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Jude Bellingham could help Real Madrid turn tables on champions Man City

Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham has been the star of their season after his arrival from Borussia Dortmund
Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham has been the star of their season after his arrival from Borussia DortmundAFP
Jude Bellingham (20) is aiming to give Real Madrid the edge they badly lacked last season in the Champions League quarter-final first leg against Manchester City on Tuesday, as he continues a remarkable first season in Spain.

England star Bellingham will lead Madrid's attack alongside Vinicius Junior as the reigning European and Premier League champions visit the Santiago Bernabeu.

Battered and bruised in a 5-1 aggregate thumping by Pep Guardiola's City at the semi-final stage last year, Real Madrid stumped up 103 million euros (£88 million) to sign the England star from Borussia Dortmund.

Madrid's initial expectations for the 20-year-old were quickly smashed, as he surpassed them at lightning pace.

Bellingham began in stunning goalscoring form, with 14 strikes in his first 15 matches for the club, breaking the record of 13 held by Madrid greats Cristiano Ronaldo and Alfredo Di Stefano.

Having arrived at the club as a midfielder but mainly deployed in attack by Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, Bellingham quickly established himself as a leader and a fan favourite - "Hey Jude", they serenade in the capital.

Although inevitably his goal flow has slowed in recent weeks, he remains Madrid's top scorer and in addition to 20 across 32 appearances in all competitions, he also has provided 10 assists.

Madrid, who also seem poised to capture Paris Saint-Germain striker Kylian Mbappe this summer at the end of his contract, hope Bellingham can help them catch up with City.

Guardiola believes Bellingham's presence could be crucial for the record 14-time winners.

"(Bellingham's) impact has been massive," Guardiola told reporters in March.

"It's a different team from last season - his influence is obvious, and we have to try to discover what he does to control it.

"Facing Real Madrid is always a tough challenge, nobody can deny it. They are an exceptional club, and in this competition they can control many things with the experience they have in the past."

'There's no chance'

Madrid have a track record of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in Europe and did just that against Manchester City in 2022 on the way to glory.

Rodrygo struck in the 90th and 91st minutes against City to force the tie to extra-time and Karim Benzema netted the winner to secure a remarkable 6-5 aggregate triumph for Los Blancos.

However, the following season Benzema was not fully fit, and a Madrid lacking spine crumpled at the Etihad Stadium in a 4-0 second-leg thrashing.

Despite only being at the club for a few months, Bellingham has already shown a penchant for the big occasion.

The midfielder helped Madrid come from behind to beat Barcelona 2-1, netting a brace in the league match in October including a 92nd-minute winner.

Bellingham's Madrid thrashed Barcelona 4-1 in his second Clasico appearance to claim the Spanish Super Cup in January, his first trophy with Madrid.

Eight points clear in La Liga, a second beckons domestically, but Bellingham understands how much Champions League victory would mean for his club.

"I'd much rather keep scoring in the 90-plus minutes than in the 15th, even though it might take a bit of strain (on) my heart and the fans' hearts," said Bellingham after a 94th-minute winner against Union Berlin in the group stage.

"That's the history of the club, I'm new... but I've had a TV since I was little and I can't remember from what age I've been watching Madrid complete comebacks where I'm thinking 'there's no chance' and 'it's not possible'."

Bellingham has four Champions League goals in six appearances this season, including netting twice against Serie A champions Napoli.

An ankle sprain and a suspension have disrupted his start to 2024 but the City tie offers Bellingham a chance to get fully back on track, against a club that would have loved to sign him before it became clear he had his heart set on Madrid.

Most would have liked to - even at 20, Bellingham is drawing comparisons to some all-time greats.

"There are things about the way he plays that remind me of (Zinedine) Zidane - it's his extraordinary quality on the ball," declared Ancelotti in February.

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