If Borussia Dortmund’s remarkable 2023 run is to continue at Chelsea on Tuesday, midfield master Jude Bellingham, 19, will need to be front and centre.
Dortmund travel to London as European football’s most in-form team, having chalked up ten wins from ten games to start 2023.
Nine points behind leaders Bayern Munich at Christmas, Dortmund have closed the gap and now sit second on goal difference.
A hard-fought 1-0 win in the opening tie means Dortmund will make it through to the Champions League quarter finals if they avoid defeat on Tuesday evening.
While Marco Reus’ likely inclusion means Bellingham, captain in Dortmund’s first leg victory, may not wear the armband at Stamford Bridge, the English teenager will unquestionably be one of the side’s on-field leaders.
In what has been a breakout season for the English teenager bookending an impressive Qatar World Cup showing, Bellingham has saved his best performances for the biggest stage.
In six Champions League games this season — two of which as captain — Bellingham, has scored four goals and laid on an assist.
A starring performance in his Champions League debut in London, and just his third club match on English soil since arriving in Dortmund, will be the next milestone in an astonishing run for the policeman’s son from Stourbridge.
Dortmund’s bridge to success
While Bellingham’s playing style has attracted no shortage of accolades, the teenager’s leadership for club and country has been given particular praise.
When England captain Harry Kane missed a late penalty which would have drawn the Three Lions level with France in the World Cup quarter finals, Bellingham was the first to console the Tottenham striker, despite being the youngest member of the 26-man squad.
Bellingham’s performances on the world stage for England also earned him the rare honour of having a bridge in downtown Birmingham named after him.
Designs for the ‘Bellingham Bridge’ were unveiled on Saturday, with the local council saying the construction would contribute “positively to the city’s identity both during the day and night.”
Dortmund manager Edin Terzic, who brought Bellingham into a three-man leadership group alongside Reus and World Cup-winning defender Mats Hummels, has frequently described the Birmingham City junior as “the oldest 19-year-old player in the world.”
In previous seasons, Dortmund have been criticised for placing too much responsibility in the hands of young players at a club frequently criticised for a fragile mentality.
Bellingham has established himself as a nexus between Dortmund’s experienced core and the club’s troupe of talented youngsters.
His maturity and leadership has helped the club keep the focus on the pitch.
Unlike last season, when the Erling Haaland transfer saga pushed Dortmund to the brink of distraction, whispers surrounding a possible summer exit for Bellingham — and a potential 150 million euro fee — have not destablised the club.
While the Norwegian publicly complained that Dortmund were “putting pressure on me to make a decision about my future”, Bellingham has frequently shut down speculation.
After October’s 0-0 home draw with Haaland’s Man City which saw Dortmund through to the Champions League knockout rounds, a smiling Bellingham told reporters who asked about a possible move: “I’m not going to write your headlines for you.”
Homecoming for Bynoe-Gittens
Even with a one-goal advantage, Dortmund’s hopes against Chelsea have been dealt a blow by the absence of lightning-fast forward Karim Adeyemi, who scored the only goal in the first leg.
In Adeyemi’s place is another English teenage sensation, Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, who has made a habit of scoring crucial goals for Dortmund this season.
The London-born winger, who rejected the Chelsea academy to move north to join the Manchester City U15s,moved to Dortmund in September 2020.
Bynoe-Gittens’ first 18 months in Dortmund were interrupted by injury, but the 18-year-old has become an important part of manager Edin Terzic’s rotation this season.
His performances off the bench, coming on late to score in wins over Freiburg, Augsburg and Werder Bremen, have earned him first dibs at Adeyemi’s spot in the starting XI.
A strong performance from Bynoe-Gittens, along with a good showing from Bellingham, will go a long way to ensuring Dortmund’s high-flying run continues.
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