Football Features

“Unbelievable” De Bruyne inspires Man City win while Bellingham makes his England claim

By Harry Edwards

Published: 23:01, 6 April 2021

Manchester City will take a lead into the Champions League quarter-final second leg thanks to a 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday night.

It wasn’t an easy game for Pep Guardiola’s side who looked to be leaving with an away-goal deficit until Phil Foden’s late winner secured their first ever win in the first leg of a Champions League quarter-final at the fifth attempt. Foden was one of the few Man City stars to shine on the night but the main man, and most important was, unsurprisingly, Kevin De Bruyne.

We all know how good De Bruyne is by now, anyone who doesn’t can’t have seen the Belgian play. But even after years of watching him, De Bruyne still finds ways to astonish everyone with his ability.

De Bruyne’s passing is always the focus for people’s praise, and we will get to that in a bit, but the 29-year-old is also very important for Man City in front of goal and it was he who opened the scoring. The goal came from a Dortmund mistake, with Emre Can giving the ball away in midfield, eventually falling to De Bruyne. He drove past a handful of Dortmund players before playing the ball out to Foden and continuing his run into the box, arriving at the perfect time to slot in after Riyad Mahrez’s cutback.

It continued De Bruyne’s ridiculous record in the Champions League this season, having been directly involved in six goals in just four games, scoring twice and recording four assists.

Now onto the passing.

De Bruyne attempted 56 passes, completing 50 for an accuracy of 89% but these weren’t just simple ones sideways and backwards, stat-padding as the haters would say. He played a match-high 12 passes into the box, seven of which found their man including a lovely pass to Ilkay Gundogan in the build up to Foden’s winner. On commentary for BT Sport, Jermaine Jenas uttered a simple yet very true assessment of De Bruyne following that pass, saying: “He’s just too good”.

His passing into the box also caught the eye of Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, watching from home, who dubbed the Belgian unbelievable and we can only agree. Passes like De Bruyne’s in the build up to Foden’s goal are the reason why people need to start paying more attention to pre-assists, and not just snubbing them as the newest pointless statistic. Without pre-assists, De Bruyne’s crucial part in the winner will eventually have been forgotten, with only Foden and Gundogan remembered in the history books (though that shouldn’t be taken away from them).

After the game, De Bruyne was asked about that pass and the Belgian was extremely modest about his abilities.

“I try to look up before I get the ball, so I try to get a picture of what is happening,” he said.

“I was seeing Phil and Gundo running to the second post so I tried to chip it and it was good that it went just above the defender. It was a good action, that’s all that matters.”

Playing things down a bit less was Owen Hargreaves, who highlighted just how important De Bruyne is with a big statement.

“Some of those moments he can have to affect the game like the second goal, then with the defence that they have they’re in a fabulous position to win this competition,” he said on BT Sport.

De Bruyne wasn’t the only midfielder to impress on the night, with a certain Dortmund teenager further growing his name. Already this week a lot has been said about England’s squad for Euro 2020 and who should, or shouldn’t, be included with a lot of debate. However, one opinion becoming increasingly unanimous is that Jude Bellingham should be one of Gareth Southgate’s midfielders.

Despite being on the losing side, Bellingham was excellent and his abilities continue to shock those who are less familiar with his game having paid little attention to the Championship or Bundesliga. This is a kid who is still just 17 years old but plays like a 27-year-old at his peak, making a Champions League quarter-final against Man City look as easy as a kickabout down the park with his mates.

Bellingham thought he had the perfect chance to equalise for Dortmund in the first half, closing down and winning possession from Ederson just outside the Man City area but, before he could put the ball into the back of the net, the referee blew his whistle for a foul. Replays showed there was no foul from Bellingham but because the whistle went before he had finished, there was no VAR to overrule the decision and the Englishman was carded.

As well as all the fans watching at home, Bellingham also earned high praise from Hargreaves, who will no doubt be following his progress closely as a former Bundesliga midfielder. And Hargreaves believes Bellingham won’t just be in Southgate’s England squad come June, but he could actually start.

“Technically good, physically good, everything, he’s got the lot,” Hargreaves said.

“He’s special, he really is. For a 17-year-old to be playing at this level is scary. The timing of his runs is smart, his decision-making is really good, he’s just got everything. He even had a bit more finesse that I thought he had, and I thought he had a lot of.

“That’s the thing he gives you and that’s what I say he might play for Gareth this summer because in terms of running from midfield he gives you a bit more power, with his instincts and his reading of the game.”

Bellingham did play a part in Marco Reus’ away goal though, beating his man and playing the ball to Erling Haaland in the build up, showing the many different ways he can influence the game.

“He’s 17. With the utmost respect to him, he shouldn’t be playing in a game like this,” Hargreaves continued.

“But because he’s so mature, he’s so good in every phase of the game he plays because every time he plays everybody trusts him, I thought it was one of the best players on the pitch from both teams. I can’t get over how much composure he has, how good his overall game is, in possession, out of possession. Real credit to him, I’m amazed at the level he’s playing at at 17.

For Hargreaves, the ideal England midfield trio, if Southgate goes for a three, is something along the lines of Bellingham and Declan Rice playing behind Mason Mount – a really balanced midfield that could do the Three Lions good. Whether or not that happens, we will need to wait and see. But Bellingham is the future.