After reaching the semi-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, England are again one of the teams to watch at this summer's rearranged UEFA Euro 2020 - and it would have been unthinkable for Gareth Southgate to head to the tournament without Borussia Dortmund pair Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham.
The England manager named his final squad on 1 June 2021, and both of Dortmund's dynamic duo made the cut after impressive club campaigns as they secured their side a place in next season's UEFA Champions League.
Sancho made a blistering start to 2021, and was unlucky to be stopped in his tracks by a thigh injury in early March. That setback kept him out of the latest England camp, as well as Dortmund's Champions League quarter-final tie with his former club Manchester City, but the 20-time international remains one of the most talented wingers at Southgate's disposal.
Watch: The best of Sancho at Dortmund
He was a little below par at the start of the campaign, by his own high standards, but Sancho nevertheless managed to rack up 16 goals and 19 assists in all competitions in 2020/21. The 21-year-old enjoyed a fantastic spell in January and February, grabbing six goals and laying on six more in the space of 10 Bundesliga outings, notably helping Dortmund to get the better of top-four rivals Wolfsburg and RB Leipzig.
Sancho has been breaking records ever since he swapped the sky blue of City for the black-and-yellow of Dortmund in summer 2017, and this season has been no exception. In the 4-0 Revierderby win over Schalke, he became the youngest ever player to reach 35 Bundesliga goals at the time, then converted his first top-flight penalty in a 3-0 victory over Arminia Bielefeld.
"I'm really happy with how Jadon's been performing lately," BVB coach Edin Terzic said after the Bielefeld game. "You can see it with his goals and assists. I've said this before: it's not like he'd forgotten how to play football. We've been spoiled with everything he's done for the club in recent years. We've tried to get him back on form, by looking at how he was dealing with things personally and trying to help him as a team. He's also got his pace back, and he's reaping the rewards with his contributions to our wins."
Watch: All of Sancho's goals in 2020/21
After being sidelined for six weeks, Sancho made his comeback in a 2-0 win over Union Berlin, in which he also celebrated his 100th Bundesliga outing. He wasn't able to mark the occasion with a goal or an assist, but a cheeky nutmeg on Christopher Trimmel was a timely reminder of what Dortmund had been missing in his absence. Three days later, he played his part as BVB kept their Champions League hopes alive with victory in Wolfsburg, carving out a presentable goal-scoring opportunity for Erling Haaland.
He has also been Dortmund's Mr. Reliable in the DFB Cup, scoring two and providing an assist for Erling Haaland as BVB thrashed RB Leipzig in the final. That helped him finish as the competition's top scorer with six goals, as well as allowing him to claim his first major trophy as a professional.
The London native has been a regular in the England squad since getting a first call-up from Southgate in October 2018, and will no doubt relish the opportunity of earning further silverware with his country, having already been involved in the U17 FIFA World Cup win in 2017.
Crucially, he is one of the few specialist wingers available to Southgate, even if there are several other attacking midfielders competing for a spot out wide – including Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Mason Mount and Jack Grealish.
The Dortmund man's silky footwork and game-winning potential could prove the difference, along with the fact that he is both an accomplished taker and maker in front of goal. In three and a half seasons with BVB, he has had a direct hand in over 100 goals, netting 46 and setting up another 64 - and his reliability in the final third could be the X-factor as the Three Lions look to progress deep in the tournament.
Bellingham's emergence at the highest level is also good news for Southgate, who has admitted that he doesn't have a wealth of options in the centre of the park. Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice have both been injured in recent months, while Kalvin Phillips is the only other out-and-out central midfielder.
Despite being just 17 years of age, the Dortmund midfielder has shown remarkable maturity and consistency this season, playing over 40 games in all competitions for his club. In March, he won his second England cap in a 5-0 win over San Marino - the first of their 2022 World Cup qualifiers – and the boss was clearly impressed.
"Jude is a player we think is going to be an England international in the future," Southgate told ITV. "We feel that in that area of the pitch, although we were very happy with everybody tonight, we are a little bit short in numbers. For us to help develop him, to put him into games and to try and get him with the team, with the development he is getting at Dortmund as well, we're hoping we can play a part in fast-tracking him into the group."
'Fast-tracking' seems a fitting term for Bellingham, who burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old with Birmingham City in 2019/20 and has already clocked 90 senior appearances for club and country. A superb breakout season in England's second-tier Championship earned him the move to Dortmund, where he has become a first-team regular under Lucien Favre and now Terzic.
He only missed five of BVB's 34 Bundesliga games last term - two because of injury - started all six of the team's outings in the DFB Cup, including in the final triumph over Leipzig, and featured in every Champions League match, starting all four encounters in the knockout stage against Sevilla and Manchester City. In spite of Dortmund's last-eight exit at the hands of the eventual runners-up, Bellingham's high-octane performances at the heart of midfield drew praise from all quarters.
Watch: Bellingham and Dortmund's rising stars
"The only thing we don't know about Jude is his limit," Terzic enthused, even after his side had suffered a 4-2 aggregate defeat to City. "He has so much potential, so much talent, and he's a great boy who wants to improve. So we have to find out where his limits are, and try to push him to this limit. Tonight, the whole world saw what he's capable of doing."
Much of Bellingham's hard work against City was the industrious endeavour of the defensive midfielder, unglamorous tasks that fly under the radar: closing down space, harrying opponents, winning back possession. But the teenager also demonstrated his goalscoring ability, seeing one effort harshly ruled out after nicking the ball off Ederson's toe, and then curling another - his first in the competition - into the top corner.
"Jude Bellingham, 17 years old - you cannot imagine, at that age, playing with this incredible personality!" said a wide-eyed Pep Guardiola, the City manager. "He's a fantastic player. I saw in the match, when he didn't get the ball from the central defender, how he shouted, how he demanded the ball. At 17, that means a lot. I spoke to his manager, Edin, and he told me, 'Pep, what you've seen in these two games is what he does in every training session.'"
With potential to develop as a box-to-box midfielder and composure beyond his years, Bellingham is a rare gem indeed, and one that Dortmund are polishing up into a sparkling talent. Sancho has played a key role in that progression. In his early months in Germany, Bellingham spoke about his compatriot's influence, describing him as a "huge role model".
"Jadon is really very important for me," he told Kicker. "Not just because we come from the same country, or because he speaks the same language. More importantly, it's how he puts his arm around me and the other young guys, how he strengthens our belief in our abilities and gives us confidence. Getting advice from him really means a lot to me."
Sancho and Bellingham also went into the tournament on a high. They guided BVB to what once appeared an unlikely top-four finish in the Bundesliga and Champions League qualification, having also secured a first major trophy since 2016/17, when they last won the DFB Cup.
Success on those two fronts no doubt boosted their chances of making Southgate's list, especially with UEFA increasing squad sizes from 23 to 26 players due to Covid-19 concerns. That perhaps has most benefitted Bellingham, allowing space for a rookie who may have previously just missed out.
The England duo will be ones to watch across this continental competition if unleashed. One is a world-class winger and the other is a fearless midfield battler, and they represent both the present and the future of their national team. If football ends up coming home this summer, it may well be taking a detour via the Bundesliga.