Bellingham delivers again as Madrid teach Girona lesson

AFP , Saturday 30 Sep 2023

Inspired by Jude Bellingham, Real Madrid showed both steel and class to beat high-flying Girona 3-0 on Saturday and move back top of La Liga.

Real Madrid's English midfielder #5 Jude Bellingham celebrates after scoring his team's third goal during the Spanish Liga football match between Girona FC and Real Madrid CF at the Montilivi stadium in Girona on September 30, 2023. Photo: AFP


Girona headed into the weekend as unlikely leaders but champions Barcelona usurped them by beating Sevilla on Friday, with Real then deposing their rivals at the league's summit with a solid triumph on Catalan soil.

Joselu and Aurelien Tchouameni's first-half goals were enough to burst Girona's bubble and after that the record 35-time La Liga winners kept the plucky upstarts at arm's length.

The stylish Bellingham netted with 20 minutes remaining to seal Madrid's victory and continue his own sparkling run of goalscoring form.

Madrid defender Nacho was sent off late in the match for an ugly high tackle on Portu, who went off injured.

Michel's side beat Real Madrid 4-2 at home last season and their fans believed they could repeat the trick, but they found a determined side in their path.

In only their fourth season in the Spanish top flight and unbeaten in their first seven games, the City Football Group owned side are flourishing, but their illustrious visitors arrived with a point to prove about the natural order of things and snapped that run.

Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti brought in Eduardo Camavinga at left-back to bolster the defence after Atletico Madrid found too much joy down the flanks in Los Blancos' derby defeat last weekend.

The coach also handed Vinicius Junior his first start after injury, following his cameo in the win over Las Palmas on Wednesday.

Girona came out with their tails up, looking to capitalise on the boisterous home atmosphere at their small but fired-up Montilivi stadium.

They almost did, with Yangel Herrera heading narrowly over and Viktor Tsygankov hitting the post in an early onslaught inside the opening five minutes.

However, Madrid took the lead against the run of play to stop the hosts in their tracks.

Joselu converted from close range after Bellingham found the Spain striker with a sublime outside-of-the-boot cross.

The on-loan forward's effort was straight at goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga, but he did not have the reflexes to keep it out.

Four minutes later the visitors netted their second, with Aurelien Tchouameni given a free header from Toni Kroos' corner, gratefully accepting his first goal for Madrid since joining in 2022.

Bellingham was not so clinical when played in on goal, with Gazzaniga denying him well and then tipping over a Kroos volley.

No way back

Girona started the second half strongly and Kepa Arrizabalaga was called into action to repel David Lopez's header.

Tchouameni survived a penalty appeal after tangling with Herrera inside his area as Madrid rode the pressure, with Gazzaniga again denying Bellingham at the other end.

However few teams have been able to keep the England international at bay this season and Girona eventually bowed.

Bellingham, the division's top scorer with six goals, turned home the rebound after Gazzaniga parried a Joselu effort to kill any hope of a comeback.

The midfielder celebrated in his now-traditional fashion, with arms held wide, drawing half-hearted ire from Girona fans.

Nacho was dismissed in the final stages for his vicious foul on winger Portu, which sparked a brief brawl between the players.

Madrid lead with 21 points from eight games, a point ahead of Barcelona, who are in turn a point ahead of Girona.

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