Jude Bellingham arrives at the ‘right time’ to become Real Madrid’s Clasico protagonist once more


Jude Bellingham was the protagonist of the first Clasico of the season, scoring twice at Barcelona’s temporary Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys to overturn their 1-0 lead, including a stoppage-time winner.

It was a similar script on Sunday night as Bellingham scored in stoppage time for Real Madrid again to all but seal a record-extending 36th La Liga title with a 3-2 win. But the circumstances couldn’t have been more different.

This was Bellingham’s 21st goal of the season in 36 games, but he had not scored since February 10 against Girona. That had provoked some debate and criticism, although this was not shared by the board, coaching staff or his team-mates, who were always on his side.

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“He arrived at the right time,” head coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “He played a match with a lot of effort, working hard. Now this goal could be fundamental to winning the league.”

There were plenty of duels across the pitch, but any analysis had to take a back seat to the Englishman’s winning effort.

Ancelotti was right when he said Bellingham had arrived at the right time — the 91st minute, to be precise. Brahim Diaz made an intelligent run into the centre and offloaded to Lucas Vazquez. The right-back sent a low ball into the box, where Joselu could not get a touch.

It did not matter. There, following the path of the ball and ghosting in unmarked at the far post, was Bellingham. The man who had scored 17 goals before Christmas for Madrid, sustaining the team with his consistent finishing during those uncertain times.

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Bellingham and Vazquez in celebration (Maria Jimenez – Real Madrid/Real Madrid via Getty Images)

With a powerful left-footed strike, Bellingham reminded Madrid fans of all those qualities. It was total ecstasy at the Santiago Bernabeu, with the roof of the newly refurbished stadium closed for the first time in a Clasico and the ground’s 360-degree video scoreboard being inaugurated.

Bellingham ran to the corner, where Vazquez was waiting for him — one of the team-mates the 20-year-old has most clicked with since joining from Borussia Dortmund last summer. The pair danced together, aware this victory would send them 11 points clear of Barca at the top of the table.

“It’s a very cool photo,” Vazquez said in the Bernabeu’s mixed zone. “We’ve done that celebration in some training sessions and today was the right moment.”

In a social media post much appreciated by the Madrid fanbase, Bellingham had stronger words to praise Vazquez’s contribution in winning the penalty to make it 1-1, scoring Madrid’s second equaliser and providing the cross for the winner.

“Lucas Vazquez you f*cking legend,” he wrote on X.

But before that, players and substitutes, members of the coaching staff and kit men had all celebrated wildly, aware that La Liga was in their hands like never before this season.

They were not the only ones to enjoy this comeback against Barcelona, who had taken the lead twice. Rafael Nadal was in the stands, taking advantage of the Laureus World Sports Awards and the Mutua Madrid Open in the Spanish capital to attend El Clasico, along with more tennis royalty in Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz. Nadal has been touted as a possible future club president.

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NFL legend Tom Brady didn’t want to miss out either — and even celebrated with the team in the dressing room afterwards.

After his goal, Bellingham performed his trademark open-arms gesture and kissed the badge. He walked back towards midfield and looked up at the vocal Grada Fans section in the south stand, waving his fists in the air with happiness. But the midfielder knew his job wasn’t done yet and continued to sprint across the pitch in the closing stages.

As time ticked down on the comeback win, those at the Bernabeu started chanting “Xavi, stay!” and the usual song “Asi, asi, asi gana el Madrid” (“That’s how Madrid win”). The latter had been sung by Bellingham himself at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday when he jumped into the crowd of Madridistas who had travelled for the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Manchester City.

When the final whistle blew, left-back Fran Garcia ran to Bellingham and jumped on his back. The players did a lap of honour, with Bellingham celebrating with his team’s supporters and shushing the Barca fans. Then the midfielder joined his team-mates in the centre of the pitch. The night ended at the south stand, with an improvised concert between the Grada Fans and the players.

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The Bernabeu had not witnessed Bellingham’s celebration since February (Burak Akbulut/Anadolu via Getty Images)

It was time to celebrate another near-certain La Liga title and a third Clasico win this campaign after January’s victory in the Supercopa de Espana final (Spain’s equivalent of the Community Shield in England) — the first time Madrid had won so many of these encounters in a single term since 1935-36.

It had not been Bellingham’s most impactful performance. And yet, he once again showed his special relationship with late goals. He has scored those against Getafe, Union Berlin — and now twice against Barcelona.

His goal to win El Clasico in October was in the 92nd minute; this was in the 91st. His contribution was even more special given Madrid had not won a Clasico in stoppage time since 1966 before this season.

Bellingham seems to have internalised the club’s motto: “Hasta el final, vamos Real!” (‘Until the end, come on Real!’). And he still has a personal accolade left to go for — he is second in La Liga’s scoring rankings with 17 goals, one behind Girona’s Artem Dovbyk.

Not bad for a 20-year-old who moved to a new country, league and position last summer. Barcelona have now felt the full effect of the midfielder’s adaptation: three goals, including two late winners, and an assist in three games.

The Spanish expression “caer de pie” — to fall on one’s feet — seems apt.

(Top photo: Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)





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