This is getting really, really ridiculous. “There have been so many classic games, so many magic moments,” Jude Bellingham had said on the eve of his first appearance in the biggest club match in the world and now he has one of his own, another absurd comic-book moment in an absurd comic-book start to his Real Madrid career.
In the temporary home of the Rolling Stones, that iconic tongue adorning Barcelona’s red and blue shirt and Mick Jagger in the directors’ box, someone put Hey Jude on again. Not once, but twice.
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As for iconic: how about this? It was just after 6pm, the sun starting to dip behind the stand, when Bellingham stood in the corner of the stadium and opened his arms wide once more, teammates screaming behind him shouting “again, again”, as he nodded his head and mouthed “yes”.
There was 92 minutes on the clock in his first clásico and he really had just slipped in behind the Barcelona defence to nudge past Marc-André ter Stegen to score his 10th league goal of his debut season in Spain, the greatest of rivals somehow slayed.
From a goal down, Madrid were now 2-1 up and returning to the top of the table. Barcelona, impressive for much of the match, had been beaten for the first time this season. “That’s Real Madrid. That’s football,” Xavi said.
That’s Bellingham too. It had not just been the winner: he had also scored an extraordinary equaliser to give Madrid hope in the first place, setting up the chance for an injury-time moment to watch again and again. It had been difficult until then, but with one swish of that right boot everything had changed.
Jude Bellingham scores the winner. Photograph: Albert Gea/Reuters
Bellingham’s was the last dash into the area. His had also been the first, taking the ball of Andreas Christensen and setting off two minutes in, but it was Barcelona who were on top until he equalised in the 68th minute. Not just in getting the opening goal – the earliest they had scored in a clásico this century – but in the flow of the game.
There had been an intensity about them and a passivity to Madrid that was revealed in the moment the home side took the lead, Ilkay Gündogan allowed to carry the ball a long way through the midfield until he reached the edge of the area on four minutes. When the ball was returned to him David Alaba slid in to cut it out but, rather than clear it, he only managed to make it sit up even more invitingly. On the bounce, Gündogan slipped it past Kepa.
At that point, Bellingham, who had Gavi for annoying company, was finding it difficult to get into the game. Vinícius Júnior, faced by Ronald Araújo, remained the greatest threat but only occasionally escaped, his frustration expressed often – not least in words being exchanged on the touchline with Xavi. When he did finally look set to get away just before half-time, Ferran Torres took him out with a rugby tackle.
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Ilkay Gündogan fires past the Real Madrid goalkeeper Kepa to give Barcelona the lead. Photograph: Quique García/EPA
Gavi was superb, so, too, was the 20-year-old Fermín López, who hit a post and sliced another shot wide from the edge of the area. Playing in Spain’s third tier last year, here he was in the clásico and looking entirely at home leading a Barcelona team that seemed in control and almost added a second goal after the restart.
Iñigo Martínez headed López’s cross against a post. Araújo was first to the rebound but his shot drew a superb save from Kepa. Madrid were still struggling to trouble Barcelona or get some kind of grip of a game that could have escaped them entirely. Twice João Cancelo cut through them, dashing in to the area from the right to almost double the lead. The first sliced over, the second deflected wide off Alaba.
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Then, suddenly, brutally, it happened. Bellingham turned back to pick the ball up 30 yards out. The way he struck it was astonishing: with almost no backlift, as if it was easy somehow, the shot tore through the air with breathtaking precision and power into the corner, hitting the net before Ter Stegen’s hand could get there.
The game was in the balance so there was no celebration and no victory yet. But there would be, because this is Jude Bellingham and Jude Bellingham is inevitable.