Jude Bellingham is expected to be Liverpool’s No. 1 midfield target next summer and an imperious performance against Man City highlighted why he should be.
It is an open secret that those within Liverpool’s hierarchy are sold on Bellingham; the only problem now is landing a deal to bring the 19-year-old to Anfield.
By next summer, when a move from Dortmund is more feasible, Europe’s biggest clubs will be hovering over the England international, with many expecting him to become one of the world’s leading midfielders over the next decade.
There is even a case to argue that he already is, with Bellingham’s quality and character put to the test against one of the best sides in the world as Dortmund visited Man City in the Champions League.
He didn’t disappoint.
Missing out on Aurelien Tchouameni to Real Madrid was a huge blow, but in Bellingham, Liverpool have someone on their radar who is every bit as exciting. A generational talent.
If a move comes to fruition, it could be one of the most significant Jurgen Klopp has ever made.
Bellingham stars vs. Man City
City may have prevailed in the end at the Etihad, winning 2-1 after Erling Haaland’s latest act of absurd brilliance, but that didn’t detract from Bellingham’s impact.
Pep Guardiola’s side were never at their best, failing to have a shot on target until John Stones equalised in the second half, and the Liverpool target played his part in that.
Starting on the right of a midfield three – Emre Can was next to him in the middle – Bellingham produced a consummate showing that highlighted his many key attributes.
Defensively, he was a resolute presence, making a key block to divert a Jack Grealish shot for a corner, before producing a fist-pump to the travelling Dortmund fans.
His ability to break up play resulted in four recoveries and three clearances, all while providing intelligence and maturity on the ball.
A 75 percent pass completion rate may have been down on his Bundesliga average for the season so far (84.3%), but it was a strong tally against a relentless pressing team, especially as he is a risk-taking ball-player.
In terms of Bellingham’s attacking influence, his headed opener was clearly the standout moment, as he steered home Marco Reus’ cross.
His ability to join attacks stood out just as much, however, with the teenager often finding himself in the final third, popping up on the left or in central areas.
This was a performance that showed how at ease Bellingham is on the biggest club stage, as he more than held his own in a midfield battle with the likes of Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva.
After the game, Guardiola lauded Bellingham as “an exceptional player,” praising his ability to “follow Gundogan or Kevin in the pockets and win the duels.”
Dortmund team-mate Mats Hummels once called him the “most mature 18-year-old” he has ever played with, while David Alaba has described him as “one of the greatest midfield talents in the world.”
As potential Liverpool signings go, few look more tailor-made to excel in this system and at this level.
Comparison with Liverpool’s midfielders
So how does Bellingham compare to Liverpool’s current midfielders, in particular those that he is seen as being an upgrade on?
What immediately jumps out isn’t his effortless technical ability, but his tenacity off the ball, with an average of three tackles won per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga so far this season.
Similarly, Bellingham (1.7) leads the way in interceptions, with Henderson (1.4), Keita (1.1) and Elliott (0.6) all trailing comfortably behind in their respective totals.
On the ball, it is also clear that Bellingham has bravery and quality in abundance, with 3.2 successful dribbles per 90 showing how capable he is in breaking the lines and backing his abiilty.
Elliott (1.9) comes the closest out of the aforementioned Reds trio, while the irrepressible Thiago completed three dribbles in the Community Shield win over City.
It is Bellingham’s athleticism and physicality that also put him on another level to Liverpool’s current crop, with Henderson, Keita and Elliott all limited in that respect, for different reasons.
His box-to-box style is reminiscent of Steven Gerrard at his peak, with lung-busting runs a staple of his game.
Bellingham has the non-stop energy of a younger Henderson, the press resistance of Keita and the natural talent of Elliott all rolled into one, making him a true footballing force.
And crucially – so far at least – he is proving incredibly durable.
Of a possible 106 games in his time with Dortmund so far, he has played in 99, starting 86, missing only three through injury and two more due to suspension.
A regular starting berth for England now surely beckons, too, with the World Cup this winter a wonderful chance for him to enhance his reputation further.
The perfect summer signing
Much has been made of Liverpool’s toiling midfield this season, with failure to bring in top-class additions bordering on negligence.
That simply has to change next summer and there is no doubt that Bellingham is the player that the Reds must go all in on.
It is clear that Klopp surely sees him as the perfect acquisition, having cheekily said that the “only problem” stopping Liverpool from having signed him is “he’s not on the market.”
That is likely to change in 2023, with Bellingham widely expected to move on in pursuit of a new challenge.
There will be huge competition, from City to Real Madrid, among others, but he has spoken of his admiration for Liverpool in the past and it feels like an ideal match.
An inability to help out Trent Alexander-Arnold defensively has been one of the Reds’ greatest shortcomings this season – Henderson’s legs are going and Elliott’s defensive nous still needs work – but Bellingham would solve that issue.
The fact that he is at his best in that right-sided role – his versatility also allows him to shine as a No. 6, on the left of the three or even as a No. 10 – means he couldn’t be more perfect.
Granted, that could mean a positional switch for Elliott, of whom such huge things are expected, but he and Bellingham are only two months apart in age and there is no comparison between them at the moment.
Both may be 19, but only one plays like a 29-year-old at the peak of his powers.
Some signings do have a feeling of inevitability about them, and while such bullishness could look foolish this time next year, there seems a strong chance Liverpool bring in the Dortmund star next summer, assuming a top-four finish is achieved.
The money involved would be vast – a possible record-breaking fee – but Fenway Sports Group need to break the bank when a talent of such enormous promise becomes available, especially after such a frugal summer this time around.
* Statistics via WhoScored.