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How can Serbia stop England's Jude Bellingham?

Jude Bellingham could be on his way to a Ballon d'Or this season
Jude Bellingham could be on his way to a Ballon d'Or this seasonProfimedia
Jude Bellingham (20) delivered stellar performances in his first season at Real Madrid, proving himself week after week on the world’s biggest stage and proving the doubters that said he wouldn’t make it at Real Madrid wrong. In his 42 games for the Galacticos in all competitions, the England international scored 23 goals and assisted 13, collecting 36 direct goal involvements.

Bellingham finished his first season in Spain with three titles, winning the Champions League and LaLiga, as well as the Spanish Supercopa with Real Madrid. Now, the superstar is headed to his third big tournament with the English national team, after EURO 2020 and the 2022 World Cup, and the youngster from Stourbridge is more than ready for it.

Bellingham made his debut for the English national team in November 2020 aged 17 years, four months and 14 days in a friendly game against Ireland, since then, he played 29 games for England and is now set to play at his second European Championship, after EURO 2020, when the Three Lions lost against Italy in the final.

In the EURO qualifiers, Bellingham only played in four of the eight games, with England winning three of the four games the youngster appeared in. In his 29 games for the English national team, Bellingham has scored a total of three goals and assisted another three, collecting four of his six goal contributions with the national team in his last four games.

With this and his outstanding season with Real Madrid, Bellingham is rightly considered as one of England’s biggest assets at the tournament and one of the biggest stars in Germany.

His numbers for the national team may not be as astonishing as on a club level at first sight, but his impact on England’s game is immense. In his 29 games for the Three Lions, Bellingham has a passing accuracy of 89%, winning 57% of his duels and recording 76 touches per 90 minutes when on the pitch. When taking a closer look at his heat map in competitive games for England, you can clearly see how important Bellingham is for England’s game. 

Jude Bellingham's heat map for England
Jude Bellingham's heat map for EnglandOpta

His role in the national team is a bit different than his role at Real Madrid, where he mostly plays as an attacking midfielder – in fact, last season, Bellingham played as an attacking midfielder in 69% of competitive games he appeared in on a club level, while he only played 9% of his competitive games for England as a number 10, mostly being used as a central midfielder (72%), and even playing as a defensive midfielder in 19% of his competitive games for England.

His less offensive role in the national team also explains the discrepancy between his goal contributions for Real Madrid and the national team.

Jude Bellingham's positioning for Real Madrid
Jude Bellingham's positioning for Real MadridOpta
Jude Bellingham's positioning for England
Jude Bellingham's positioning for EnglandOpta

On matchday one of the European Championship, England will face Serbia in Gelsenkirchen - with the two nations facing off against each other for the first time since Serbia re-emerged as an independent state in 2006.

In fact, since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, England have only faced Serbia and Montenegro once in 2003, winning 2-1 in an international friendly.  

Serbia are participating in their second big tournament in a row, after qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, finishing last in their group with Brazil, Cameroon and Switzerland.

Under their current coach Dragan Stojkovic, Serbia have been struggling defensively, managing to keep just two clean sheets in their eight qualifiers, and have now registered just five in 25 competitive games under Stojkovic, who took over in March 2021.

Serbia's shots conceded under Stojokovic
Serbia's shots conceded under StojokovicOpta

Even though Serbia may struggle defensively, there is one player who is more than eager to stop Bellingham and his fellow countrymen – 23-year-old Strahinja Pavlovic, who already has plenty of experience in the national team.

He already has 35 caps to his name since making his debut in September 2020, as well as four goals, including one at the last World Cup.In qualifying, Pavlovic won 67% of his duels and boasted an average of 98 touches per 90 minutes – the most of any Serbian in the qualification group – indicating how important his role is in his side’s build-up.

Among all outfielders to play at least 1,000 minutes in the Austrian Bundesliga this season, just three players could better his 64.1% duels success rate despite him contesting at least 177 more than that trio. Meanwhile, only two outfielders could better Pavlovic’s 71.9% win rate in aerials – his total of 153 was more than three times that of the pair above him as well.

With 35 caps already at the age of 23, there will only be three – Illia Zabarnyi, Bukayo Saka and Dominik Szoboszlai – players under 24 at EURO 2024 with more senior caps than Pavlovic, who will in all likelihood line up on the left of a back three, where he mostly operates when playing for the national team.

Strahinja Pavlovic's heat map for Serbia
Strahinja Pavlovic's heat map for SerbiaOpta

Serbia also managed to stay calm and composed when the opponent was pressing high in their own half, losing the ball in an area of 40 metres in front of their own goal only 32 games in eight qualifiers, with only Scotland (23) and Spain (30) even less in that area in the qualifying campaign.

From those 32 high turnovers against them, they allowed only five shots, and not a single one was converted into a goal for the opponent, so if England and Bellingham decide to press Serbia high into their own half, they will know how to distribute the ball and avoid errors.

Serbia's high turnovers
Serbia's high turnoversOpta

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