La Liga Review | Jude Bellingham shines on Real Madrid debut

It felt like a new era on Saturday evening in Bilbao when Carlo Ancelotti selected his first Real Madrid eleven of the 2023-24 campaign. San Mamés, never an easy place to go, was the location for Madrid’s La Liga opener. 

Ancelotti had given some clues in preseason as to how his team would line up this season. There would, it seemed, be less game time for veteran pair Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, but it wasn’t until late on Saturday evening in the Basque Country, that it really sank in, when the Madrid team was named two hours before kick-off. This wasn’t preseason anymore; La Liga was back and Ancelotti was making a statement. 

Kroos and Modric both started on the bench against Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic Club side. It was the beginning of a new era, a new era that will be led by Jude Bellingham. Bellingham has started life at Madrid with a bang, scoring with an exquisite finish in the win over Manchester United on the club’s summer tour of the US. 

Bellingham goal on debut

Back to Bilbao. Rodrygo opened the scoring for Real Madrid after 28 minutes on Saturday night and just eight minutes later, Bellingham doubled the away side’s lead, with a bouncing effort that flew over a helpless Unai Simón. Bellingham celebrated in front of the Athletic fans, who showed him what they really thought. The former Borussia Dortmund player did not bat an eyelid as he celebrated in style. He had arrived. It was a debut goal for the England midfielder, who was operating behind Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo in attack. 

But Bellingham was much more than a No 10 on the night. He covered the whole ground under the lights of the magnificent San Mamés, alongside a midfield trio of Aurélien Tchouaméni, Eduardo Camavinga, and Fede Valverde. Tchouaméni dominated at the base, with Camavinga shifting to the left when wing-back Fran García flew forward. Valverde, as important as ever, especially without Kroos and Modric, added the pace and power in the right half-space.

Bellingham, wearing the famous No.5 Madrid shirt, showed Zinedine Zidane-type skill in tight spaces and dropped deep to allow Madrid beat the Athletic press. As the link between the midfield three and front two, he is quickly developing a relationship with the Brazilian duo in attack and linked up with Rodrygo and Vinícius.

Athletic away can be fiery. The atmosphere is electric, even more so when Real Madrid are in town. Bellingham did rise to the occasion though, and gave Madridistas a glimpse of his all-round game and versatility. A couple of sliding challenges in Madrid’s half saw Los Blancos win possession back thanks to the England international’s exceptional work rate. 

After the game, in his post-match press conference, Ancelotti described new signing Bellingham as a player with a “big personality”. He is already showing that personality on and off the field and is set to be a key part of Real Madrid’s side in 2023-24. 

The front page of Sunday’s AS read: “Bellingham is the boss”. La Liga has arrived and so has Jude Bellingham.

Kieran Quaile | GSFN

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