Bellingham ready for ‘real’ Madrid debut in Champions League
Jude Bellingham scored for Real Madrid on his debut, and in four of the five matches which have followed, in a superb start to life in the Spanish capital for the former Birmingham boy.
The England midfielder has five goals in five games in La Liga, taking the Spanish top flight by storm after his 103 million euro ($110 million) move from Borussia Dortmund this summer.
Real Madrid boast a 100 percent record from their opening raft of domestic games, but their season begins in earnest with the start of the Champions League this week.
Bellingham, 20, is set to make his ‘second’ debut for Los Blancos against Union Berlin on Wednesday at the Santiago Bernabeu, in the competition they value above all others.
The record 14-time European champions were thrashed 4-0 by Manchester City in the second leg of last season’s semi-final, 5-1 on aggregate, with Bellingham’s purchase in part a response to that stinging defeat.
Madrid have started reducing minutes for their veteran players in midfield — Luka Modric and Toni Kroos — while allowing Bellingham, Eduardo Camavinga, Aurelien Tchouameni and Fede Valverde more opportunities.
Bellingham adds to the tougher core Madrid sport this season, shorn of Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, who departed for a new adventure in Saudi Arabian football in the summer.
Facing a Bundesliga side in Europe, Bellingham should feel comfortable — although it has become clear that he has already made himself at home.
In his first appearance at the hallowed Bernabeu the England international nearly blew the stadium’s new roof off with a last gasp 95th minute strike to earn Madrid a narrow win over Getafe in a derby on September 2.
Wearing the No 5 on his back in tribute to Zinedine Zidane, Bellingham has quickly become a fan favourite at Madrid.
Celebrating his goals with his arms open wide, as if to share his joy with the supporters, they have instantly taken to him in a way which never happened with Welsh winger Gareth Bale.
Bellingham has been serenaded with the chorus of Beatles song “Hey Jude”, which he said was a special moment.
“When they sang ‘Hey Jude’ at the end, I got goosebumps,” he told Real Madrid TV after the win over Getafe.
“I just wanted to turn and stand still and listen to it while my legs were shaking.”
Bellingham nodded to Spanish culture with a matador’s flag waving gesture after dodging an attempted barge by a Getafe player.
– Personality matters –
“Good players with personality suffer a bit less than the others,” said Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, when asked how Bellingham had clicked so quickly.
“There’s no other reason. A player with personality, above all, more than quality, means that an important shirt like Real Madrid’s doesn’t weigh so much.”
That personality was on display when he led England to the World Cup quarter-finals last year in Qatar at only 19.
Thus far Ancelotti has deployed Bellingham as a number 10, providing a strong physical presence in the area behind the nimble Brazilian duo of Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior, the latter of whom is currently injured.
The only match in which he has not scored was Sunday’s 2-1 comeback victory over Real Sociedad, where he dropped deeper and got stuck into the midfield battle.
“He had a consistent game, he didn’t get into the box until right at the end but he was involved throughout, working a lot,” said Ancelotti.
Bellingham’s goals have replaced Benzema’s — he has played more like the French forward than Les Bleus icon Zidane since joining the club.
Real Madrid were linked with Paris Saint-Germain striker Kylian Mbappe this summer, who has made it clear he was keen on joining Los Blancos.
However with Mbappe’s contract due to expire at the end of the season it would have been a big and potentially unnecessary investment for Madrid, which they thought better of.
Bellingham’s goals were the final nail in that coffin as he showed he can make the difference in the opposition box in the attacking position Ancelotti has created for him.
Perhaps Mbappe will arrive next summer, and perhaps a new coach will change Bellingham’s role once Ancelotti takes over the Brazilian national team, but in the short term, the current set up has suited coach and player just fine.