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Is Bellingham Southgate's Missing Piece to the Puzzle?

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To Make the England 23-Man Euro 2020 Squad

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Jude Bellingham @ 4/6

The rise of a star set to change Southgate's entire tactical output

Jude Bellingham's career has been on an upward trajectory ever since making his Birmingham City debut in a 3-0 defeat to Portsmouth in the Carabao Cup in August 2019. The Birmingham-born wonderkid has transitioned from the club's finest young talent since Trevor Francis, into a Champions League midfielder for Borussia Dortmund, all within the space of 18 months. 

After making his debut for England in November during a 3-0 win against the Republic of Ireland, Bellingham managed his second taste of international football against San Marino in an impressive 45-minute cameo.

Now, with Declan Rice being a shoo-in to start in the heart of the Three Lions midfield this summer, we take a look if Bellingham could be the perfect man for Gareth Southgate to start alongside the West Ham United captain.

England Euro 2020 Starting XI Odds

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Jude Bellingham to start against Croatia (June 13th) @ 7/1

It's Bellingham or Phillips, so who wins?

Currently, with Jordan Henderson out injured, Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips is Bellingham's most prominent rival for a starting birth in the England team. If this international break revealed anything, it is that the 25-year-old is a firm favourite of Southgate's, having played the most minutes of any player in the squad across the three World Cup qualifiers. 

But how do the two compare statistically? Well, it must first be noted that Dortmund tend to dominate most opposition in the Bundesliga. In contrast, Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds often play with high energy, rapid counter attacks, intense velocity and a non-stop work rate that rivals anybody in all of England, forcing the midfield to work end-to-end, which can often influence the output of individual player statistics.

However, what may give Phillips the upper hand going into the Euros is that he is naturally an outright defensive midfielder, and playing two at the base of the midfield has been a reoccurring theme under Southgate in his four and a half years in charge. 

The statistics prove that Phillips is a more defensively sound player too. Comparing the two in the competitions where they are prone to do the most defending, it would be reasonable to suggest that Phillips should play against nations with more attacking muscle. The Leeds man outperforms Bellingham in tackles, interceptions, and clearances, which would indicate that he is more suited to playing without the ball.

Despite Phillips being defensively superior to his England colleague, Bellingham is not an outright defensive midfielder by any means, and he can be utilised anywhere across the midfield, whilst no doubt, he plays for a team more dominant in attack rather than defence. What may be beneficial to Southgate, though, particularly in the group stage, is a player who can carry the ball and distribute it, as they play Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic.

With England being placed in a modest group, they will see a lot of the football, and given Bellingham's undeniable ability on it, he could be the middle man to break the lines and transition England from defence into attack. Comparatively to Phillips, Bellingham has 1.2 successful dribbles per game, with the Leeds man having 0.6, signalling that the latter is far more comfortable with the ball at his feet. To add to this, the Bundesliga star is fouled far more frequently a game (2) than Phillips (1.2), which suggests that he is far braver, more proficient, and challenging to stop as a ball carrier. 

An unrivalled option

Regardless of whether Southgate chooses Phillips or Bellingham, there is one thing that the England gaffer certainly has in abundance, and that is options. It seems almost a certainty that Rice will start the tournament given his club form, and there is also no ruling out the experienced option of Henderson, who could return for the summer.

However, the ability and potential of Bellingham is undeniable and there for all to see with his performances for Dortmund this year. On top of this, given his versatility, it would be disappointing not to see the 17-year-old get into the 23-man squad given his unique set of attributes and qualities. 

There are always hot debates as to who should start for England in a major competition, but ultimately all the players can do is perform for their club sides. Bellingham, for one, has been doing so. The young midfielder put in a performance well above what is expected of his young age in the last 16 tie against Sevilla in February, impressing particularly in the second leg at the Signal Iduna Park with a Man of the Match display, whilst he was extremely unfortunate to have a goal ruled out in the first leg against Manchester City.

Bellingham proved in this class with City he can compete with the best at just 17. The earlier he is in the England squad, the better, and Euro 2020 should be the time he becomes a regular.

By Harry Charlwood