An intriguing midfield contest between two of the best young players in world football awaits in Dortmund on Wednesday as Enzo Fernandez and Jude Bellingham prepare to go head-to-head at Signal Iduna Park.
This match-up has been brought about by our acquisition of the much in-demand Enzo in January following a fantastic start to his Benfica career, and then of course those dynamic and decisive displays to help Argentina to World Cup glory.
Bellingham was another breakout star on the international stage in Qatar, one of England’s best players as they reached the quarter-finals before narrowly losing to eventual finalists France.
Now, as Enzo and Bellingham prepare to face one another in Germany, we look at the statistics from their respective Champions League group-stage campaigns to try to establish how the pair could affect the first leg, which includes stopping their opposite number producing their best work…
Different midfield missions
Let’s start with an overview of their positional role and appearance data.
Borussia Dortmund have consistently deployed a 4-3-3 formation in the Champions League, with Bellingham one of the more advanced of the three midfielders, switching between the left and right side ahead of the sitting Emre Can. Think Frank Lampard during Jose Mourinho's first spell as Chelsea boss, with Claude Makelele behind him.
Benfica meanwhile opted for a 4-2-3-1 shape, with Enzo one of the deeper midfielders. His role was generally to orchestrate the build-up of Benfica’s attacks and put the brakes on those of their opponents, which in the group stage included Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.
In contrast, Bellingham was used in a more advanced role to affect games in the final third, something he did to great effect with goals in each of Dortmund’s first four group stage games. With a combined Expected Goal figure of just 0.95, Bellingham was clearly clinical.
Although Enzo didn’t find the net in the group stage (his xG was 0.48), he did score twice in the four Champions League qualifiers Benfica had to navigate to make it to the group stage.
Enzo the pass master
Both Enzo and Bellingham played in five of their team’s six games, the latter on the pitch for 21 more minutes.
The Argentinean retained possession better than Bellingham in every facet, be it overall pass completion rate (91 per cent vs 84 per cent), pass completion in the opposition half (85 per cent vs 80 per cent) or their own half (96 per cent vs 86 per cent), as well as long-ball success rate (82 per cent vs 65 per cent).
Enzo completed 295 successful passes in his five games, compared to Bellingham’s 205. That is partly explained by our man’s deeper position, but also his outstanding ability to find a team-mate even in tight spaces.
Equally dominant in duels
Both players recorded one assist apiece, although Bellingham did make more key passes – those that set up a chance – by four to two, and more dribbles, four to three in that instance.
Looking at the defensive side of the game, there is clearly little to choose between them. Enzo won seven tackles to Bellingham’s five, and per 90 minutes attempted 3.8 tackles compared to the England man’s 1.6.
Bellingham made marginally more interceptions (10 to nine) and clearances (four to two) than Enzo, perhaps helped by his taller frame, but when the numbers are crunched per 90 minutes, they are almost identical: Enzo won 5.4 duels a game, and Bellingham 5.6 a game, the latter well clear (0.8 to 0.2) aerially, Enzo more effective on the ground.
A contest to savour
When analysing all these figures, it is worth bearing in mind four of Enzo’s five games came against European giants PSG and Juventus. That the Portuguese side topped that group was arguably the biggest shock of the Champions League so far, and no doubt had plenty to do with Enzo’s enigmatic displays.
Three of Bellingham’s outings were against Sevilla and Copenhagen, with the other two a draw and a defeat to Manchester City, who pipped them to top spot.
Both players have already shown this season they can do it on the biggest stage of all, and their expected meeting in the heart of the midfield is undoubtedly one of the most mouthwatering match-ups as we meet Dortmund competitively for the very first time in our history.