Jude Bellingham has hit three goals in his opening two matches for Real Madrid and already looks like a bargain following his €103 million move from Borussia Dortmund.
Karim Benzema’s surprise move to Saudi Arabia in June left Real Madrid with a problem. The French forward had been at the club since 2009 and for the past few seasons, he was the focal point in attack for Los Blancos: a scorer and a provider. Replacing him would be difficult, but also key.
Following Benzema’s departure, the Kylian Mbappe rumours reappeared and Madrid were linked with Harry Kane as well, but when Real Madrid did sign a striker it was much more low-profile player in 33-year-old Joselu. There was to be no shiny new number 9.
Ahead of the club’s pre-season tour of North America in July, Ancelotti admitted that Madrid might have to change their style of play without Benzema.
“It may be that this year we are going to play a different system, taking into account the business we have done,” the Italian said. “The systems we have used in recent years have given us lots of success and we must not forget that, but we have to try to find a new style.”
The new formation, with summer signing Bellingham the more advanced in a four-man midfield behind Brazilian forwards Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo, was used for the first time in the friendly against Manchester United in July. The England midfielder scored after just six minutes in a Man of the Match performance as Los Blancos won 2-0.
“We believe that the arrival of Bellingham covers the absence of Karim,” Ancelotti said after the game. Madrid found life more difficult in a 3-0 defeat to Barcelona in Dallas, but that was deceptive as Los Blancos had 28 attempts on goal and hit the woodwork five times. The 3-1 loss to Juventus was a similar story, but Ancelotti had rung the changes in those games – and adapting to the new system was the priority.
Bellingham subsequently starred in Madrid’s 2-0 win away to Athletic Club on the opening weekend of LaLiga, scoring his side’s second with a volley into the ground and over goalkeeper Unai Simon. The goal drew comparisons with a Zinedine Zidane strike for Los Blancos against Espanyol in 2005-06 and one wonderful run from deep by the England midfielder was also reminiscent of the legendary French attacker.
Bellingham, like Zidane before him, wears the number 5 shirt for Madrid. But it was not only his attacking play that stood out. Bellingham’s all-action display at San Mames saw him flying into tackles and driving forward at every opportunity.
“He’s a player with a lot of personality,” Ancelotti said after the match. “He adapts very quickly to the team’s system because he has a strong personality. It seems like he has been with us for a long time, he’s a player with a very high level.”
High praise, but there was even better to come in his second match, with two goals and an assist for the Englishman as Madrid beat Almeria 3-1. “He’s fantastic,” Ancelotti said.
And the Italian opened up on the impact of the former Borussia Dortmund midfielder this week in an interview. “He’s a serious boy, mature with a lot of quality,” he told with Radio Serie A. “What he is doing is not a surprise for those who know him. But what is surprising is that he is only 20 years old.”
Bellingham becomes the first Real Madrid player since Cristiano Ronaldo to score in his first two competitive matches and the 20-year-old has had a transformative effect on the team’s attack in the post-Benzema era. What looked like a tricky transition has so far been a joy. And there is surely much more to come.
“I’m 10 times better than I was last season,” he told RealMadridTV after the win over Almeria. “I feel really comfortable with these players and I’m learning every day. The level here is so high and I’m like a sponge, taking in everything my team-mates tell me. That’s why I’ve started the season so well. I have to keep helping the team. There are loads of games still to come and I have to keep contributing.”
Suddenly, the initial €103 million (£88.4m) paid by Real Madrid now seems like a bargain. “There is no such thing as expensive or cheap,” Florentino Pérez has often said in the past. “Our model and our experience tell me that, contrary to how it may seem, I can assure you that the most expensive signings turn out to be the cheapest.”
In Jude Bellingham’s case, that already appears to be true.