Dortmund-Chelsea sees two potential Premier League staples do battle in Bellingham and Fernandez

By Sports Desk February 14, 2023

Borussia Dortmund host Chelsea for the first leg of a Champions League tie that sees two of the world's best prospects go head-to-head.

Jude Bellingham and Enzo Fernandez have a combined age of just 41. Between them, the pair have already stacked up 278 senior club appearances.

Bellingham has played 161 times for Dortmund and Birmingham City, while Fernandez has racked up 117 appearances across spells at Defensa y Justicia, River Plate, Benfica and now Chelsea.

As good as the duo have been for their clubs, they elevated themselves into the "must buy" category for Europe's elite sides with their performances at last year's World Cup.

Fernandez was named the tournament's best young player as he played a key role in Argentina claiming their third world crown, and Chelsea were determined to get their man.

While their efforts early in the January window were frustrated, Chelsea eventually agreed to pay Benfica the full amount of Fernandez's £106.8million (€121m) buy-out clause as he became the crown jewel of their spending spree.

Bellingham, meanwhile, asserted himself as a crucial player in Gareth Southgate's England side, with the 19-year-old's displays in Qatar reminiscent of when Wayne Rooney starred at Euro 2004.

Liverpool, Manchester City and Real Madrid are said to be battling it out for Bellingham, should Dortmund decide to cash in on their talisman at the end of the season.

Should Bellingham be destined for a move back to England, then Wednesday's clash between Dortmund and Chelsea at Signal Iduna Park could just hint at what is to come from two potential Premier League staples.

Lighting up the world stage

While Bellingham was always likely to be on the radar of Europe's biggest sides regardless of whether he had a great World Cup or not, his performances for England will likely do Dortmund's bank balance no harm.

If Bellingham's fine showings in the groups had hinted at his immense talent, then his performance in England's 3-0 victory over Senegal in the last 16 was a coming of age performance on the international stage.

Bellingham did not score but was heavily involved in all three of England's goals to mark him becoming the only teenager, after Michael Owen in 1998, to start a World Cup knockout game for England.

He went off in the 76th minute of that tie having provided an assist – the youngest player to do so for England in a World Cup game since 1966 – and completed 30 of his 33 passes (91 per cent), with eight of those attempted in the final third.

Across the tournament, only Luke Shaw (16) contributed to more open-play shot-ending sequences than Bellingham (15) did for the Three Lions.

 

Fernandez, on the other hand, has certainly had the limelight thrust on him due to his excellent World Cup.

Not that he had not been excellent at Benfica. However, his stunning goal in Argentina's group stage win over Mexico led to him being a constant starter for the rest of the tournament.

In the final, Fernandez led all players for touches (118), successful passes (77) and tackles (10). His tally of tackles was the most of any player in a World Cup showpiece match since Gennaro Gattuso in 2006 (15).

Combative off the ball, Fernandez won 40 of his 68 duels in the tournament (58.8 per cent), and also proved dependable in possession, completing 410 passes, with his accuracy of 87.6 bettered by only six of his team-mates to play at least 90 minutes in Qatar.

Fernandez played more successful long passes (16) than any other Argentina player, while only Nicolas Otamendi, Cristian Romero and Rodrigo de Paul played more forward passes than his 116.

Thriving at club level

As previously noted, Fernandez had impressed with Benfica before carrying that form into the World Cup.

Only Ricardo Horta (126) had been involved in more open-play shot-ending sequences than Fernandez (122) in Portugal's Primeira Liga prior to the latter's move to Stamford Bridge.

Fernandez ranked third in the competition for goal-ending sequence involvements (14), second for expected goals (xG) sequence involvement (18.8) and second for goal build-up involvements (eight).

From a role at the left-side of Benfica's central midfield, Fernandez was also key to starting moves during his half-season in Portugal. In the Primeira Liga alone he started 23 shot-ending sequences (league rank third), four goal-ending sequences (second) and accumulated 4.8 xG from moves he started (first).

Fernandez has taken little time to settle into the Premier League. He assisted Joao Felix's first Chelsea goal with a wonderfully weighted ball in Saturday's 1-1 draw with West Ham and his tally of 171 passes across the last two games – only four top-flight midfielders attempted more.

 

No Chelsea midfielder won more duels (12), tackles (nine, six of which he won), touches (209), carries (43), or forward passes (29). Just Fred, of Manchester United, has won more tackles in the last two league games.

The 22-year-old might have a huge price tag to live up to, but he has certainly proved to be one of the most efficient all-round midfielders in Europe this term.

Right up there with him in that regard is Bellingham, who has been let off the leash somewhat from an attacking standpoint at Dortmund this season.

With BVB no longer able to rely on Erling Haaland goals, Bellingham has been tasked with arriving into the box late to supplement their attack.

Bellingham has featured 27 times for Dortmund this season, second only to Nico Schlotterbeck. He is their top scorer with 10 goals, second for assists (six) and third for chances created (28). He boasts an impressive 19.2 per cent shot conversion rate and has outperformed his xG (7.6).

More of an attacking threat than Fernandez, Bellingham has the other side of the game too: 388 duels is 172 more than any of his club-mates, and he has won 225 of them (Schlotterbeck ranks second with 144); the same goes for tackles, with the teenager attempting 70 and winning 39 – both team highs.

 

A sign of what's to come

Fernandez is the most expensive signing in Premier League history, and should Bellingham join him in England's top tier next season, it seems likely as though the Birmingham boy would take that record.

They don't play the same role and shouldn't be expected to. Bellingham's game has gone up another level since he was given the freedom and responsibility to provide more attacking threat, and Fernandez can pull the strings from deep.

Bellingham's all-action style mixed with his sharp turn of pace makes for a player that would seem perfectly suited to Liverpool or City, while Graham Potter will be expected to build around Fernandez for years to come – the Argentine did, after all, sign an eight-and-a-half-year deal with Chelsea.

One thing is clear. Bellingham and Fernandez are already outstanding players and both are destined to reach the very top.

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