BARCELONA: Jude Bellingham said “it was really special” to score on his Real Madrid debut in a 2-0 win at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday in their opening La Liga match.
Despite concerns at both ends of the pitch, Carlo Ancelotti’s side earned a convincing victory at the San Mames to kick off their title bid, with Rodrygo Goes opening the scoring.
Madrid, who lost Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema to Saudi football in the summer, are still heavily linked to Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe as a replacement, as the transfer saga drags on.
Brazilian duo Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo worked well as a strike duo, with Bellingham in the No. 10 role at the tip of a diamond midfield offering ample support.
“It’s really special, the most important thing is the win,” Bellingham told Real Madrid TV.
Los Blancos goalkeeper Andriy Lunin started in place of regular stopper Thibaut Courtois, who is set to miss the majority of the season with a cruciate ligament injury.
The Ukrainian was solid, although he may soon be behind Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga in the pecking order, with the Spaniard set to join on loan according to various reports.
Ancelotti, who will take over the Brazilian national team at the end of this campaign, handed defender Fran Garcia his second Madrid debut after his return from Rayo Vallecano.
However, it was Bellingham’s name that stood out and the 20-year-old demonstrated why Madrid paid over 100 million euros ($110 million) for him.
“I’m very happy to play with (Bellingham), he’s a great player, and I’m sure he’ll help us a lot this season,” said Rodrygo.
Ancelotti also hailed the England international on his fine debut.
“(He was) very good, he’s got personality, being here motivates him a lot,” said Madrid’s coach.
“He’s a fantastic player, a very important signing — he’s out of the ordinary.”
Madrid took the lead before the half-hour mark when Dani Carvajal hooked the ball back to Rodrygo, who slotted past Unai Simon at his near post.
The goalkeeper managed to force David Alaba’s header onto the post and thwarted Vinicius after he burst into the box, but Bellingham soon added Madrid’s second.
The England international netted in unorthodox fashion, volleying Alaba’s corner into the ground and over Simon.
Bellingham stood still, facing the home fans with arms wide in celebration, as if announcing his arrival to La Liga — drawing a rebuke from Athletic captain Iker Muniain.
“I’ve always been taught if you try and hit the target you can score,” said Bellingham.
“I didn’t make the best contact with it, I was a little bit lucky, but it worked.”
The midfielder nearly carved out another for Rodrygo with an inviting cross, but the Brazilian narrowly failed to make contact with an attempted bicycle kick.
Former Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde made a triple change at half-time to try and pull Athletic back into the game.
Madrid were forced into a change themselves early in the second half when Eder Militao hurt his knee and was replaced by Antonio Rudiger.
Bellingham continued to impress in the second half, bursting forward from deep into dangerous territory, but the move eventually broke down.
Wearing former Madrid midfielder Zinedine Zidane’s No. 5, the former Birmingham City man started as he means to go on.
Vinicius, making his first away appearance in La Liga since being racially abused by Valencia fans in May, was occasionally whistled by Athletic supporters.
The forward made way in the final stages for another debutant, Joselu, whom Madrid loaned from relegated Espanyol, as Los Blancos saw out their opening weekend win with ease.
“(Valverde) could have taken 11 players off,” Athletic defender Oscar de Marcos told Movistar.
“In the second half we were better but we couldn’t lay a glove on them.”
Elsewhere, Real Sociedad were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by Girona.
The Basque side, who finished fourth last season to qualify for the Champions League, went ahead when Takefusa Kubo struck but were pegged back by Artem Dovbyk’s header.
Antonio Raillo earned Mallorca a 1-1 draw at promoted Las Palmas, who took the lead through Jonathan Viera’s penalty.
Champions Barcelona start their title defense at Getafe on Sunday.