England is in the midst of a poor run of form at the wrong time as Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions have consigned themselves to relegation in the UEFA Nations League during the latest international cycle.
A 1-0 loss against eventual group winners Italy at Milan’s San Siro sealed the nation’s fate on Friday night before a swashbuckling 3-3 draw at Wembley against old rivals Germany applied the bookend to a frustrating period of Southgate’s tenure - which now may come to an end after the World Cup - as the traditional European powerhouse will now drop down to Nations League B.
But one of the only bright spots for the nation and a major talking point during what has been yet another frustrating international break from Premier League action has been the recent performances of Borussia Dortmund starlet Jude Bellingham.
The 19-year-old Bundesliga wunderkind and former Birmingham City academy product put in a Man of the Match performance against Hansi Flick’s troops last night while leading led all England players in completed passes, touches, touches in the opposition box, duels won, tackles won, interceptions, and fouls won.
It was a clinical box-to-box performance if there ever was one that saw Bellingham improve on what was an already strong outing against Italy when he was again one of the only England players that could hold his head high at a time where questions continue to be asked about Southgate’s selections for his matchday squads in the run-up to Qatar.
Against Germany, and players whom he knows quite well during his meteoric rise in the Ruhr valley at the Westfalenstadion, Bellingham was simply sublime in the center of the park and proved once and for all that Southgate must rely on him in his preferred XI in just under two months time when England look to set the record straight against the United States, Iran, and Wales.
At the time of writing, few fans are going into the winter tournament with any semblance of confidence in the nation’s top boss after what has been a winless run of six matches that included two shut-out losses against Hungary, and form that comes in stark contrast to how they comported themselves in their World Cup qualifying group that saw them post an 8-2-0 record while bagging 39 goals and surrendering just three.
The frustrating turn of form could not have come at a worse time, but for Bellingham, who performs on a weekly basis for Die Schwarzgelben, that same faith shown in his abilities at club level in Germany must not be fully tapped into in a tactical system that puts far too much emphasis on its wing-backs rather than giving tactical freedom and responsibility to central players who have traditionally been Jordan Henderson, Kalvin Phillips, and Declan Rice of late.
While Rice is also sure to start, and justifiably so, Bellingham’s ability to contribute in all phases of play while offering an offensive presence on the back of his intelligence off-ball and timing of his runs into the final third bring added vibrancy to Southgate’s system that regularly isolates its front-three far too often.
With Bellingham in support centrally, he could be one of the keys - if not the key - to helping unlock the national team and hit performance levels far more commensurate with the ability it has on offer.