If Borussia Dortmund's remarkable 2023 run is to continue at Chelsea on Tuesday, star midfielder Jude Bellingham, 19, will need to be front and center. Dortmund travels to London as European soccer's most in-form team, having chalked up 10 wins from 10 games to start 2023. Nine points behind Bundesliga leader Bayern Munich at Christmas, Dortmund has closed the gap and now sits second on goal difference.
A hard-fought 1-0 win in the first-leg game means Dortmund will reach the Champions League quarterfinals if the German club avoids defeat on Tuesday evening. While Marco Reus' likely inclusion in the starting lineup means Bellingham, captain in Dortmund's first leg victory, may not wear the armband at Stamford Bridge, the English teenager will unquestionably be one of his team's on-field leaders. In what has been a breakout season for the English teenager bookending an impressive Qatar World Cup showing, Bellingham has saved his best performances for the biggest stage. In six Champions League games this season -- two as captain -- Bellingham has scored four goals and added an assist. A starring performance in his Champions League debut in London, and just his third club match on English soil since arriving in Dortmund, will be the next milestone in an astonishing run for the policeman's son from Stourbridge.
Dortmund's bridge to success
While Bellingham's playing style has attracted no shortage of accolades, the teenager's leadership for club and country has been given particular praise. When England captain Harry Kane missed a late penalty that would have drawn the Three Lions level with France in the World Cup quarterfinals, Bellingham was the first to console the Tottenham striker, despite being the youngest member of the 26-man squad. Bellingham's performances on the world stage for England also earned him the rare honor of having a bridge in downtown Birmingham named after him. Designs for the 'Bellingham Bridge' were unveiled on Saturday, with the local council saying the construction would contribute "positively to the city's identity both during the day and night."
Dortmund manager Edin Terzic, who brought Bellingham into a three-man leadership group alongside Reus and World Cup winning defender Mats Hummels, has frequently described the precocious talent as "the oldest 19-year-old player in the world." In previous seasons, Dortmund has been criticized for placing too much responsibility in the hands of young players at a club frequently seen as having a fragile mentality. Bellingham has established himself as a nexus between Dortmund's experienced core and the club's group of talented youngsters. His maturity and leadership have helped the club keep its focus on the field.
Unlike last season, when the Erling Haaland transfer saga pushed Dortmund to the brink of distraction, whispers surrounding a possible summer exit for Bellingham -- and a potential 150-million-euro ($160 million) fee -- has not destabilized the club. While the Norwegian publicly complained that Dortmund were "putting pressure on me to make a decision about my future," Bellingham has frequently shut down speculation. After October's 0-0 home draw with Haaland's Man City that saw Dortmund through to the Champions League knockout rounds, a smiling Bellingham told reporters when asked about a possible move: "I'm not going to write your headlines for you."
- Homecoming for Bynoe-Gittens -
Even with a one-goal advantage, Dortmund's has been dealt a blow by the absence of lightning-fast forward Karim Adeyemi, who scored the only goal in the first game. In Adeyemi's place is another English teenage sensation, Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, who has made a habit of scoring crucial goals for Dortmund this season.
The London-born winger, who rejected the Chelsea academy to move north to join the Manchester City U15s, moved to Dortmund in September 2020. Bynoe-Gittens' first 18 months in Dortmund were interrupted by injury, but the 18-year-old has become an important part of manager Edin Terzic's rotation this season. His performances off the bench, coming on late to score in wins over Freiburg, Augsburg and Werder Bremen, has earned him first dibs at Adeyemi's spot in the starting XI. A strong performance from Bynoe-Gittens, along with a good showing from Bellingham, will go a long way to ensuring Dortmund's high-flying run continues.
© Agence France-Presse