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Bellingham brace helps leaders Madrid crush title rivals Girona

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  • February 11, 2024


MADRID:

Jude Bellingham struck twice as leaders Real Madrid took control of La Liga with a punishing 4-0 win over second-placed Girona on Saturday, opening up a five-point cushion.

Vinicius Junior drove home the opener and then set up Bellingham for the second as Carlo Ancelotti’s side dominated the Catalan minnows, leaving the surprise title contenders reeling.

Bellingham tapped in the third after the break from close range but limped off with an ankle problem early in the second half.

Rodrygo kept the goals flowing with a fine individual effort as the record 35-time Spanish champions taught Girona, in the top flight for only the fourth year in their history, a compelling lesson.

Victory leaves Madrid 11 points clear of champions Barcelona, third, who host Granada on Sunday.

“Jude is a star, he scores a lot of goals and I hope he can keep going,” Vinicius told Real Madrid TV.

“Jude has been the best this season, we’re doing things well and we’re happy because we’re a family.”

Real Madrid coach Ancelotti reserved high praise for Vinicius, a constant thorn in Girona’s side.

“When he plays like this and with this attitude, he’s the best in the world, in my personal opinion,” said the Italian.

Madrid’s triumph was convincing, with swagger but also sweat to keep the league’s top goalscoring side quiet, despite significant injury absences.

Ancelotti started with a makeshift central defensive pairing of Dani Carvajal and Aurelien Tchouameni, with all four of the club’s specialists in the position out.

“Today we beat the world record for centre-back injuries,” joked Ancelotti.

Girona were without the suspended Daley Blind and Yangel Herrera, as well as coach Michel Sanchez, watching on helplessly from a high vantage point as his team were dismantled.

“When you face opponents of such a level, it lets you see what your reality is, a bit,” admitted Michel, who said his team were still having an “incredible” season despite the result.

They started well against Madrid but conceded early in a thorough 3-0 home defeat in September, and committed the same mistake again at the Santiago Bernabeu.

This time Vinicius broke the deadlock in only the sixth minute, cutting in from the left and bending a vicious strike beyond Paulo Gazzaniga and in at the far post.

Bellingham, who started the match level with Girona’s Artem Dovbyk on 14 goals as the league’s joint top scorer, doubled Madrid’s lead.

The England international rounded Gazzaniga and then stroked home from a tight angle after a superb Vinicius pass sent him hurtling in on goal.

Bellingham tapped in his 16th of the season in La Liga early in the second half after Gazzaniga could only tip Vinicius’ shot into his path.

It was his last contribution, Ancelotti quickly withdrawing him afterwards for an ankle injury which he iced.

Madrid face RB Leipzig in the Champions League on Tuesday and will hope he is fit, after Bellingham reached 20 goals in 29 games across all competitions.

However Los Blancos have plenty of other firepower if he needs to rest.

Rodrygo rattled in the fourth after darting into the area as Girona collapsed — and perhaps their unlikely title bid has too.

“All games are (important), but this one was a bit more so,” Rodrygo told Real Madrid TV.

“I’m very happy, it was a special moment for me, my 50th goal … it was a perfect game for us.”

Joselu hit the post with a penalty with the last kick of the game as Madrid dominated from start to finish, with Vinicius, Bellingham and midfielder Eduardo Camavinga shining.

Girona defender Yan Couto was in tears at the end after a particularly difficult evening at the hands of Vinicius.

“They went ahead with a great goal, we had to row against the tide,” said Girona winger Cristian Portu.

“Today it all went badly and they had a great game.”

Elsewhere Ante Budimir’s goal earned Osasuna a 1-0 win at Real Sociedad, who face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Las Palmas snatched a 2-0 win over Valencia with late goals from Alex Suarez and Marc Cardona while Alaves drew 1-1 with Villarreal.

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