England’s Nations League encounters against Italy and Germany could finally be Jude Bellingham’s chance to shine ahead of the World Cup in Qatar.
While the 19-year-old continues to shine for Borussia Dortmund, most of his rivals are struggling for a spot in the Drei Löwen’s midfield for fitness and form.
Ahead of Friday’s trip to the San Siro, we turn the spotlight on the teenage sensation.
The Rice Partner
Declan Rice is one of the first names on England manager Gareth Southgate’s squad list – but who will work with him in central midfield is up for debate.
The Three Lions boss rarely chooses too many central midfielders in his squads, with Kalvin Phillips and James Ward-Prowse joining Bellingham and Rice in the original squad.
Phillips excelled alongside the West Ham captain at Euro 2020, his influential performances during his run to the final earning him England’s Player of the 2020-21 season.
In light of this, it would normally be to lose his shirt, but the 26-year-old has hardly kicked a ball since his £45million move to Manchester City this summer.
And the ex-Leeds star’s hopes of being in Qatar took another blow when a shoulder problem forced him to withdraw from the current squad.
Jordan Henderson has been called in as a substitute but with the Liverpool captain struggling with injuries of his own both don’t seem like reliable options at the moment.
Chances are in the next two games for either Bellingham or Ward-Prowse to make the jersey theirs.
And in his current form, it looks like the Dortmund starlet is best suited for it.
It’s always felt more like Bellingham becoming a mainstay in England’s midfield.
The Birmingham-born teenager has physical and mental abilities well beyond his tender years, and is just as capable of convincing in the last third as he is of defending his goal.
A magnificent performance against Manchester City last week that had the whole world watching was the latest proof of that.
The No.22 led an organized away side to frustrate superstars Pep Guardiola before putting his team ahead in the second half.
Whilst they eventually lost 2-1 at the Etihad, former England international Micah Richards was stunned by another fascinating performance.
He said: “I still have to do a double take when I look at his age. He’s 19 and runs in midfield in games at the highest level.
“When I was 19 in the England squad I was trying to find my feet and not look like a scared rabbit but this boy is just amazing.
“It wasn’t just his goal – the way he came to instinctively come into play – against City that set him apart.
“It was the way he used his intelligence and fearlessness to yell at people, boss them around and demand the best of them.”
Bellingham was only used three times off the bench by Southgate at Euro 2020 but just over a year later it looks like he’ll be able to claim promotion to a World Cup with ease.
The veteran Rice-Phillips duo provided the solid foundation for England’s success at Euro 2020.
However, Bellingham has shown on countless occasions that he has the discipline to step up and do a similar, if not better, job.
Phillips was used as a box-to-box midfielder during last summer’s tournament, where he could be found in both attack and defence.
It’s a role that perfectly suits Bellingham’s dynamic ball carrying and passing qualities.
His versatility in performing multiple functions from the middle of the park is why Rio Ferdinand thinks he could be the ideal option for Southgate this winter.
The former Three Lions captain said: “It’s more interesting to find out what type of player he is and what type of player you would get in an England shirt where he’s sure to play.
“He’s combative, both sides of the game, aggressive. He’s a Swiss Army knife, he does everything. Great player.”
While winless England are threatened with relegation in the Nations League, the importance of the two games in this international break goes far beyond that.
The World Cup will be held in the middle of the domestic season for the first time, meaning there will be no warm-up games ahead of the Three Lions’ tournament opener against Iran on November 21.
Friday’s trip to the San Siro and Germany’s clash at Wembley on Monday are therefore the last games Southgate will have to judge his side – and the final chance for the players to stake a claim on a starting spot.
With quality opponents lying in wait, both encounters are excellent examples of what England must overcome if they are to advance to the Middle East tournament.
Pass these tests with flying colors and Bellingham might just find himself in Southgate’s XI against Iran.