Jude Bellingham handed valuable lesson after Real Madrid deliver in their own way

It’s the sort of image you can see being brought up in the future, maybe even this summer. England captain Harry Kane was sizing up a penalty, and there was the England captain-in-waiting muttering in his ear. They just happened to be on different teams in the Champions League semi-final first leg. Whatever Jude Bellingham said, it didn’t matter. Kane wasn’t paying any attention.

“I don’t know what he was saying. I saw him mumbling something. Once I’m in that moment, I’m in my zone, trying to block everyone out. I’m sure he was saying something to put me off.”

Kane stayed on course, doing what he always does. He scored for Bayern Munich, to make it 2-1. Real Madrid did equalise with a penalty of their own, but that was after Bellingham had gone off. He didn’t do anything close to what he’s been doing lately. It was maybe the first clouding of an image that has so far been bathed in light.

This was Bellingham’s first Champions League semi-final and he was poor. Indeed, he didn’t do much other than mouth off. On the few occasions when he got on the ball to make something happen, Bellingham tried Hollywood passes that were short, and then berated teammates for not reaching them. Carlo Ancelotti felt he had no choice but to reach for the board. Bellingham was subbed off.

The discussion in these situations can sometimes go two ways. On one side, there will be the potential for backlash. After enjoying nothing but praise in a remarkable rise over four years, Bellingham might now face criticism going too far the other way; as if it was all a bit too much; “hype”. It is probably fair to say the Zinedine Zidane comparisons were a bit much, but mainly because they’re a completely different type of player.

There will then be the backlash to lines like that, and criticisms of a media that is only too ready to bring such a talent down.

The reality of course is that it is neither. Even with someone as good as Bellingham, youth will bring some inconsistency. That has happened lately with a little drop-off in form, although it’s instructive that such a spell still featured another late winner in the Clasico. Every player would love a drop-off like that.

Ancelotti put it down to something much more prosaic. While agreeing that Bellingham has not been at his optimum for the last few weeks, the Madrid manager simply attributed it to injury.

Bellingham’s impact was minimal as Real drew at Bayern (Getty)
Bellingham’s impact was minimal as Real drew at Bayern (Getty)

“He will get back to his best performance. He was injured, that affected him, but today he wasn’t at his best. Wednesday, he will be at 100 per cent again.”

That is an intimidating prospect for Bayern, and also touches on something else that came up after this semi-final. It is similarly about image, but also the extent to which this Real Madrid side impose themselves.

Bellingham isn’t exactly featuring in a team that builds a lot of play around the box in games like this. It obviously isn’t route one, but you can see the pattern. It’s super-highway one. Madrid seek to soak up pressure before hitting a team with lightning counters. In that situation, a player in Bellingham’s position almost plays as a super-deluxe link-man. It isn’t flicking the ball on with his head, but it is offering the important instinctive touches that bring either of the wide players in. In that kind of approach, he’s obviously not going to have too much impact. He has to wait.

Madrid themselves are specialists at that. As a team, they’re almost like a snake in how they recoil and then strike out.

It was something that both Thomas Tuchel and Kane mentioned after this semi-final.

“Real Madrid does this to teams,” the Bayern manager said. “We should not be too disappointed.”

Kane went further. “It’ll be tough. We know their history in this competition. We can take positives from today,” he said.

Bayern should really have taken more. They should have won. It does raise a crucial question about these games, and what might happen next.

As good as Real Madrid are, and as experienced as they are, how influential is their image on these games? There’s almost an element of self-determination to it. Do they score goals like that first Vinicius strike, after so much pressure, because that’s just what they do? Or is that just what teams subconsciously expect them to do?

Vinicius Jr scored twice, including a penalty that denied Bayern victory (Getty)
Vinicius Jr scored twice, including a penalty that denied Bayern victory (Getty)

Is that what forced defender Kim Min-jae to make those two rash decisions for both goals? Was he almost bamboozled into it?

So many other elements of Real’s performances remain confusing. How do they not concede more? They cough up so much space in the box. It’s actually remarkable how many times they appear to leave themselves hostage to fortune.

Maybe it is just waiting for a team to take advantage of it. Perhaps that’s what Manchester City did last season. They inflicted the beating that has been a long time coming. It is probably what City should have done this season.

And yet, as in this game, Madrid of course rallied. There is more to them than image. There is so much more to Bellingham than this performance. And yet both have left this Champions League semi-final supremely poised.

“We can forget the result and start from zero-zero,” Tuchel said. “I like this, clear.” All images aside, the second leg should be quite a scene.