Man City 2-1 Borussia Dortmund: ‘Jude Bellingham shows why he must start for England’

Jude Bellingham has scored a record four Champions League goals by an English teenager. Two of them have been in games against City

Erling Haaland will claim the headlines, as he has done so often already in his short and spectacular Manchester City career, but even he was swift to recognise another very special young talent.

Haaland’s flying finish, executed with an athleticism and elasticity that belied his giant stature, was the match winner as City scored twice in the last 10 minutes to beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 and make it maximum points from two games in Champions League Group G.

For long periods, however, the Premier League champions could not lay a glove on a Dortmund side who possessed a composure, measure and style epitomised by the teenage England midfielder at the heart of their operation.

Haaland and Jude Bellingham fell into each other’s arms after the final whistle, the latter expressing his disbelief and frustration at City’s golden match-winning moment while the young Norway striker showed his mutual respect.

Bellingham, just 19, has shown comfort on Europe’s elite stage before but this was another demonstration of the quality England manager Gareth Southgate simply cannot ignore as he finalises his plans for the World Cup, which starts in Qatar in November.

Bellingham will develop further, as is natural with one so young, but he already looks like the complete midfield player and it is becoming impossible to find any good reasons why Southgate can leave him out of England’s starting line-up.

Southgate’s favoured central midfield combination has been the somewhat conservative pairing of West Ham’s Declan Rice and City summer signing Kalvin Phillips – but circumstances have changed.

Bellingham offers everything England could want in a side in need of refreshment and re-focus after recent results such as the 4-0 loss to Hungary at Molineux.

Bellingham has the full range of passing. He has the defensive qualities Southgate appears to treasure in midfield players while also having a burst of pace and an eye for goal, as he proved when he gave Dortmund the lead with a clever glancing header from Marco Reus’ cross.

Jude Bellingham and Jack Grealish
Jude Bellingham was involved at both ends of the pitch on a frustrating night for Jack Grealish

The former Birmingham City youngster is also blessed with great sleight of foot and close control in tight areas and has all the tools to become a world-class player. It is no surprise that every top club in Europe is casting eyes towards Dortmund should they decide to sell next summer.

If Phillips really is a rival for Bellingham’s place, the contrasts in their current situations could not have been more stark than at Etihad Stadium.

While Bellingham was the game’s most significant, controlling figure until City came to life late on with John Stones’ piledriver equaliser and Haaland’s remarkable winner, Phillips was once more a spectator.

Phillips was thrown on for Haaland as City manager Pep Guardiola ran down the clock but at kick-off on Wednesday he had figured for a grand total of 13 minutes and two games, with no starts and only 23 touches, since the £45m switch from Leeds that was designed to propel his career forward for club and country.

This is not Phillips’ fault as he tries to fight his way through Guardiola’s array of talent. His time will come, but it will have to come quickly if any compelling argument is to be put forward that he can keep Bellingham out of England’s team.

Bellingham also made a far more meaningful contribution than another England World Cup hopeful, Manchester City’s Jack Grealish, who struggled to make any sort of impact before he was substituted right after Bellingham put Dortmund ahead after 56 minutes.

Grealish’s lingering glances over his left shoulder as the numbers went up suggested he knew his race was run and it was no surprise when he was removed by Guardiola after a desperately disappointing night.

For a player who lives on confidence and is so clearly desperate to succeed following his £100m move from Aston Villa, Grealish looks short on that precious commodity at present.

Grealish spent too much time heading back towards his own goal, was unusually conservative in his choice of passing and his end product was lacking. It could come back in a moment of inspiration but City have such riches that he needs to find form and fast.

And then there is Haaland.

It was, perhaps, inevitable that this extraordinary 22-year-old would have the final word against his former club but the manner in which he settled this game was special even for the Norway striker.

Haaland arrived at Manchester City accompanied by huge expectations but he has exceeded them. It is mid-September but already observers are running short of superlatives.

Guardiola, so used to being asked about Haaland that he pleaded for questions about John Stones before moving on to what is becoming his normal agenda, was even moved to make a comparison between the Norwegian’s goal and his great mentor and influence Johan Cruyff.

He likened his goal to a famous strike by Cruyff for Barcelona against Atletico Madrid, and for Guardiola to mention Haaland in the same sentence as the man who shaped his entire football philosophy is the highest praise.

This is why City were determined to beat the likes of Real Madrid to Haaland’s signature. They needed a point of difference, especially in this tournament where they have suffered so many “what might have been” moments, and Haaland is exactly that.

City were in danger of allowing this match to get away from them but they are carrying an unshakeable belief, bolstered by the fact a goal always seems only a moment away when Haaland is around. Add this to their list of recent comebacks.

Haaland’s father, former Manchester City midfield man Alf-Inge, looked ecstatic in the stands at Etihad Stadium, although his attempt to re-enact the goal possessed rather more enthusiasm than elegance.

City’s new young superstar had the final word – but Bellingham had delivered an eloquent statement as to why he can now longer be anything other than a starter for England.