A lack of intensity in midfield has been a common bone to pick with Gareth Southgate’s England side for some time now, even en-route to the final at Euro 2020 during the summer. But Jude Bellingham shone against Andorra on Sunday and deserves to keep his place against Poland.
If the Three Lions finally are to end more than 50 years of hurt, midfield is an area that ultimately needs more for them to lay hands on a trophy at the end of a major tournament.
Jordan Henderson’s recent injury woes have seen the Liverpool captain lose his place in the heart of midfield and, as a consequence, England have lost the presence of a passing maestro.
In his place, a duo of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips have come to the fore – the latter even picking up the country’s player of the year award courtesy of an inexperience-defying outing at Euro 2020.
They are excellent at what they do. Reading the game, screening their back line, picking off balls, stifling opposition momentum and recycling possession – it’s a trait that any top team needs.
However, when it comes to progressive distribution, it has to be said that they have been left wanting all too often. Rice and Phillips have often lacked the intensity needed to facilitate the blistering thrust from midfield that can prove unplayable and dominate fixtures.
It’s been an issue for a while – but there is a solution. He may only still be 18, but Bellingham has already done more than prove his worth on some of world football’s biggest stages.
Signed by Borussia Dortmund from Championship side Birmingham in the summer of 2020, the teenager rapidly became a standout figure for BVB and one of the Bundesliga’s brightest talents. From injecting a fervent desire into the heart of Dortmund’s mostly underwhelming midfield, to bossing Champions League quarter-final ties against Manchester City with an insatiable appetite – it’s no surprise Bellingham was handed an international debut in November of last year.
Since then, the Dortmund man has earned eight caps, in all of which he has impressed and finished on the winning side. There is a seismic shift of impetus whenever the youngster enters the field of play; a dogged midfield battle suddenly opens up with the thrust that Bellingham brings from deep.
Last time out, just his second start for his country, he was the notable presence in midfield. With an ineffable assurance, the teenager was the general at the heart of England’s side, running the show with swift and decisive play that drove his team upfield and opened up the game.
From untraceable darts into dangerous spaces in advanced areas to demonstrating staggering composure on the ball in tight situations, Bellingham showed just how impressive a player he really is when pulling the play upfield.
It was his sensational drag back that opened up Andorra in the first half – a swivel that started a move eventually falling to Jesse Lingard to break the deadlock. And, as his surges upfield and three key passes will attest to, the youngster was unlucky not to have left the field with an actual assist.
Poland in Warsaw on Wednesday night will be an altogether tougher challenge for him than Andorra, but given how he has performed at the highest level for his club before now, there is no reason that Bellingham won’t continue to thrive given the chance to.
Although his standout attribute is that impetus he provides from deep areas as a box-to-box midfielder, he is adept at reading play and performing defensive duties.
While some security may be sacrificed by removing either Rice or Phillips from the side, Southgate has the perfect solution to introduce that much-needed energy and intensity into his side’s engine room; his name is Bellingham.