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News

Man Utd’s Bellingham interest and the secrets of his rapid rise

Birmingham City starlet Jude Bellingham is one of the most highly-rated youngsters in England, so it makes sense that Manchester United are tracking his progress.

The Birmingham academy graduate has burst onto the scene this season, used extensively by coach Pep Clotet, gaining the kind of first-team experience very few players his age are afforded.

He’s already played more than 2,000 minutes in Blues’ championship campaign this season, having become the club’s youngest player when he was handed his debut 38 days after his 16th birthday in August.

He’s featured in 32 of Birmingham’s 37 league matches this season, starting 25, and there’s a consensus among pundits and Birmingham fans that he’s destined for big things.

“I always thought he is very mature and very focused – but he has to be,” Birmingham boss Clotet told the Mail amid transfer speculation earlier in the season.

“Because he cannot be thinking about other things than Birmingham City – and I am sure he is only thinking about Birmingham City.”

Players that had previously stood out in the Championship, such as Jack Grealish, James Maddison and Tammy Abraham, have all made the step up to perform at a similar standard in the Premier League, and it’s expected that Bellingham could follow.

But what would he bring to United? Here’s everything you need to know about him.

Versatility and adaptability

As is often the case with prodigious teenage talents, Bellingham is yet to nail down a settled position, having been used in a variety of areas by Clotet this season.

But most would fall under the umbrella of “attacking midfielder”, with Bellingham offensively minded and looking to make things happen in the final third.

Jude Bellingham of Birmingham City

He’s featured most often on the left for Birmingham this season – with a consistent run there before the season’s suspension – which could give a clue on where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might look to utilise him, with Daniel James likely to have more competition going forward.

Clotet has also played him on the opposite flank, in central midfield and even deeper at times.

Bellingham shares the adaptability possessed by United’s other targets, Jadon Sancho and Rabbi Matondo, though he’s usually been less of a wide forward and more of a traditional winger in Clotet’s usual 4-4-2 formation.

Style of play

Bellingham’s capability of making the step up at such a young age largely comes from his technical ability, with regular watchers noting his excellent first touch and capacity to keep the ball under pressure.

He’s not an out-and-out pace merchant like James, but he’s quick and can beat a man, while his intelligent off-the-ball movement sees him drift into space or help create it for others.

There’s no shortage of confidence, either, with Bellingham willing to dribble and take players on. He averages more than one successful dribble per game, attempting 1.8 per game.

He can also tackle, and he can be combative, with a vast and varied set of skills explaining why Clotet has often deployed him as a box-to-box player or an outright defensive midfielder.

Key stats

Bellingham has registered four goals and two assists from 32 appearances in the Championship this season. 

He’s a long way off challenging at the top of the charts in either metric, but it’s a respectable output in comparison to more high-profile and experienced players in similar positions.

For example, table-toppers Leeds United’s marquee signing Helder Costa – who joined from Wolverhampton Wanderers last summer – has three goals and two assists in the Championship this season, having featured for 434 minutes more than the Birmingham starlet.

It’s in many of the underlying metrics in which Bellingham impresses. In no one area is he among the league’s leaders, but looking at the overall data, it paints a picture of a versatile and well-rounded player.

He averages 2.3 tackles per game and 0.7 interceptions, but offensively he completes 1.1 dribbles per game, 1.2 shots and 0.7 key passes – the final pass before a team-mate shoots at goal, as per WhoScored.

He’s not an especially prolific passer, though, averaging only 22.9 per game with a success rate of 74.8%. 

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