Why Liverpool Need to go All-Out to Sign Jude Bellingham
By Tom Pople
Jude Bellingham has become a household name in world football at just 19 years old, but he has been a star for years now. Bellingham caught attention in 2019, becoming Birmingham City’s youngest-ever player at just 16 years and 38 days. 41 appearances and 4 goals later, and after picking up both the Championship apprentice of the year and EFL young player of the season, Bellingham got himself a move away to Borussia Dortmund, a club known for appreciating and improving young talent, for what is now a steal at just £25m (with rumoured add ons). Bellingham then broke the youngest scoring record at Dortmund, scoring on his debut in the DFB Pokal, becoming the clubs’ youngest scorer aged 17 years and 77 days. The mercurial midfielder is still at the German outfit, having played 76 times since his debut, scoring 7 times. Jude has also represented England at every level since the u15s, and at the age of just 19 has already played 19 times for the ‘Three Lions’ (at the time of writing), scoring his first goal in England's opening game of the 2022 World Cup against Iran.
"Danil Krugovoy and Jude Bellingham 2020" by Vyacheslav Evdokimov is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Emerging in the crop of elite young midfielders with the likes of Pedri, Gavi and Eduardo Camavinga, Bellingham came second in the Kopa Trophy award in 2021, behind Pedri. At 6’1, Bellingham is an athletic, dynamic box-to-box midfielder; known as much for his late runs into the box as he is for his defensive work. Although 6’1, Bellingham ranks in the top 96% of midfielders in Europe’s top 5 leagues for dribbles completed at 1.8 per game, showing that despite his height, he’s an extremely technical player, and can pull off the cute touches and plays that you’d expect from someone smaller than him. Furthermore, the 19-year-old excels at progressing the ball up the pitch and creating fantastic attacking scenarios. Again, when compared to other elite midfielders across Europe’s top 5 leagues, Jude ranks in the top 90% of 5/7 of FBREF’s attacking metrics with: in the top 93% for non-penalty goals per 90, 94% of non-penalty xG (expected goals) per 90, 91% of total shots per 90, 90% for assists per 90 and 93% for combined non-penalty xG and expected assists. Additionally, he also ranks in the top 96% for touches in the box per 90, and at the time of writing has had the most touches in the box in the Bundesliga out of any Dortmund player. Of course, these numbers are just that, numbers; but a simple YouTube search of the midfielder shows multiple high-quality compilations of skills, goals and unbelievable footwork that show why he is so highly regarded.
So how would he fit in at Liverpool, and how would he make Klopp’s side better? Bellingham would slot perfectly into the left or right centre midfield in a Liverpool 4-3-3, or even in a slightly deeper right or left centre mid in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2. The classic Liverpool 4-3-3 seems to be the best bet though. Although Klopp has experimented with moving away from the formation that has bought him so much success in recent weeks, a player of Bellingham’s calibre would slot right into the midfield. When looking at centre midfield partnerships in a 4-3-3, Klopp normally has three distinct roles: a holding midfielder, almost always Fabinho, who sits at the base of the midfield, breaking up play and destroying opposition attacks, a playmaker in the likes of Thiago or Naby Keita, who utilise their passing range and tactical nous to turn over plays and set up counter-attacks, and a more natural box to box midfielder, with Jordan Henderson occupying this role consistently since becoming a mainstay in the team and donning the captain's armband. Unfortunately, this midfield has struggled to find legs this season, with every first-team midfielder except Fabinho having missed games this season through injury, meaning the likes of 36-year-old James Milner have played 12 games in the Premier League this season. Although a reliable player, and a remarkable professional, it can be argued that a club of Liverpool’s size and stature can look for more both in terms of starters and off the bench.
The Henderson role looks like a ready-made fit for Jude Bellingham, and Klopp is not shy to give first-team minutes to young players, having played 19-year-old Harvey Elliott in 23 games across all competitions (including 6 in the Champions League) this season, for example, it’s not like Jude will feel as if he is not ready to start regularly for the Merseyside club. It may not be fair to discard club captain Henderson straight out of the team though, though, with at least one of Thiago or Naby Keita seemingly injured at one point or another, squad depth is key, especially with the increasing number of games played per season. Should Liverpool decide to pursue Bellingham, the midfielder's defensive actions will need to improve, only ranking over 80% in one defensive metric on FBREF, and although Fabinho is an excellent holding midfielder, the height and width Liverpool’s fullbacks bring means that there are often overloads on the flanks, meaning Bellingham will be expected to cover more ground and be more defensively aware than he currently is at Dortmund. An excellent article by Alejandro Arroyo of Driblab can be found here that further analyses Bellingham’s style of play and the best club for his development: https://www.driblab.com/placer/jude-bellinghams-future-where-would-he-best-fit-in/
It is not out of the realm of possibility that the highly-rated youngster joins Liverpool in the coming years. As the club has been listed up for sale it is unlikely any high-profile transfers will be made in the January window, despite the cover being needed for midfield, especially for a player that will easily fetch above £100m on the market. Although Liverpool’s midfield is world-class, they are not getting younger; Henderson at 32, Milner at 36, Fabinho at 29, Keita at 27 and Thiago at 31 make up the bulk of Liverpool’s midfield and with the high-intensity way of Klopp’s style of play, questions are starting to be asked of how long these players can keep up the intensity. Having gone on record to say that Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard is one of his heroes, having years of Champions League experience at the age of 19, and having the chance to develop into of the best midfielders in world football, whilst winning trophies and becoming a mainstay in this Liverpool squad- this is why Liverpool should sign Jude Bellingham.