European review: Bellingham a perfect 10 for Madrid

European review: Bellingham a perfect 10 for Madrid
  • PublishedOctober 8, 2023


Another Saturday of European football has come and gone. If you merely checked the box scores, you’d think there were few surprises as the weekend’s action got underway, but those full-time figures only tell half the story.

Manchester United won, although you wouldn’t know it if you walked out of Old Trafford in the 92nd minute, and so did Chelsea, they themselves coming from behind, too. Borussia Dortmund also overturned a deficit to seal a win whose scoreline belies the struggle last year’s Bundesliga runners-up faced.

Elsewhere, the world was reminded of Jude Bellingham‘s seemingly limitless potential, as he kept Real Madrid on top of LaLiga.

Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

Here is your look back at all the fun from Saturday.


The Saturday lead: Bellingham a perfect 10 for Madrid

It’s 10 out of 10 for Jude Bellingham: 10 goals in 10 Real Madrid games, the latest coming in a brace in Saturday’s 4-0 win over Osasuna. Bellingham has been playing as a No. 10, too, even if he wears the No. 5.

His goal scoring just won’t stop and neither will the comparisons. First it was Zinedine Zidane. Then it was Alfredo di Stefano. You hear choruses of “Hey Jude” every week at the Santiago Bernabeu. There are Bellingham shirts everywhere you look. Children imitate his arms-out-wide goal celebration. The fans couldn’t love him more.

Bellingham’s first goal against Osasuna came in the ninth minute after nice work from Luka Modric — back in the team and proving his worth, with more touches and completed passes than any other player — and then Eduardo Camavinga and Dani Carvajal. His second, to end the contest in the 54th minute, was the product of a one-two with Federico Valverde, before finishing through the legs of goalkeeper Sergio Herrera. His role in Madrid’s third was limited to picking up Valverde, who had created the goal with a clever through ball for Vinicius Junior, to carry the Uruguayan player into the middle of the celebrations, ensuring that he got his share of the credit.

After forward Joselu made it 4-0, Bellingham was quickly substituted. The stadium stood to applaud. They know they’re witnessing something very special: a star is born. — Alex Kirkland

Saturday talking points around the leagues

Sterling’s leadership can carry Chelsea forward

Chelsea’s trip to Burnley started similarly to so many of their games this Premier League season. The visitors looked bright in fits and starts, but that promise counted for little after just 15 minutes when Lyle Foster ran around both Axel Disasi and Thiago Silva to set up Wilson Odobert, whose stutter step befuddled Marc Cucurella and finish eluded Robert Sánchez.

Considering the growing pains the Blues have endured this season, it would’ve been easy for heads to drop. This was a starting XI whose average age was 24.6 and who’d averaged just 32 appearances for Chelsea. If you remove the 39-year-old Thiago Silva from the equation, the average age drops to 23.2 and the average appearances for the west London club falls to a mere 22.8.

This is an inexperienced team short on leadership. On this day, though, there was one player experienced enough to refuse to accept defeat.

No one on the pitch bettered Raheem Sterling‘s nine progressive carries (which advance the ball greater than five metres toward goal in the opposition half), only Enzo Fernández completed more passes in the attacking third than his 14, and no one registered more shots (three) or shots on target (two) than the 28-year-old England international. He was instrumental in every single one of Chelsea’s goals as they beat Burnley 4-1.

His 42nd-minute cross was deflected into the hosts’ goal to level the score, he won the penalty for Cole Palmer to give the Blues the lead from the spot, his 65th-minute strike gave his side some breathing room and his pacy run down the left flank ultimately resulted in Nicolas Jackson scoring the final goal of the match. These were just rewards for a player who should be the role model for a team full of immensely talented 20-somethings whose potentials are yet to be fulfilled.



Nicol: Sterling’s fire fuelled by England snub

Steve Nicol credits Raheem Sterling’s performance in Chelsea’s win over Burnley to being dropped by England boss Gareth Southgate.

From his breakout at Liverpool to his big-money move to Manchester City, Sterling has felt the pressure that weighs on the shoulders of young players on big wages with even bigger expectations. Chelsea will need to rely on his experience and his leadership if they’re to regain their status among English football’s elite. — Austin Lindberg

Blades bid final farewell to Cusack

It’s far from a rarity; seeing black armbands wrapped around the biceps of the two teams on the pitch, a moment’s silence before kickoff something of a growing routine across football. Often, it’s for a former player from the men’s side, someone from generations past who had had a good innings, left to be survived by children and grandchildren.

Not so often are we asked to pause and celebrate a shorter life of a player who had been active until their passing.

Even with the context of the rapid recent growth of the women’s game following the past two World Cups that have driven record attendances, increased participation and vast investment, many corners of women’s football still feel small and familial.

No, Maddy Cusack wasn’t a household name in women’s football, most of her career spent in the second tier of the English game, but she had shared pitches with many of the players across the top two divisions. Fans of other teams up and down the country had likely spent an afternoon or evening unwittingly watching the midfielder play as they took in their 90 minutes of live entertainment over a weekend. She had been part of the landscape of the game, a piece of the expansive puzzle, that had mixed and blurred with the others but became all too easy to spot once lost.

Before the opening game of the Women’s Super League season, two of her former managers stood on the touchline, former teammates on the pitch at one of her former clubs. Even with the increased attendance, there were still those Villa ultras who had been there back when the Midlands club was in WSL 2 (as the Championship was known at the time), drawing home crowds of between 200 and 400 fans. Those were the fans who could remember Cusack’s teen years spent in claret and blue after her move from Nottingham Forest.

From Villa to crosstown rivals Birmingham City to Leicester City and on to Sheffield United, where the midfielder spent the last four years of her life, moving around the growing women’s football bubble. But it was still just that, a bubble, one that had unexpectedly been put into mourning last month by the news of Cusack’s death, and so the minutes of silence and applause began, to honour the life of the 27-year-old.

With the men’s team at Sheffield United having paid their tributes to the midfielder, who paired her playing with a job as a marketing exec at the Blades’ foundation, it was time for Cusack’s team to say one last goodbye at Bramall Lane. Their fixture against London City Lionesses was brought forward a day so that some of her former teammates could attend the Championship clash and pay their respects to the friend they had lost.

From the tribute video before kickoff to the two rounds of applause — before the match and during the eighth minute, for the number she wore on the back of her shirt — there was an unmistakable sombre hue over the game. Those on the pitch shifting focus to the task at hand as so many players around the world do once the whistle has sounded, football the familiar escapism. The result — a much-needed 3-1 win — was the story for the football pages but left as a footnote as the club continued its grieving process. — Sophie Lawson

McTominay proves he’s deserving of a chance

Manager Erik ten Hag said after Manchester United‘s dramatic 2-1 come-from-behind win over Brentford that he sent on Scott McTominay as a late substitute and said “score two goals.” Those instructions worked like a charm.



Nicol: McTominay ‘Hail Mary’ raises more questions for Ten Hag

Steve Nicol isn’t convinced by Manchester United’s late comeback win over Brentford in the Premier League.

McTominay has had to be patient at Old Trafford this season, starting just two games in all competitions, but this was a timely reminder of what he can contribute to a team clearly struggling. The Scotland international is one of the top scorers in Euro 2024 qualifying, was wanted by Bayern Munich in the summer and is surely deserving of an opportunity in a stuttering United team.

Casemiro was one of those at fault for Brentford’s goal and was substituted at half-time. Summer signing Sofyan Amrabat looks like he’s still trying to get to grips with the pace of the Premier League and Mason Mount has so far done little to justify his £60 million transfer fee from Chelsea.

McTominay might not be a Ten Hag favourite, but his favourites aren’t working and, injury permitting, the 26-year-old should be in the team when United resume after the international break with a trip to Sheffield United. Except perhaps 20-year-old striker Rasmus Højlund, no one in the squad can say they are playing well enough to justify automatic selection and McTominay’s late heroics against Brentford should be enough to guarantee at least a chance. — Rob Dawson

Arsenal, Man United promise more to come

In what was just their second match of the season, Arsenal were already facing the prospect of a must-win against Manchester United after their opening-day defeat at home to Liverpool. Indeed, a loss would have been their fourth straight, spanning back to last season, marking a new club record. The prospect was a tricky one, though, facing a team they had failed to beat in their past five meetings across both league and cup.

After Stina Blackstenius‘s opener and Leah Galton‘s equaliser — born of a look-away-now mis-kick from Arsenal bit-part goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo — the stage was set for a frantic finish. Melvine Malard‘s deft strike — again, something of a gift from the Gunners’ regrettable defending — looked to have won it for the hosts, but just as stoppage time gave(th) to United last week, it took(eth) away on Friday night as Cloe Lacasse fired a rocket into the narrow gap between the apex of the woodwork and Mary Earps‘s outstretched paw. The scoreline read 2-2 when the full-time whistle went.

It had been a game of errors from both sides, as well as flashes of quality from top to bottom, with the new attacking additions continuing to ink their names into the memory. Maybe not quite the game of margins many were expecting, Arsenal, for all their chances, again failing to really capitalise when they went forward — uncomfortable déjà vu for the Gunners. United still growing with a promise of the football to come, Brazilian international Geyse already making fans around the country take notice.

In his post-match comments, United boss Marc Skinner impressed the importance of time together for his players, of what is yet to come when everyone is up to speed and well-versed in his style. There is a similar sense among their opposition too, the visitors had their fair share of chances and Alessia Russo easily could have followed the narrative and scored against her former club on a night when her every touch brought about a chorus of boos from around the stadium.

As it is, less than 36 hours after announcing a new deal for manager Jonas Eidevall, the Arsenal coach has his first point of the season, even if it wasn’t the most convincing. — Lawson

News of the day

  • Erik ten Hag hit out at his Manchester United players after the dramatic 2-1 win over Brentford telling his squad “if you can’t handle the pressure, don’t play here.” United needed two stoppage-time goals from substitute Scott McTominay to avoid a third successive defeat at Old Trafford. Afterward, Ten Hag said his team had been “eaten” by Brentford in the first half and urged his players to be more “determined.”

  • Vinicius Junior praised Jude Bellingham as “incredible” and said the midfielder “was born to play for Real Madrid” after the England international scored twice in the club’s 4-0 LaLiga win over Osasuna on Saturday. “Bellingham is giving us a lot of possibilities up front,” coach Carlo Ancelotti said in his postmatch news conference. “He’s involved in the play, and not having a fixed position gives him an advantage. It’s been a surprising start to the season. Nobody expected this level in terms of goals.”

  • AS Roma coach José Mourinho said he fully expects to work in Saudi Arabia one day after his compatriot, Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo, led the way by joining Al Nassr, with a stream of players subsequently signing for Saudi Pro League teams. “I will go to Saudi Arabia in some free time, but I am convinced that I will work there. I don’t know when, but I am pretty sure of it,” said Mourinho, who is under pressure after a disappointing start to the season. “No one knows the future, but I will definitely [work in Saudi Arabia].”

And finally, on Saturday …

It was a crazy end to Genoa vs. AC Milan as the Rossoneri snatched a late 1-0 win thanks to Christian Pulisic‘s strike after 87 minutes of a scoreless stalemate.

However, late into stoppage time, goalkeeper Mike Maignan was sent off after bringing down Caleb Ekuban due to serious foul play outside the edge of the box. With the visitors having used all of their substitutes at this point, Olivier Giroud slipped on the keeper’s gloves for the remaining last moments of the match.

Just as if you didn’t need any more chaos, Genoa goalkeeper Josep Martínez was also sent off following a collision with midfielder Yunus Musah, leaving both teams with 10 men.

It looked like Milan were in jeopardy of letting their win slip through their fingers, but the veteran France international came up clutch with a last-second one-on-one save with Romania forward George Puscas to give them all three points and sit atop of the Serie A table. — Roberto Rojas


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