The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at three ways Borussia Dortmund can line up with new signing Jude Bellingham next season.
After months of speculation, Borussia Dortmund have finally officiated the signing of Jude Bellingham. The young midfielder joins the Bundesliga club from Birmingham City in a deal worth up to €25 million.
The 17-year-old would become the next English whizkid to snub Premier League clubs like Manchester United, in favour of a move to Bundesliga, following the footsteps of his new teammate Jadon Sancho. But, can he replicate the success of his compatriot at Borussia Dortmund next season?
A central midfielder by trade, Bellingham is an attack-minded player, who is blessed with technical prowess and quick-feet, allowing him to nestle through tight spaces. So essentially, he is quite versatile in the attacking side of the game as the youngster can operate in a wider attacking role, though not necessarily as a fully-fledged winger.
At Birmingham this season, Bellingham has primarily featured in a central midfield, where he has played 19 out of 40 matches. But, former manager Pep Clotet was not shy of using the youngster in a wider attacking role, with 17 appearances coming from either side of the flanks.
Here, at the Hard Tackle, we will take a look at three ways BVB can line-up with Bellingham as the youngster looks to make his impression in the Bundesliga.
4-2-3-1: Back to the basics?
Borussia Dortmund have always been fond of using a 4-2-3-1, initially used by the great Jurgen Klopp during his time in Ruhrpott. The two central midfielders would operate in a leeway oriented pressing scheme, with the number ten, as well as the wingers acting in a narrow and compact shape to quickly close down the opposition ball-carrier.
The number ten position in a 4-2-3-1 is particularly interesting as the gameplan usually tends to revolve around that player. Mesut Ozil, for one, made his name in the Premier League by flourishing in such role under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.
Bellingham could perhaps feature in a similar role, at the expense of Marco Reus, who has had a poor injury record, having notably missed a chunk of the 2019/20 Bundesliga campaign.
The young midfielder should provide the flair in the number ten role, operating in the half-spaces and easing Dortmund’s transition with his ability to nestle through tight spaces. In fact, he could indeed be an ideal cog in this role as he can effortlessly evade the opposing press, either by passing or dribbling.
Bellingham could be supported by the double-pivot consisting of Emre Can and Axel Witsel. These two are excellent when it comes to providing the composer and solidity. And especially against a lower-end team, who like to defend in deep blocks, the new signing could enjoy a lot of freedom in the final third.
4-3-3: A more traditional method
The 4-3-3 formation is pretty similar to the 4-2-3-1, especially in modern-day football when numbers tens like Christian Eriksen, Giovani Lo Celso or even Bruno Fernandes do tend to drop deep anyway.
For Bellingham, however, this formation could make a huge difference at Borussia Dortmund – simply because of the fact that it could allow him to feature in his preferred central midfield role.
Indeed, the Englishman could form the three-man midfield alongside Witsel and Marco Reus, whose ability to track back, defend, win possession back and attack, makes him an ideal fit in that additional midfield slot – something Klopp has used time and time again at Liverpool.
Bellingham could use his superior ball-carrying abilities to actually become much more effective than someone like Witsel, who, instead, can provide the physical presence in the middle third of the pitch, thus creating an excellent combination that could only add more balance to Borussia Dortmund’s midfield play.
It can also turn into a 4-4-2 with Reus joining Erling Haaland upfront. Bellingham is, in fact, is quite familiar with this setup, which was often used by Clotet at Birmingham City. The midfielder’s tenacious nature, especially when it comes to winning back possession should tine in well with the second bank of four, although Dortmund’s possession-based game is not exactly designed for a compact 4-4-2 shape.
3-4-3: Take The Yellow Pill (or not)
The narrative that Borussia Dortmund is an ideal club for Bellingham’s development might not hold true this time around, simply because of the fact that he is a midfielder.
Attackers like Sancho are on and off, so managers often get a lot of opportunities as well as the scope to rotate their squad more easily in the offensive unit when compared to midfielders.
Especially when it comes to Favre, who often tends to retain the core of the side, it is reasonable to think that Bellingham may actually find it difficult to get regular game-time, thus not following the footsteps of Sancho but Mahmoud Dahoud.
In fact, it is the likely scenario that Favre could retain the 3-4-3 formation next season, with Witsel and Can operating in the double-pivot while Thomas Meunier and Raphael Guerreiro act as wing-backs. Brandt should start in attack, with Reus also a potential starter.
That means Bellingham has very little scope, not only in midfield but also in the alternate areas of the pitch. His only hope, therefore, is if Dortmund consider Can in a central defensive role next season, which would allow the youngster to compete with Delaney or possibly (but unlikely) Brandt for a place in the first-team.
A lot could depend on little or major factors like the future of Sancho or even coach Favre. But one thing is for certain – Bellingham has the talent to prove himself in the Bundesliga, but he could very well turn into a failure if he is not able to make full use of his limited opportunities in the first-team.