HOUSTON — In the current period of Real Madrid football, one that currently has more question marks than usual, new signing Jude Bellingham made sure to punctuate one of his first matches with Los Blancos with an exclamation point.
The English midfielder is, at the moment, the centerpiece of Real Madrid’s offseason business as it attempts to climb back to the top of La Liga, and Bellingham scored his first goal for the club in exquisite fashion during Wednesday’s exhibition match against Manchester United, a 2-0 victory for the Spanish giants inside of NRG Stadium in Houston.
After winning both La Liga and the UEFA Champions League in 2022, Real Madrid saw both of those titles elude them in 2023, with eternal rivals FC Barcelona winning the league title while another Mancunian side, Manchester City, blitzed past Madrid during the semifinals of Europe’s top club competition to complete a treble. Furthermore, Real Madrid’s stalwart at the top of the formation, Karim Benzema, ended his decade-plus tenure with the club after the season and left to play professionally in Saudi Arabia.
Bellingham, who came over from Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, won’t be able to replace Benzema’s place on the field nor his production in front of goal, but will be a vital piece of Madrid’s retooling in its quest to get back to the top of La Liga. In the sixth minute of tonight’s contest, the marauding midfielder turned cheeky scorer, as he latched onto a pass down the middle from defender Antonio Rüdiger before lofting a shot over on-charging goalkeeper Andre Onana, making his Red Devils debut, and into the net for a quick 1-0 lead.
“I am enjoying playing with this team, learning from so many great players. I am definitely not getting carried away just yet,” Bellingham said after the game. “There is a lot to aim for and rightly so. It is the biggest club with the best players. The expectations are high as they should be. It is about us going out there and matching that.”
Further good news up front was provided by another new acquisition, Joselu, who scored a minute before second-half stoppage time with a wonderful scissor kick. Acquired from now-second-division side Espanyol, the former Stoke and Newcastle United striker may not be asked to immediately take on the No. 9 position on the club, but, at the very least, adds depth and a proven scoring touch up front, especially after scoring 30 goals combined in the last two seasons in La Liga.
Manchester United saw a number of chances in front of goal wasted, particularly one from Marcus Rashford midway through the first half where his first touch took him wider than he would have wanted before firing a shot that was saved by Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin. Manager Erik ten Hag has been vocal about the need for his team to score more goals, as well as his need to acquire a striker before the summer transfer window closes. Despite finishing third in the Premier League last season and returning to the Champions League, Manchester United tallied just 58 goals on the campaign, at least 10 goals fewer than any of the other teams who finished in the top six of the league table.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Wednesday evening’s contest, with all photos taken by Houston-area photographer Marcus Ingram. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 11 pictures in total.