Yaya Toure: Jude Bellingham’s game intelligence and passing are unbelievable

I can’t wait to watch the World Cup quarter-final between France and England on Saturday, because I think they have two young players who are at the top of the tournament: Kylian Mbappe and Jude Bellingham.

Bellingham has been the star of all the England games for me. Sometimes he scores, sometimes he passes, and his box-to-box timing is impeccable. He is in good form and comes to this tournament with the right confidence from Borussia Dortmund. You can tell he sees himself as potentially the best player in the world, and wants to show that at the World Cup.

I hope the media is careful with him because we saw a similar situation a few years ago with Dele Alli, who sometimes struggled to be presented as a leader for club and country. It is important for everyone to protect Bellingham for his development, as it is clear he has a bright and bright future with England.

His mentality — his focus, his determination to win — at 19 is abnormal. In my career I’ve mostly seen it in South American players, with Javier Mascherano (Argentina) being a good example, but I’ve also seen it in Gavi from Spain at this tournament. More young English players need what Bellingham has.

My favorite image from the game against Senegal is him waiting to celebrate with Jordan Henderson after his pass for the first goal. It was brilliant.

Bellingham’s playmaking and passing skills are also unbelievable. You can clearly see how he created England’s second goal against Senegal. He shows his desire to get to the ball first, then shows his strength when other defenders try to block him in a bad way as he runs at speed.

When you look at the progression of the counterattack, Bellingham uses Harry Kane as cover to drive the ball up the field. At first it wasn’t clear, but as the action flowed forward, he began to see it before him.

When you go through these situations, you’re always looking to see where the excess is.

Bellingham is such a smart player that he knows Phil Foden runs to his left, and Kane runs from left to right. You can see two Senegalese defenders closing in from his right, and at that point the smart player does what he does: he turns his body and looks to play the ball to where his team is dominant.

Maybe 50 percent of players will play a simple pass to Kane, but a pass to Foden is the one that will open the game properly. Bellingham tried to step on his left leg, because he knew the overload was going to happen. Kane converted his run because of Foden, and he allowed Bellingham two runs:

If Bellingham stays on his right foot, the last defender can try to anticipate a pass to Kane. But by coming to his left, the defender cannot ignore Foden. That is untenable. I play as a centre-back for Barcelona and we are always in front, but when we counter-attack, a midfielder who can pass with both feet is more difficult to control than a midfielder who can pass with one foot.

You have to give credit to Bellingham and the movement around it. Foden doesn’t go in and Kane tries to distract the defender. He used his left foot to show Foden that he was going to get the ball, and Kane knew he could continue his run as he was no match for the last defender:

Foden with one touch saw the space and gave Kane the opportunity to control and shoot, instead of passing in front of him and giving Edouard Mendy the opportunity in goal to cut him off.

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I can watch that action over and over again, because it’s a perfect example of a counterattack.

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Bellingham isn’t just dangerous with the ball at his feet. He understands that running away from the ball is more important than running with it. When you have the ball, everyone focuses on you, but running in behind, running unselfishly, can move defenders and create space for teammates in the right position.

A lot of people never understood the Barcelona team I played for. They always talk about tiki-taka, but it’s not just tiki-taka. It’s about movement behind. The moves are impressive, well-timed, and selfless. Every run opens a gap — that’s football.

Bellingham’s goal against Iran showed his unselfish runs to create space.

At the beginning of the movement, he made a very dangerous run. You see the space — Iran’s defense has stopped and the run is brilliant. If the ball is played through, he is not offside.

But he didn’t stop there. He went back in. Harry Maguire can go straight to Mason Mount and England have three men against two Iranian defenders:

The ball went to the left and it was a lack of communication in the Iranian defence, but Bellingham got himself into the right position at the right moment. Although the cross is lower, defenders face problems:

That goal reminds me of Gerrard, Lampard, Scholes; maybe more Scholes — a big player who sniffs out an opportunity, sees a gap in the defense and just walks into it. This type of player forces opponents to not only worry about the striker. They also have Bellingham to worry about, as his run from the second line has been stellar.

In the past we saw England with midfielders like Lampard or Gerrard who could shoot from long range. Now we see players like Bellingham with different characteristics in terms of physicality and in terms of technical ability, close to big players from other leading countries. His vision is clear and he is intelligent. It is not easy to have this vision at the speed of the game.

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When I see the runs he makes to allow his teammates to open up plays, or when he has the ball, he doesn’t look 19. He looks like a player who has been playing at a high level for a long time. Full credit to Birmingham and Dortmund for his development — Dortmund have developed players brilliantly.

France will be a big test for England. They are the top team, the top team, the winners of the 2018 World Cup, and they are very organized. Very difficult to break them down in their 4-4-2. Individually they have quality and collectively they are very strong. They’ve been playing with each other for six, seven years and they have that consistency.

Mbappe is in red-hot form but so is Bellingham. That’s head-to-head, because those two players can open the game. His moves will be crucial, and England need their other special talents, such as Foden and Bukayo Saka, to emerge and more experienced players to guide them.

This game will determine whether they can believe in winning the World Cup. I want Bellingham to go far in this competition because I am very impressed with it. He will be one of the best midfielders in the world and he is already showing his talent.

We have a lot more to see from him, I’m 100 percent sure of that.

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Bellingham turned into a game and a head, a prodigy equipped to handle the hype

(Main graphic — photo: Getty Images/design: Eamonn Dalton)



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