Euros 2020: The best picks for your Fantasy 7s team in Round 1
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About a year ago, when he was just 16, Bellingham completed his first full season as a professional footballer with Championship side Birmingham City.
Fast forward to this year, and the Stourbridge-born teenager has been selected to be part of Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 England squad - a testament to the quality of the highly talented midfielder, given that the Three Lions have high hopes of going all the way and winning the competition.
Bellingham finished the 2020/2021 campaign with Borussia Dortmund with four goals and four assists in 46 appearances (33 starts). He also made his England debut back in March as a substitute against the Republic of Ireland in a 3-0 win.
Southgate subsequently highlighted Bellingham’s “humility” and “grit” as some of the attributes he greatly admired, and predicted a bright future for the youngster. Said Southgate: “I’m very, very impressed with him. We’ve got to protect him at the right times but he’s going about it in exactly the right manner.”
WATCH: Southgate clarifies whether he had to check on Bellingham's homework
Unlike at Birmingham, Bellingham plays a little deeper as an 8 with Dortmund.
In this role, he is tasked to hold his position in the middle of the park to ensure his team keeps their shape. He also sticks close to his midfield partner(s) so that the opposition is unable to split them and progress centrally. But Bellingham is more than just a tactical pawn - his impressive confidence on the ball and tactical astuteness allows him to help his team get out of tight spots, while also playing a central role (literally) in progressing the ball further up the pitch.
It is for these reasons that Southgate could not leave him out of the squad, despite his age. He certainly offers a different option to the other central midfielders in the team, and with Southgate likely to choose a pragmatic tactical set-up, he may very well be the perfect player for the England manager.
England vs Croatia
England open their tournament against Croatia in Group D.
The Croats are a team who like to press high and often play at a high intensity. They also boast one of the (self-proclaimed) “best defenders in the world” in Dejan Lovren. There is no doubt that England will face a tricky time against Zlatko Dalic’s men, who showed Southgate's charges in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals just how important the art of recycling possession was.
That is why there is every chance a good, technical player like Bellingham, who’s not only press-resistant but also very effective at moving the ball around quickly and between the lines, will start for England, either as a 6 or an 8.
With Jordan Henderson struggling for match fitness, the chances of Bellingham starting are probably doubled.
WATCH: Klopp lavishes praise on Jordan Henderson
Bellingham is also only one of two English players who averaged more than 20 pressures, 2.5 dribbles, 2 blocks, 2 tackles and 3 touches in the penalty area per 90 this season.
This suggests that he is a good bet to win points for an assist or for key passes. He also has an 83% passing rate, with the majority of his passes being of the short to mid-range variety.
Using a balanced sample size, Bellingham has contested almost as many challenges as Henderson and Rice. He has also averaged more passes per game than the experienced duo.
In a pragmatic set-up, however, England may very well utilise these three players against the ageing 2018 World Cup finalists.
England vs Scotland and Czech Republic
The Scots and the Czechs are the other two teams in Group D.
With the greatest of respect to those two countries, England are expected to dominate possession and take all six points against them. They are no slouches, but you’d expect the overall quality of the English to shine through.
In those two games, England are likely going to be on the front foot, with both the Scots and Czechs expected to counter that by setting up a low block and being aggressive.
WATCH: Southgate says Grealish's fitness boosted by pre-Euros friendlies
This, again, is where Bellingham will come in handy. Compared to his midfield counterparts at Dortmund, the youngster has created more chances and attacking take-ons despite playing fewer minutes. He also averages more touches per 90 minutes, and contests more challenges than his midfield teammates. These statistics show his confidence in wanting the ball and being aggressive in his press.
A player like that, who is capable of taking the game by the scruff of its neck and getting in the faces of the opponents, while also being direct in his play, is ideal for when you face teams who tend to sit deeper. As such, it is a safe bet that Bellingham will start at least one of the matches against the Czech Republic and Scotland.
Bellingham is also good value at scoring points for duels won, and can potentially win penalties with his penchant for making driving runs into the box.
At 17, the Englishman still has plenty to learn, but with a season of progress behind him, his stock will only continue to rise. The Euros will be the perfect stage for him to announce himself to the world.
Certainly, when it comes to Jude Bellingham, the adage “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” rings true.