid solve England’s midfield conundrum?

Jude Bellingham impressed in England’s 5-0 win over San Marino; Jordan Henderson faces a race against time to be fit for Euro 2020; Follow Albania vs England in Sunday’s World Cup 2022 Euro Qualifier in our dedicated blog

Ben Grounds

There was very little that was remarkable about England’s routine win over San Marino on Thursday, but Jude Bellingham’s nerveless display was the latest chapter in the youngster’s steep ascent to international stardom, and could pave the way to him becoming a mainstay in his country’s midfield.

The next time Gareth Southgate announces an England squad will be for the delayed Euro 2020 tournament in two months’ time, and so highly is Bellingham regarded by the England boss that it would now be a surprise if he wasn’t included.

Southgate has been quick to elevate the Borussia Dortmund midfielder to the senior squad, and Bellingham has the class and temperament to handle the responsibilities placed upon him, whether that be in a double pivot or in a slightly more advanced position.

Sky Sports’ Roy Keane, in his role as an ITV pundit, was effusive in his praise for the 17-year-old, speaking after the game at Wembley.

Following his 45-minute cameo during the World Cup 2022 Euro Qualifier, Keane said: “Bellingham looks like a complete midfielder. He’s still a kid playing regularly in Germany.”

“At 17 he has nice composure, is happy to break forward, and it was a very good night’s work.”

The early indications are that Bellingham’s international career will bloom, having already acclimatised to Bundesliga and Champions League football.

Forming a solid midfield base remains a puzzle Southgate must solve over the next two months, but the Birmingham City product, who made his England debut against the Republic of Ireland in November 2020, looked perfectly at home following his half-time introduction on Thursday.

Wayne Rooney remains England’s youngest-ever goalscorer, but the boy still three months shy of his 18th birthday twice came close to breaking that record against the world’s lowest-ranked nation.

He may have done better with an acrobatic volley, but showed his confidence in attempting the skill while his ball retention also caught the eye – completing 51 of his passes.

It is no wonder the Football Association worked tirelessly to secure a Covid-19 exemption for him to join this month’s international camp, and Southgate will not hesitate in calling upon him for England’s next qualifier against Albania on Sunday.

“He’s a player we think is going to be an England international in the future,” he said.

“We feel that in that area of the pitch, although we were very happy with everybody tonight, we are a little bit short in numbers.

“For us to help develop him, to put him into games and to try to get him with the team, with the development he is getting at Dortmund as well, we’re hoping we can play a part in fast-tracking him into the group.”

Southgate has previously admitted the senior members of his England side that reached the World Cup semi-finals in Russia may have disbanded prematurely – Jesse Lingard’s return to the fold indicates how the door has never been fully closed – but an abiding feature of his reign has been an unwavering faith in youth.

Bellingham is of the right profile to be the next in line to benefit, being part of a ‘hungry’ squad that feeds off the presence of emerging talent.

Southgate continued: “When we have youngsters like Jude coming on and playing with the type of confidence he did and then to see Ollie [Watkins] come on and get his goal… I think the reaction to his goal in particular told you a lot about this team and this squad.

“They were so pleased for him. I think they make it easier for young players and new players to come in and be themselves and bed in. I really liked the reaction of the team to his goal.

“We’ve got so many good, young players. Phil [Foden] coming on, Jude coming on, they are different types of players who really express themselves on the ball. It’s lovely to see players wearing an England shirt and feeling free enough to do that.”

The make-up of England’s midfield remains a hot debate, not least because it is not yet clear what formation Southgate will settle on for the coming summer. Should he persevere with three at the back, Bellingham may have to bide his time before being entrusting in one of the two deep-lying central midfield roles.

Kalvin Phillips and James Ward-Prowse both did their chances no harm on Thursday in the absence of Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson, the pair to have featured most regularly under Southgate as part of his preferred 3-4-3 set-up, but the Liverpool captain faces a race against time to be fit for Euro 2020 as he continues his recovery from a groin injury.

Phillips was tasked to fulfil the more withdrawn role and unglamorous duties against the European minnows while the likes of Bellingham could roam forward with the shackles off.

When the onus is on England to be more on the front foot, both from the start and in games where a goal is needed, reverting to a 4-3-3 that includes the more dynamic Bellingham is an option that Southgate must now consider.

His ability to glide through the thirds, inventive and menacing, offers England something others don’t possess, and Bellingham is only going to get better from having tournament experience.

At club level, his learning ground will only become more enriched between now and June and Southgate will have a close eye on Dortmund’s forthcoming Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City.

Speaking to ITV after Thursday’s win, Dominic Calvert-Lewin said: “You’re looking at a top talent. He’s a humble guy and a nice lad. It’s crazy to think he’s still 17. As long as he keeps his head down and continues what he’s doing, he’s got a great chance.”

Analysis: What must Man Utd fans be thinking?

Kaveh Solhekol told Sky Sports:

“Bellingham will definitely be in the England squad for the Euros which will be incredible because when they play their opener against Croatia he will still be 17.

“If you saw how well he played in the second half on Thursday – I know it was only against San Marino – but he almost scored which would’ve made him the youngest player ever to score for England.

“He just looks so comfortable playing in midfield, and looks like he’s going to be an absolute world-class player. He’s playing well for Borussia Dortmund and playing well in the Champions League.

“The one point I would make about him is how must Manchester United supporters feel watching him now? They were so close to signing him last summer, but he decided to go to Dortmund instead in a £25m move from Birmingham.

“If I was a United supporter, I’d be thinking ‘wow, how did we miss out on this player?’ This kid is going to be a fixture of England teams for a long, long time. You listen to what ex-players are saying about him, and they are saying he’s an absolute world-class midfielder.

“I think he will be in the squad for the Euros and although I’d be surprised if he’s in the starting XI for that first game against Croatia, I know Southgate rates him very highly.

“Even last week when it looked like he would not be allowed to join up with this squad, Southgate still named him in it. As it turned out, he got the chance to show what he can do, and was very impressive.”

World Cup 2022 Euro Qualifiers on Sky Sports

Watch Saturday’s 2022 World Cup Qualifiers live on Sky Sports from 5pm; also follow via our dedicated live blog, plus watch in-game clips and free match highlights on Sky Sports’ digital platforms.

Follow Albania vs England in our dedicated blog on Sunday; watch match highlights 15 minutes after full-time.

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