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Thursday June 13, 2024

Bellingham delivers as Madrid punish Girona, Sociedad win Basque derby

By AFP
October 02, 2023

GIRONA, Spain: Inspired by Jude Bellingham, Real Madrid showed both steel and class to beat high-flying Girona 3-0 on Saturday and move back top of La Liga.

Real Sociedad thrashed Athletic Bilbao by the same scoreline to win the Basque derby later on and rise to fourth. Girona headed into the weekend as unlikely leaders but champions Barcelona usurped them by beating Sevilla on Friday, with Madrid then deposing their rivals at the league´s summit with a solid triumph on Catalan soil.

Joselu and Aurelien Tchouameni´s first-half goals were enough to burst Girona´s bubble and after that the record 35-time La Liga winners kept the plucky upstarts at arm´s length. The stylish Bellingham netted with 20 minutes remaining to seal Madrid´s victory and continue his own sparkling run of goalscoring form.

Madrid defender Nacho was sent off late in the match for an ugly high tackle on Portu, who went off injured. "Nacho wasn´t thinking clearly, he´s usually a player who does things right, he has said sorry," said Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, who praised his team´s display.

"It was a solid performance, strong, we defended well, we knew they could hurt us with the ball, they play good football, so it was important to defend well in our half." Michel´s side beat Real Madrid at home last season and their fans believed they could repeat the trick, but they found a determined side in their path.

In only their fourth season in the Spanish top flight and unbeaten in their first seven games, the City Football Group-owned team are flourishing, but their illustrious visitors arrived with a point to prove about the natural order of things, and snapped that run. Ancelotti brought in Eduardo Camavinga at left-back to bolster the defence after Atletico Madrid found too much joy down the flanks in Los Blancos´ derby defeat last weekend.

The coach also handed Vinicius Junior his first start after injury. Girona came out with their tails up, looking to capitalise on the boisterous home atmosphere at their small but fired-up Montilivi stadium.

They almost did, with Yangel Herrera heading narrowly over and Viktor Tsygankov hitting the post in an onslaught inside the opening five minutes. However Madrid took the lead against the run of play to stop the hosts in their tracks.

Joselu converted from close range after Bellingham found the Spain striker with a sublime outside-of-the-boot cross. Four minutes later the visitors netted their second, with Tchouameni given a free header from Toni Kroos´ corner, gratefully accepting his first goal for Madrid since joining in 2022.

Girona started the second half strongly and Kepa Arrizabalaga was called into action to repel David Lopez´s header. Tchouameni survived a penalty appeal after tangling with Herrera inside his area as Madrid rode the pressure, with goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga denying Bellingham at the other end. However few teams have been able to keep the England international at bay this season.

Bellingham, the division´s top scorer with six goals, turned home the rebound after Gazzaniga parried a Joselu effort to kill any hope of a comeback.

Nacho was dismissed in the final stages for his vicious foul on winger Portu, which sparked a brief brawl between the players. "Carlo said it was a tackle that was out of place, and said sorry to us," Michel said.

"No tackle of that style is understandable, but seeing the minute and the result at the time, even less so." Madrid lead with 21 points from eight games, a point ahead of Barcelona, who are in turn a point ahead of Girona.

Later on Real Sociedad climbed above rivals Athletic Bilbao, fifth, whom they beat 3-0 in San Sebastian. Robin Le Normand sent the hosts ahead in the first half with the electric Takefusa Kubo adding the second soon after the break, his fifth goal of the season. Mikel Oyarzabal extended La Real´s advantage on a fine night for Imanol Alguacil´s side, who have won three in a row in La Liga. "We play well, everybody knows that," Kubo told Movistar. "If it´s not accompanied by hard work then in this league, you won´t beat anyone."