Real Madrid are entering a brand new era next season. With Karim Benzema off to Saudi Arabia, the last standing player from Mourinho’s 2011-12 season is officially gone. With Marco Asensio leaving as well, the shades of Real Madrid’s three-peat is beginning to slowly fade too.
But the future is different and it looks exciting.
Madrid wasted no time in sealing a deal for Bellingham, one of the most exciting midfield talents in the world at the moment. The 19-year-old former Birmingham prodigy completed his €103m move to Real Madrid and became just the sixth Englishman to play for Real Madrid. He became Dortmund’s second highest outgoing transfer of all time behind Ousmane Dembele.
The talent has been clear since his early days at Birmingham and now at Dortmund. Such was his impact that Birmingham decided to retire his jersey number (22) following his move to the Bundesliga at just 17.
One of the biggest appeals of Bellingham is his wide-ranging of skill set. The young Englishman is capable of offering different solutions to on-field situations. He can add goals, progression, and incisiveness alike due to his technical excellence, explosiveness and game awareness.
Bellingham is a right-footed central midfielder whose best comes in a midfield three in an advanced 8 role. The midfielder has shown an impeccable understanding of dribbling in tight spaces, combination play, and spatial awareness in the final third. His defensive intensity in counter-pressing situations is key for a side looking to press high up. While not an out and out ball winner, Bellingham does a lot of front foot defending.
Still just 19, he has levelled up in every season with further room for improvement as he matures physically and tactically.
Let’s take a look at his player profile from a data perspective.
Bellingham isn’t really a high volume passer nor is he the most creative midfielder. His involvement shoots up as you move higher up the pitch but he isn’t really a controller or tempo setter like Toni Kroos or a chance creation machine like Kevin de Bruyne in midfield. While a very adept passer, his best arrives in a slightly high tempo situation, where he can play quick passes in tight spaces or break lines with his ball carrying and dribbling.
His passing game has gone up a notch with every season. He is attempting more passes, and more of it is targeted to penetrate into dangerous areas. His volume of attempted passes has increased from 48.9 to 54.9, while passes into the final third have almost doubled, going up from 3.45 in 2021-22 to 6.49 this season. His progressive passing numbers have almost doubled this season, shooting to 8.43 in 2022-23 from 4.65 in 2021-22.
The 19-year-old midfielder is capable of being adventurous with the length of his passing and his distribution over long ranges is good enough. Looking at his progressive pass map, we see a lot of passes through the central corridor and towards the flanks for the supporting player to latch onto. He is certainly eyeing to thread the needle and break lines with his passing which leads to a slightly lower passing accuracy.
His pass completion is not very refined with career average standing at just ~80%. His pass selection and weight on the ball in the final third can slightly improve as he shows proclivity to be incisive with the ball at his feet.
This increase in numbers coincides with a role and side change at Dortmund along with his development. The Englishman played on the right side of the midfield this season compared to largely on the left in the previous one. He has grown in influence on the pitch, his open-play touches have gone up to 69.9 per 90 this season compared to 63.2 in the previous season. He was a bigger influence in possession now for Dortmund with more freedom and is still improving. This ability to adapt to different needs makes him a great asset for the side.
Bellingham’s ball carrying is one of his biggest strengths. At Dortmund only Matt Hummels (534) had more ball carries than Bellingham (525) during the 2022-23 season. While only Donyell Malen (75) had more progressive carries than the England international (67). His long strides from deeper positions help in moving possession into the final third and makes him a threat in transition with his ability in tight spaces allowing him to break through set defences.
Looking at his ball carrying tendencies, Bellingham does two things: 1) picking the ball up in his own half and carrying it into the final third (the longer ball carries); and 2) The short incisive carries that penetrate the opposition penalty area, especially targeting the half-spaces on either side. The latter is directly dangerous combined with his take-on quality to generate space to shoot or pass and highlights how he retains his threat from either side; while his passing and chance creation from these situations (and in general) can be better.
At 186 cm, Bellingham has a big frame and is very agile on the ball. The tall and lanky stature doesn’t take away from his ability in tight spaces and he has a fairly refined radius of turn when in possession. He is explosive off the start and can take players onwhile shielding the ball with his body, aiding him to generate separation. His use of his body to dribble past players while maintaining balance on his carries is impressive.
His dribbling is a big asset in his press-resistance, as he can weave through opposition defences. He has good change in direction and uses body feints (shoulder drops especially) to generate space for himself. This makes him really effective in and around the penalty box, and in the central areas, he can offer solutions to breaking a deep block with his dribbling ability.
His 157 take-ons at Dortmund were the most of any players at the club and despite the areas he attempts these take-ons in, he maintains a success rate of 57%, getting the better of his opponents frequently. His volume of take-ons has gone up massively this season, attempting 5.05 take-ons per 90 compared to just 3.1 in the previous season, all of this while having a similar success rate.
A large chunk of the take-ons happen in the central and half-space region in the final third, as is evident in the take-on map for this season, which makes it all the more impressive and valuable.
Goalscoring and shooting
Bellingham finished the season with eight goals, second highest at Dortmund, and picked up another four assists. His direct goal contributions have increased every season. He is able to generate a lot of power in his shots while being able to generate the necessary space for his shots. These qualities combined with his ability in tight spaces makes him a threat from outside the box. He has composure in front of goal and in 1v1 situations, allowing him to be a great threat in behind or with his trailing run from midfield.
His shot volume has gone up as well, as he has taken up more responsibilities at Dortmund this season. He is now averaging 2.21 shots per 90 compared to 1.42 last season. The volume increase has come with a slight improvement on the areas he is shooting from, prioritizing getting shots from closer to goal now. This is why his average chance quality has remained largely the same despite an increase in shooting volume.
His goal threat is a major appealing factor for Madrid in their current situation as they would be needing goals from midfield to compensate for the loss of Benzema. While he is good at finishing off chances that present themselves, he isn’t much of a direct chance creator with his passing. He can facilitate offensive play but isn’t the one creating shots directly often.
Intangibles and concerns
Beyond the obvious technical caliber Bellingham is a ‘mentality monster’ as well. The English midfielder is a leader, already captaining Dortmund at 19. The youngster can be seen rising to the occasion and performing in big games. He oozes composure in high pressure situations. He is a big personality on the field and will probably grow in stature with time.
One slight concern with the Englishman is the mileage teams have got out of him already. He has played 2500+ league minutes in three out of his four senior seasons so far. At 19 he has already played over 13k minutes in all competitions at club level. While this suggests amazing availability, that is a lot of minutes on the field in his teenage years.
While his injury track record isn’t bad so far, he has impeccable availability. Although his recent knee issue required a surgery (one he is still recovering from). His recovery and the mileage in the upcoming seasons will determine the longevity and impact Bellingham will have in the future. Managing his workload will be key.
Another concern is the clear lack of a controller in Madrid’s midfield. With Eduardo Camavinga, Fede Valverde and Bellingham all very much inclined towards carrying the ball in high tempo situations, Madrid might lack the ability to control games and risk them turning transitional. With the right tactical scheme to generate transition situations, this might not seem like a big issue for most parts but would be key in bigger matchups.
With him repping the number of one of his idols, Zinedine Zidane, at Madrid, there is an air of that galactico era with the Englishman. As one of the hottest prospects in world football joins Madrid we Madridistas can chant and hope for one thing.
“Hey Jude, take this midfield and bring it to the next level!”