Finding Jude Bellingham’s next club

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18-year-old Jude Bellingham has lit the Bundesliga on fire since arriving at the start of the 2020-21 season, catching the attention of clubs, fans and managers across the globe. Evidently with still so much to learn, the Dortmund man plays with a class and confidence beyond his years, and already has a manager wanting to build a team around his undeniable quality. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at why Bellingham has excelled at Dortmund, and attempt to identify his next big club.

JUDE BELLINGHAM’S STYLE & CHARACTERISTICS

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Before attempting to identify a club to fit Bellingham’s breathtaking quality, we first must detail what exactly makes him so talented.

Jude Bellingham would best be described as a ‘box-to-box midfielder’. Somewhere between an ‘8’ and a ’10’, the 18-year-old is capable of playing anywhere in midfield, and is best served in a midfield three alongside two other more defensively-minded midfielders. In this type of 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 system, Bellingham is free to gallop forward as he pleases, where he can seek space and take up goal-scoring positions. A visionary, imaginative footballer in the final third, Bellingham has the quality to be both a capable goal-scorer, and capable chance creator. That’s evident from his 3 goals and 6 assists this season so far, with a goals + assists per 90 ratio of 0.5. For those not so talented at math, that’s a goal or assist every other game, something very few other central midfielders can match.

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In addition to being an excellent goal contributor, Bellingham excels in tight spaces. The ball sticks like glue to his feet, even despite his lanky 6’1 frame. He doesn’t have the same dazzling footwork of a Jadon Sancho or Ousmane Dembele, but he still draws the attention of several defenders at once as he shifts the ball from his right to left foot with ease. As a result, no player in the Bundesliga has drawn more fouls in 2021-22 (59). The Englishman has also ghosted past 35 players in the league this season, the 9th highest in the league. His energetic dribbling is matched by an exceptional awareness of space without the ball at his feet, and he frequently adopts stellar positions in the attacking third to receive the ball in between the lines. Capable of playing as a ‘ten’, ‘eight’, or even as an inverted winger, Bellingham knows how to rotate with his teammates in order to create space for himself and his teammates.

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Then with his box-to-box energy, Bellingham is capable of putting in a shift from a defensive perspective too. He’s Dortmund’s most active presser, with the eighth highest amount of pressures in the league (383) and a highly successful percentage of 34.7%. With 1.56 tackles and 2.33 blocks per 90, Bellingham chips into Dortmund’s defense in every sense of the word. His high position in attack can sometimes mean he has too much backpedaling to do to truly benefit his team in transition, but it also means he’s crucial to counter-pressing situations high up the pitch.

For a player to be 18-years-old and standout in so many statistical categories is quite rare. It’s even rarer to find an 18-year-old who is one of their team’s key players. But Bellingham still has a few things to improve. You can imagine his finishing in front of goal to improve over time, but he will need to step up in terms of his progressive passing, passing accuracy and aerial percentage sooner if he is to breakthrough at one of Europe’s echelon of clubs. For a 6’1 lad, Bellingham should be winning higher than 46.7% of his aerial duels, and could work on the strength and power in his lanky legs to jump higher and outmuscle his opposition. Meanwhile, Bellingham is an incredibly progressive dribbler and ball carrier, but he could do more from a possession standpoint.

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At Dortmund, it’s not his role. Julian Brandt and Marco Reus pull the strings in the attacking half, not to mention the likes of Mahmoud Dahoud who do the work out from the back. Bellingham’s role is more about seeking space off the ball and getting into areas to influence the game, and then counter-pressing quickly after Dortmund lose possession. However, at a club like Liverpool or Manchester City, the Dortmund man will need to evolve his passing game and achieve greater heights.

But to end on a positive note, Jude Bellingham is the type of player who, quite simply, makes things happen. With 15 goal creating actions this season, he stands out above a Dortmund squad filled with goal-scorers and chance creators, ranking fourth in the league. A remarkably gifted footballer, Bellingham’s ceiling is incredibly high, and it’s no wonder why every English club has a tremendous amount of interest in the 18-year-old.

THE CASE FOR STAYING AT DORTMUND

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Whenever a new young player emerges at a club below the level of a European Super League elite, transfer rumours and player comparisons immediately ensue. But looking at the long list of players who have left Dortmund only to drop off in form, Bellingham should be cautious when making his next move. Talents like Jadon Sancho and Ousmane Dembele ripped through the Bundesliga with their dribbling power and goal contributions, and then failed to reach the same level elsewhere. The same could be said of Manchester United’s purchases of Shinji Kagawa and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, or Real Madrid and Liverpool’s experimentation with Nuri Sahin. There really would be no harm in staying at Dortmund for another few years. Bellingham would continue to be crucial to the team he loves, and develop leadership qualities at a young age in a similar manner to Declan Rice at West Ham United, where he then becomes the key player in the squad that all others aspire to be. With a World Cup coming up, Bellingham needs to be careful that he doesn’t make a move somewhere where he’s not going to accumulate minutes. Manchester City for example would be a risky move, as he’s not guaranteed to beat out the likes of Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva for a spot.

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Meanwhile, if he stays at Dortmund, the club can continue to build their team around the now 18-year-old. He’ll have the ability to develop around a host of other talented youngsters, and ensure he’s playing for a team that suits his energetic style of play. We can suggest that the 6’1 Englishman would work well in Jurgen Klopp’s heavy metal style, but the fact of the matter is that he might work even better simply staying at a club where he’s been a resounding success.

Despite our case, it seems inevitable that Jude Bellingham will be playing for a Super League giant within the next few years. So with our love for the Englishman, we attempt to find the best possible home for his future. And we start with the obvious – Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and their fluid 4-3-3 formation.

LIVERPOOL

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Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have desperately missed a Georginio Wijnaldum-like figure ever since the Dutchman lost his way a year ago or so, and then eventually departed for PSG. The Reds should also be considering their options to replace captain Jordan Henderson and co-captain James Milner, who are aging out of the squad. Bellingham will bring the exact same ‘box-to-box’ energetic running and off-the-ball intelligence that Henderson and Wijnaldum possess(ed), and fit in right away into Jurgen Klopp’s system of play.

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The Dortmund man has always played his best football when in a midfield three, where he has greater license to get forward and contribute to the attack. He’s also performed admirably when pushed higher up the pitch, and his versatility will give Klopp many options if he ever needs to change formation or ideas around positional rotations following departures.

Liverpool’s quick transitions in both counter-attacking and counter-pressing will also be a great stylistic fit for Bellingham. He’s a high-pressing, active defender who wants to pump the gas when others pump the brakes. That’s exactly why he’d fit in so well to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, with their heavy emphasis on gegenpressing. With knowledge on how to link up with high-flying wing-backs, or the ability to move inside or wide depending on the positioning of his teammates, Bellingham will already understand many of Klopp’s ideologies before arriving. Things like his passing percentage and long-passing range could improve, but the Reds could also use his off-the-ball energy to their benefit in ways that get the best out of his strengths and make the least out of his limitations.

In short, Jude Bellingham would be an excellent fit for Liverpool, and it would not only fit Klopp’s style, but the potential positional necessity of the upcoming years.

MANCHESTER CITY

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Already playing a role in a high possession team, Jude Bellingham can realistically be linked to any team who dominate the ball and control matches back to front. Manchester City are the best at the art, and crucially, also play a 4-3-3 under Guardiola. High in pressing, counter-pressing, and things like positional play and rotation, Jude Bellingham would suit City’s style of play. It’s not quite as seamless as Liverpool, as his passing and possession game would need to improve. There’s simply less room to hide at City if you are not outstanding at breaking lines, sliding short passes or spraying long diagonals. You still get a player like Ilkay Gundogan who’s role becomes more about what he does off the ball and late arrivals into the box, but even those players are incredibly effective in all forms of passing and keeping the ball moving.

The Citizens also have less positional need for the 18-year-old, with Kevin de Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden still going strong. Additionally, City have been sensible with their signings in the past few years, and rarely splash the cash for 100-million-plus players. But if Jude Bellingham wants to shoot for the stars, playing for Manchester City should be toward the top of his list.

MANCHESTER UNITED

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For the final team, we could have easily picked possession-based sides like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. But it seems most realistic that Bellingham will return to England someday rather than travelling around Europe like a roaming gnome. That leaves just about the only English club that can truly afford his services at this time, or rather the club with the most nonsensical transfer practices.

In truth, Bellingham would not be a perfect fit for Manchester United’s current style of play, especially when compared against Dortmund, Liverpool and City. He would fit into a high pressing Ralf Rangnick team and be versatile enough to play in several positions in either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2-2 formation. But there are a few problems with this potential move. First, United already have Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, and Donny van de Beek (currently out on loan and out of favour), who will compete for that same sort of role. If the Red Devils switched to a 4-3-3, Bellingham would work excellently well. But it then becomes difficult to get the best out of all the players the Red Devils already have trouble fitting in, some of whom we mentioned and all of whom are discussed in great detail in United’s Tactical Follies in the Post-Ronaldo Era. The other problem is that United are most in need of a defensive midfielder, and would likely be better served spending that money on someone like Declan Rice or Wilfred Ndidi. It’s not as though Bellingham won’t develop the defensive side of his game, but you don’t want to limit his attacking brilliance either. As a result, we’ve included the Manchester United suggestion more to squash it as the best possible fit, rather than to present it as one of the best options for the Englishman.

Given that so many others, from Kagawa to Mkhitaryan to Sancho have all come to United from Dortmund and failed to perform, Jude Bellingham would be better off staying put.

CONCLUSION

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Jude Bellingham is an exceptionally talented footballer, who still has his best years ahead of him. But in order to truly reach the insane heights he could realistically achieve, Bellingham needs to be careful when making his next move. Liverpool and Manchester City could be great options for the Englishman, but he’d also do wonders at Dortmund if he stayed on the project for a few more years. We suggest Liverpool to be the best possible fit if the 18-year-old decides to move within the next few years, especially if Jurgen Klopp’s heavy metal pressing style remains. Otherwise, Bellingham should stay at Dortmund, continuing to display his energetic running, nifty footwork in tight spaces, and stellar contributions at all ends of the pitch.


So there it is! A tactical analysis of Jude Bellingham and the best fit for his potential next club. Be sure to check out more of our Scouting & Recruitment articles, and follow on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

You might also enjoy…

-> Jude Bellingham – Player Profile
-> Marco Rose – Borussia Dortmund – Tactical Analysis
-> Why Dortmund are so bad in defensive transitions

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