All eyes were on Erling Haaland when Manchester City beat Borussia Dortmund in the slim Champions League first leg, but Jude Bellingham turned out to be a player for the present, not just the future, at Etihad.
Football’s hottest property, Haaland, arrived at Etihad, which in a few quarters had been billed as a potential audition despite Pep Guardiola insisting that a big money striker was not on his side this summer.
The colossal Norwegian had his moments when he shook Ruben Dias off with disdainful ease to shoot Ederson directly but more determinedly steered a ball in Marco Reus’s path to find a late leveler who proved short-lived.
His pace, his connection game and his movement impressed, but a player who was younger than 20 years of age stood out in this exciting first leg and certainly gave England boss Gareth Southgate, who only used him sparingly during the international break, further food for thought.
Bellingham was only the second-youngest player to start a Champions League quarter-finals – behind just Bojan for Barcelona against Schalke in April 2008 – but showed a performance that went beyond his tender age of 17 years and 281 days.
The Birmingham Academy graduate flourished on the big stage in his box-to-box role that was composed and tenacious on the ball.
He had the first real opportunity of the night when he made room in the area just for Ederson to push his left foot away.
In addition to clever late runs into the box, his athleticism and physicality were shown as he raced into goal and shot a ball off Ederson’s toes before knocking home. It was an equalizer that should have existed, just a reward for quick brains and quick feet, but referee Ovidiu Hategan inexplicably mistook it for a foul by brandishing a yellow card and finishing the goal.
“I definitely think I won the ball fairly,” Bellingham later told BT Sport. “It’s a bit frustrating at a time when there are so many televisions and cameras, but it’s football. You have to get on with it. Apparently I got my bolts up and caught the goalkeeper.”
Phil Foden would restore the advantage Kevin De Bruyne City had given with a recent win, but Dortmund will bring a priceless away goal to Germany for the second leg on April 14, and Bellingham played a key role in the move that Reus ended with dropping a shoulder before feeding Haaland with a flick of the outside of his boot.
“His all-round game is so good that he plays like a grown man,” said Owen Hargreaves. “He’s already a star and will be one of the best in a short time.”
Bellingham, who suffered from a bleeding knee “for chasing De Bruyne”, fought more duels than any other Dortmund team-mate and admitted that he was enjoying the challenge of facing one of the world’s top club competitions in Europe.
“I’m crazy now,” he said. “They are brilliant – one of the best teams in the world, if not the best. The way they move the ball and get it back after a loss is world class.
“You give De Bruyne time in the pits and time to put a cross and it will cause us damage; it worked but we will move on.
“I think we frustrated them well when they had the ball. Sometimes we had a hard time breaking down. We used the ball efficiently and it was a brilliant piece of play to use Marco and get a great finish.”
“It’s disappointing to collect so late, but we’ll take advantage of that away goal in the second leg and see what we can do. We have to do a little more next week and tell them the game and I think we will.” Do that.”
Nev, Carra got rid of Bellingham’s euro odds
Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville selected their squad for Euro 2020 on Monday evening, but – before the campaign in the Champions League – they disagreed on whether Bellingham should make the cut.
Neville left out Bellingham, but Carragher added him to his 23-man pick.
“Bellingham plays for Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and I think he will be a star of the future for England.
“He’s one of those guys in the squad that you don’t see as involved, but you put them in the squad for the future. Not to say he’s not good enough, he plays in the Champions League and is against Manchester City to be involved. “
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How you missed Utd Bellingham
Bellingham became the most expensive 17-year-old in history last summer after picking Borussia Dortmund against Manchester United.
Although clubs all over Europe revolved around the boy, who made his U15 debut in England at the age of 13, as Sky Sports News’s James Cooper wrote at the time, “it came down to a decision between Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund.
“United rolled out the red carpet for Bellingham and his family, who were impressed with their tour of the Aon Training Complex in Carrington, which was attended by an audience including Sir Alex Ferguson.
“United coaches and recruiting staff have monitored the midfielder’s development for nearly two years, building a close relationship with his family and their fellow Birmingham City coaches.
“Birmingham and Bellingham could have made more financially with the player who stayed in England and moved to Old Trafford but although he would have been part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad the competition for places would have been fierce.
“Borussia Dortmund have ‘predecessors’ in terms of the development of English talent. Jadon Sancho also joined the club at the age of 17 … Bellingham and his advisors would have seen Sancho as a blueprint for what might come next and me announced their decision to flop for the Bundesliga over the Premier League [was] until game time. “