This is getting really, really ridiculous. “There were so many classic games, so many magical moments,” said Jude Bellingham on the eve of his first appearance at the biggest club game in the world, and now he is experiencing another absurd comic moment of his own, an absurd comic start to his career Real Madrid.
In the temporary home of the Rolling Stones, that iconic tongue that adorns Barcelona’s red and blue jersey and Mick Jagger in the directors’ box, someone has put Hey Jude back on. Not once, but twice.
As for iconic: how about this? It was just after 6 p.m., the sun beginning to sink behind the stands, as Bellingham stood in the corner of the stadium, his arms spread wide once more, while his teammates behind him screamed, shouting “one more time” while wagging his head nodded and mumbled “Yes” with his lips.
In his first appearance it was 92 minutes classic And he had indeed just sneaked behind the Barcelona defense to push past Marc-André ter Stegen and score his tenth league goal in his debut season in Spain, somehow defeating their greatest of rivals.
After falling behind, Madrid were now ahead 2-1 and returned to the top of the table. Barcelona, who were impressive for much of the game, were beaten for the first time this season. “This is Real Madrid. That’s football,” said Xavi.
This is also Bellingham. Not only had it been the winner, he had scored an extraordinary equalizer to give Madrid any hope and the chance of an injury-time moment worth watching again and again. Up until then it had been difficult, but with a single swing of the right boot everything had changed.
Bellingham’s was the last rush into the area. He had also been first, taking the ball from Andreas Christensen and setting off two minutes later, but it was Barcelona who were ahead until they equalized in the 68th minute. Not only did they score the first goal – the first goal they had ever scored classic this century – but in the flow of the game.
They were characterized by an intensity and passivity against Madrid, which became apparent the moment the home side took the lead and Ilkay Gündogan let the ball carry wide through midfield until it reached the edge of the penalty area after four minutes. When David Alaba got the ball back to him, he slid in to clear the ball, but instead of clearing it, he only managed to place it even more invitingly. On the rebound, Gündogan pushed the ball past Kepa.
At this point Bellingham, who had Gavi as a nuisance companion, was having difficulty getting into the game. Vinícius Júnior, who Ronald Araújo was up against, remained the main threat but escaped only occasionally, his frustration often showing – not least in the words he exchanged with Xavi on the touchline. When it finally looked like he was going to get away just before half-time, Ferran Torres beat him with a rugby tackle.
Gavi was great, as was 20-year-old Fermín López, who hit a post and fired another shot wide from the edge of the box. He played in the Spanish third division last year and was here in the classic and looked completely at home leading a Barcelona team that appeared to be in control and almost scored a second goal after the restart.
Iñigo Martínez headed López’s cross against the post. Araújo was first to get the rebound, but his shot was brilliantly saved by Kepa. Madrid were still struggling to threaten Barcelona or gain any sort of grip on a game that would have eluded them entirely. João Cancelo cut through twice and burst into the penalty area from the right to almost double the lead. The first ball went over the goal, the second was deflected past Alaba’s goal.
Then it happened suddenly and brutally. Bellingham turned and picked up the ball from 30 yards out. What was astonishing was the way he struck: with almost no recoil, as if it were somehow easy, the shot raced through the air into the corner with breathtaking precision and power and hit the net before Ter Stegen’s hand could get there.
The game was in limbo, so there was no celebration and no victory yet. But there would be, because this is Jude Bellingham and Jude Bellingham is inevitable.