The eyes of the world have been on Jude Bellingham even more since he left Borussia Dortmund for Real Madrid, and he has made a fantastic start to life in La Liga.
They say that pressure makes diamonds. Imagine moving to a foreign country to play for a club trying to challenge Bayern Munich, becoming a fan-favourite and even stand-in captain, starting for your country in a World Cup, then being signed for huge money by Real Madrid, all before you turn 20.
All of that has been put on Jude Bellingham’s shoulders in the last three years, and not only has the English youngster risen to the occasion time after time, but he has also made it all look rather easy.
Plenty of Europe’s big clubs wanted Bellingham in the summer of 2023, but it was Real Madrid who got him in a deal worth an initial €103 million, rising to €134m. So far, he has looked like he’s worth every penny.
Saturday saw yet another Bellingham moment. Having already scored in each of his first three outings for Real Madrid, his first game in La Liga at the Santiago Bernabéu saw him notch a 95th-minute winner against Getafe. The visitors led 1-0 at half-time before Joselu equalised early in the second half, but just as it looked as though Carlo Ancelotti’s men would drop their first points of the season, there was Bellingham to squeeze in a winner, following up after Lucas Vázquez’s long-range effort.
The kind of anticipation that has seen Bellingham find the net with such regularity early in his time in Spain was on show again as he started to make a run towards goalkeeper David Soria before Vázquez had even taken his shot.
As he hoped, Soria – who had been excellent up to that point – spilled the effort and, as a result, Bellingham was first on the scene for a simple tap-in to win the game for his team.
It was just the latest example in his short time there of Bellingham stepping up in big moments for Madrid, who have won each of their first four games of the season and have their new midfielder to thank for pretty much all of them.
Bellingham scored on his debut in a 2-0 win at Athletic Club, before scoring twice to take Madrid from 1-0 down at Almería to 2-1 up, with his side eventually winning 3-1. An 81st-minute winner at Celta Vigo in his third game had the fans swooning over him already, and he followed that up with an even later one against Getafe to leave people wondering if the 20-year-old is even human.
Bellingham became just the fourth player to score in his first four games in La Liga in the 21st century, after Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo (both 2009-10) and Cesc Fàbregas (2011-12). He also joined Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski as one of three players to have taken just four games to score five goals in the competition this century, with only Radamel Falcao (three games) reaching that many in fewer appearances.
What has been the key to his scoring success, though, especially considering he isn’t even a forward?
Well, put simply, he is being given the authority to effectively become an extra forward when Madrid have the ball. As you can see from his touch zone map so far, he is getting the ball in advanced positions fairly often, even taking more touches per 90 in the middle of the penalty area than in the central box just inside the opposition half.
His role so far has been an interesting one, essentially playing as a number 10 behind a front two, initially of Rodrygo and Vinícius Júnior, only for the latter to suffer a muscle injury against Celta Vigo, with Joselu replacing him.
Bellingham has also been given plenty of protection, with a midfield trio behind him that can control, dictate and put out fires. Aurelien Tchouaméni has been the only other ever-present so far, but Eduardo Camavinga, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Federico Valverde have also featured in the line of three midfielders who allow Bellingham to roam and bomb forward when necessary.
Given he already has five goals to his name – having scored eight in 31 Bundesliga appearances last season – it is perhaps too obvious to say that Bellingham has been ruthless in front of goal. He has put away all four of his big chances, and his five goals have come from just 10 shots, with an accumulated expected goals (xG) value of 1.8. No player in Europe’s top five leagues this season has outperformed their xG by as much as Bellingham’s 3.2 so far, with Teddy Teuma of Reims second with 2.69 (3 goals from 0.31 xG).
Ancelotti clearly trusts him already as well, with only David Alaba (360) playing more than Bellingham’s 351 league minutes for Madrid so far, and he has been more than rewarded. The former Birmingham City man’s goals have been needed, too, having scored five of their eight so far. No other player has scored more than one, and the team would be clearly missing the presence of Karim Benzema up front were it not for Bellingham’s goals.
Of course, Bellingham is so much more than a goalscorer. In fact, only Kroos (11) has created more than his nine chances, and no one has created as many as him from open play (also nine).
He is joint-second in the whole of La Liga for attacking-sequence involvements with 28, behind only Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong (30) and level with Barça’s Jules Koundé and Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas. Bellingham’s split is the most even of the four though, with eight shots, eight chances created and 12 involvements in the build-up to a shot.
He is also keeping the ball well. While Bellingham’s passing accuracy isn’t as high as fellow midfielders Kroos (94.3%), Tchouaméni (92.8%), Camavinga (90.9%), Valverde (90.7%) and Modric (90.0%), he is playing higher up the pitch in more congested areas, so his 88.7% accuracy is still impressive.
While Bellingham is playing in a more attacking role at the moment, it will be interesting to see if the defensive side of his game is utilised more in the coming months. Only five players attempted more than his 76 tackles (55.3% success rate) in the Bundesliga in 2022-23, but he has attempted just three in four games for Madrid, winning two of them.
That’s the great thing as far as Real Madrid are concerned. They have a player who has not only shown that he can be an excellent attacking outlet for them, but can almost certainly readjust and become a different but equally effective kind of midfielder when needed.
Bellingham carried that form into international duty with England, where he ran the show in a 3-1 friendly win over Scotland, grabbing a goal and an assist. Gareth Southgate has surely been racking his brains to try and figure out how best he can utilise the precocious talent of the youngster for the Three Lions, and his role playing ahead of a pairing of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips seemed to work very well at Hampden Park.
Bellingham is a diamond who is handling the pressure of playing in a diamond midfield for the biggest club in the world, while also shining on the international stage. He may not be forever, but we can expect to see him sparkle in white for the foreseeable future.