Midfield wizard Jude Bellingham, 19, must be front and center if Borussia Dortmund’s 2023 run of form is to continue at Chelsea on Tuesday.
Dortmund will travel to London as the best team in European football with ten wins from ten games until the start of 2023.
Dortmund, who were nine points behind leaders Bayern Munich at Christmas, have closed the gap and are now second on goal difference.
A 1-0 win in the first leg means Dortmund are through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League if they don’t lose on Tuesday night.
Although the inclusion of Marco Reus means that the captain from Dortmund’s first win may not wear Bellingham’s armband at Stamford Bridge, the English teenager is sure to be one of the leaders on the pitch.
In a breakthrough season for the English teenager who booked an impressive showing at the Qatar World Cup, Bellingham saved his best performances for the biggest stage.
In six Champions League games this season, including two as captain, Bellingham has four goals and four assists.
A Champions League debut in London and his third club game on English soil since joining Dortmund will be the next stage in an incredible run for the son of a Stourbridge policeman.
While Bellingham’s style of play has been met with plaudits, the youngster’s leadership for club and country has been particularly lauded.
Bellingham was the first to console the Tottenham striker despite being the youngest member of the 26-man squad when England captain Harry Kane missed a last-gasp penalty to draw the Three Lions level with France in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Bellingham’s performances for England on the world stage earned him the rare honor of having a bridge named after him in Birmingham city centre.
Plans for the Bellingham Bridge were unveiled on Saturday, with the local council saying the construction would “add positively to the town’s identity both day and night”.
Dortmund manager Edin Terjic, who brought Bellingham into a three-man leadership team alongside Reus and World Cup-winning defender Mats Hummels, has often described the Birmingham City youngster as “the oldest 19-year-old player in the world”.
In previous seasons, Dortmund have been criticized for placing too much responsibility in the hands of young players at a club often criticized for their fragile mentality.
Bellingham has established himself as a link between Dortmund’s experienced core and the club’s talented youth troupe.
His maturity and leadership have helped the club focus on the pitch.
Unlike last season, when the transfer of Erling Holland brought Dortmund to the brink of concern, whispers of Bellingham’s possible summer exit and €150 million fee have not destabilized the club.
Bellingham has often shut down the speculation, though the Norwegian has publicly complained that Dortmund “pressured me into making a decision about my future”.
“I’m not going to write your headlines for you,” a smiling Bellingham told reporters after a 0-0 home draw with Haaland’s Man City, who guided Dortmund to the Champions League knockout stages in October.
Despite holding a one-goal lead, Dortmund’s hopes against Chelsea were hit by the absence of lightning-quick striker Karim Adeyemi, who scored the only goal in the first leg.
In Adeyemi’s place is another young English sensation, Jamie Byno-Gittens, who has made a habit of scoring important goals for Dortmund this season.
The London winger, who rejected a move north from Chelsea’s academy to join Manchester City U15s, moved to Dortmund in September 2020.
Bayno-Gittens’ first 18 months at Dortmund were interrupted by injury, but the 18-year-old has become a key part of manager Edin Terjic’s rotation this season.
His performances off the bench to score in wins over Freiburg, Augsburg and Werder Bremen earned him his first win in Adeyemi’s starting XI.
A strong performance from Bayno-Gittens and a good showing from Bellingham will go a long way to securing Dortmund’s top flight.