Euro round-up: Real back to winning ways | Juve claim fifth victory in a row

Toni Kroos claimed a goal and an assist as Real Madrid beat second-bottom Cadiz 2-1 in their last La Liga match before the World Cup break.

The champions returned to winning ways after losing 3-2 to Rayo Vallecano on Monday and go into the mid-season pause second in the standings, two points behind leaders Barcelona.

Real opened the scoring in the 40th minute against Cadiz when Kroos delivered a perfect deep cross from a short corner that found Eder Militao, who headed into the empty net.

Kroos then doubled Real’s lead with a powerful strike in the 70th minute but Cadiz provided their hosts with a nervy ending when former Arsenal forward Lucas Perez scored eight minutes from time after Thibaut Courtois failed to hold Theo Bongonda’s effort.

But Real held on to move nine points clear of third-placed Real Sociedad, meaning the second half of the season is likely to come down to a race between Madrid and their bitter rivals Barcelona for the title.

Juve claim fifth win in a row

Juventus' Moise Kean, left, celebrates after scoring the first goal of the game during the Italian Serie A soccer match between Hellas Verona and Juventus at the Marcantonio Bentegodi Stadium in Verona, Italy, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (Paola Garbuio/LaPresse via AP)
Image:
Moise Kean scored the winning goal for Juventus against Hellas Verona

Juventus won their fifth Serie A match in succession thanks to Moise Kean, whose second-half goal was enough to secure a 1-0 victory at Hellas Verona.

Juventus began the season poorly with just two wins from their first nine matches in all competitions, but their recent revival has seen them rise to fourth in the table.

In truth, Massimiliano Allegri’s side were not particularly impressive and came close to conceding through Ibrahim Sulemana shortly after kick-off.

But Kean scored the only goal of the game on the hour mark when his shot trickled under Verona goalkeeper Lorenzo Montipo.

Juventus had a scare five minutes from time when Verona were awarded a penalty for a high boot from Leonardo Bonucci, but the decision was changed after a VAR check.

Alex Sandro was then sent off for the visitors for a tackle on Kevin Lasagna just outside the penalty area, but Juventus were able to see out the win and claim another three points.

While Juventus are enjoying a resurgence, Verona’s loss means they have now suffered nine Serie A losses in a row for the first time and lie bottom of the table.

Meanwhile, Lazio climbed to second place with a hard-fought 1-0 home win over Monza thanks 17-year-old Luka Romero’s first goal for the club.

Lazio's Luka Romero celebrates scoring during the Serie A soccer match at Olympic Stadium, Roma, Thursday Nov. 10, 2022. (Fabrizio Corradetti/LaPresse via AP)
Image:
Luka Romero’s winning strike was just his second senior goal

Monza thought they had taken the lead after 13 minutes but Andrea Petagna’s effort was ruled out due to offside after a VAR check.

Lazio then sealed victory in the 69th minute when Monza goalkeeper Michele Di Gregorio could not hold Pedro’s shot, with Romero reacting quickly to prod home the loose ball.

Liverpool face Real Madrid in CL last 16 | Chelsea draw Dortmund

Liverpool will face Real Madrid in their Champions League last-16 tie in a repeat of the 2022 final, while Chelsea were drawn against Borussia Dortmund.

Vinicius Junior’s winner saw Real Madrid lift their 14th European title in May’s final, following on from Real’s 3-1 victory against Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final in Kyiv.

But Liverpool will now get an early opportunity to exact some revenge for that loss as they bid to reach the quarter-finals in this season’s competition. Their first leg will be played at Anfield on Tuesday February 21 before the return leg on Wednesday March 15 at the Bernabeu

Reacting to the draw, former Liverpool defender Stephen Warnock told Sky Sports News: “It’s a very difficult tie for Liverpool. Finishing second in their group, they don’t get the opportunity to play at home in the second leg.

“However, Jurgen Klopp’s side will want to avenge the final defeat last year, even though it doesn’t win you the competition. It does give you something to put right, though.”

Liverpool and Real Madrid met just five months ago in the 2022 Champions League final
Image:
Liverpool and Real Madrid met just five months ago in the 2022 Champions League final

Graham Potter’s Chelsea will take on Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Christian Pulisic facing their former club. The first leg will be on Wednesday February 15 before the return leg at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday March 7.

Chelsea’s February & March schedule

  • Chelsea vs Fulham – February 4
  • West Ham vs Chelsea – February 11
  • Borussia Dortmund vs Chelsea – February 15
  • Chelsea vs Southampton – February 18
  • Tottenham vs Chelsea – February 25
  • Possible FA Cup fifth round tie – February 28
  • Chelsea vs Leeds – March 4
  • Chelsea vs Borussia Dortmund – March 7
  • Leicester City vs Chelsea – March 11
  • Chelsea vs Everton – March 18

Dortmund head coach Edin Terzic said of the draw: “We have a top team waiting for us. In Aubameyang and Pulisic we’re meeting old friends. We’re looking forward to seeing you again and of course, we want to make it through to the next round.”

Tottenham were drawn against AC Milan, and there will be an added incentive for Spurs boss Antonio Conte who previously managed Milan’s fierce city rivals Inter between 2019 and 2021.

Conte will return to the San Siro with Spurs for the first leg on Tuesday February 14 before the return match on Wednesday March 8 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Manchester City face a tie against RB Leipzig as they harbour ambitions of reaching a second Champions League final. Pep Guardiola’s side have lost only one of their last 17 matches against German sides in the Champions League (W14 D2) – although that defeat came away at RB Leipzig in December 2021.

Man City will travel to Germany for the first leg on Wednesday February 22 before playing the second leg at the Etihad on Tuesday March 14.

Manchester City’s February & March schedule

  • Tottenham vs Manchester City – February 4
  • Manchester City vs Aston Villa – February 11
  • Nottingham Forest vs Manchester City – February 18
  • RB Leipzig vs Manchester City – February 22
  • Bournemouth vs Manchester City – February 25
  • Possible FA Cup fifth round tie – February 28
  • Manchester City vs Newcastle – March 4
  • Crystal Palace vs Manchester City – March 11
  • Manchester City vs RB Leipzig – March 14
  • Manchester City vs West Ham – March 18

Elsewhere, in another replay of a recent final, PSG have been drawn against Bayern Munich in another stand-out last-16 tie. Bayern were 1-0 winners in the 2020 final against the Ligue 1 side, winning their sixth European title.

How do the last-16 fixtures affect the Premier League?

Champions League 2022/23 knockout stage
Image:
All four Premier League teams still in the Champions League have matches to be rescheduled

The timing of the Champions League last-16 matches does pose an issue for the Premier League amid an already-congested fixture list.

One-and-a-half rounds of fixtures from The Queen’s passing – including Chelsea vs Liverpool and Man City vs Spurs – are yet to be rescheduled.

However, the two above fixtures are unlikely to be played on any of the Champions League last 16 midweeks – four in total – as each of the Premier League teams involved are playing their ties on alternating weeks.

There is also a March international break on the weeks commencing March 20 and 27, narrowing further the dates for the fixtures to be rescheduled.

Champions League last-16 draw in full

  • RB Leipzig vs Man City – First leg on Wednesday February 22; Second leg on Tuesday March 14
  • Club Brugge vs Benfica – First leg on Wednesday February 15; Second leg on Tuesday March 7
  • Liverpool vs Real Madrid – First leg on Tuesday February 21; Second leg on Wednesday March 15
  • AC Milan vs Tottenham – First leg on Tuesday February 14; Second leg on Wednesday March 8
  • Eintracht Frankfurt vs Napoli – First leg on Tuesday February 21; Second leg on Wednesday March 15
  • Borussia Dortmund vs Chelsea – First leg on Wednesday February 15; Second leg on Tuesday March 7
  • Inter Milan vs Porto – First leg on Wednesday February 22; Second leg on Tuesday March 14
  • PSG vs Bayern Munich – First leg on Tuesday February 14; Second leg on Wednesday March 8

‘Last-16 timing good for Liverpool’

Former Liverpool defender Stephen Warnock on Sky Sports News:

“If the games were to happen now, I think it would be a real challenge for Liverpool.

“But, given the timing of the games in February, I think it is a good moment for Liverpool to try to correct what is going on at the moment and to put themselves in a better position.

Liverpool’s February & March schedule

  • Wolves vs Liverpool – February 4
  • Liverpool vs Everton – February 11
  • Newcastle vs Liverpool – February 18
  • Liverpool vs Real Madrid – February 21
  • Crystal Palace vs Liverpool – February 25
  • Possible FA Cup fifth round tie – February 28
  • Liverpool vs Manchester United – March 4
  • Bournemouth vs Liverpool – March 11
  • Real Madrid vs Liverpool – March 15
  • Liverpool vs Fulham – March 18

“Potentially, they could maybe even try to sign some players in January.

“It’s a great game. You’ve got to beat the best teams and that’s what you’ve got in Real Madrid. They are the defending champions and you want to go to their backyard in the second leg, cause a problem and hopefully win the game.”

‘Spurs shouldn’t fear AC Milan’

Harry Kane celebrates scoring Tottenham's second goal against Eintracht Frankfurt
Image:
Tottenham should not fear AC Milan, says Stephen Warnock

Stephen Warnock on Sky Sports News:

“At any point in the competition now you have got to fancy your chances. You have got to believe you are capable of winning games.

Tottenham’s February & March schedule

  • Tottenham vs Manchester City – February 4
  • Leicester City vs Tottenham – February 11
  • AC Milan vs Tottenham Hotspur – February 14
  • Tottenham vs West Ham – February 18
  • Tottenham vs Chelsea – February 25
  • Possible FA Cup fifth round tie – February 28
  • Wolves vs Tottenham – March 4
  • Tottenham vs AC Milan – March 8
  • Tottenham vs Nottingham Forest – March 11
  • Southampton vs Tottenham – March 18

“When you look at all the draws of the English sides I think Liverpool have arguably got the hardest draw, but you look at the rest and they should progress out of those games.

“For Spurs, I don’t look at AC Milan and fear them. I know they are Serie A champions, but I don’t think you’d fear them.

“I’d rather not play Napoli.”

When will the games be played?

The first legs of the last-16 games will be played on the midweeks of February 14-15, and February 21-22 2023.

The second legs will be played across March 7-8 and March 14-15.

Beyond the last 16…

For those sides lucky enough to reach the quarter-finals, it’s a free for all from then on – with no restrictions on who can draw one another.

The draw for the last eight and the semi-finals will be held on March 17, with the quarter-final first legs held on April 11-12 and the second legs on April 18-19.

The first legs of the semi-finals will be held on May 9-10, and the second legs on May 16-17. The Champions League final will then be held in Istanbul on June 10.

Euro round-up: Real held by Girona as Kroos sees red | Milan shocked by Torino

Real Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw by Girona at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday but the reigning champions maintained their unbeaten streak in La Liga and hold a one-point lead over Barcelona.

After a goalless first half, Real opened the scoring through Vinicius Jr in the 70th minute but their lead was cancelled out by a Cristhian Stuani penalty 10 minutes later.

Real were frustrated for more than an hour but finally made the breakthrough when their patient build-up play allowed Federico Valverde to put the ball into the six-yard box where Vinicius was on hand to tap it into the net.

Girona were handed a lifeline when Marco Asensio handled the ball in the box and the referee awarded a penalty following a VAR check, with Stuani stepping up to the spot and sending Thibaut Courtois the wrong way to level the score.

Real’s Rodrygo thought he had won the game at the death when he fought for the ball in a goalmouth scramble with Girona goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga, but the referee disallowed his goal as the keeper was in control of the ball when the Brazilian bundled it in.

Real’s match only got worse when midfielder Toni Kroos was sent off in added time after receiving a second yellow card. Girona, who are 16th in the standings, came away with a precious point as their players sank to the ground in relief.

Union score stoppage time winner to stay top

Union Berlin returned to the Bundesliga summit
Image:
Union Berlin returned to the Bundesliga summit

Union Berlin scored a stoppage-time winner through Danilho Doekhi on Sunday to snatch a 2-1 win over visiting Borussia Monchengladbach and remain top of the Bundesliga, one point ahead of Bayern Munich.

Kevin Behrens’s powerful header levelled the score in the 79th for Union, avoiding a second consecutive loss for the club, who have surprisingly led the title race for more than a month, before Doekhi’s last-gasp winner.

Union are on 26 with Bayern on 25 points following their 6-2 win over Mainz 05 on Saturday.

Gladbach’s Nico Elvedi headed in for the lead in the 33rd minute from a Lars Stindl corner, with the visitors controlling possession in the first half.

The hosts, who lost last week to VfL Bochum, pushed forward after the break and earned the equaliser when Behrens beat keeper Tobias Sippel 11 minutes from the end.

Union then put the ball in the net again but Christopher Trimmel’s 87th-minute header was overruled by the VAR before Doekhi got the winner with the last move of the game.

AC Milan shocked by Torino

Torino's player celebrate after scoring during the Serie A soccer match between Torino and AC Milan at the Turin Olympic stadium, Italy, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022. (Fabio Ferrari/LaPresse via AP)
Image:
Torino’s player celebrate after scoring during the Serie A soccer match between Torino and AC Milan at the Turin Olympic stadium, Italy, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022. (Fabio Ferrari/LaPresse via AP)

Struggling Torino grabbed a 2-1 home win against AC Milan on Sunday, condemning the defending champions to their second Serie A loss this season.

Milan are third in the standings on 26 points from 12 games, one point below second-placed Atalanta and six adrift of leaders Napoli, who both won their games this weekend and face each other in the next round.

Forward Rafael Leao should have put Milan ahead inside the opening 10 minutes when he received two great passes in or just outside the opponents’ box, but missed the target badly on both occasions.

While Stefano Pioli’s men dominated possession and looked to settle into the game as the half wore on, Torino took a surprise lead in the 35th minute through defender Koffi Djidji.

The 29-year-old nodded home a free-kick by Valentino Lazaro awarded after Pierre Kalulu’s foul on Torino midfielder Nikola Vlasic.

Aleksey Miranchuk doubled Torino’s advantage two minutes later when goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic sent a long ball up the field which landed just in front of Milan’s area, and the midfielder fired a low shot inside the right post.

Defender Sergino Dest had a chance to score for Milan shortly after the break when he found space just outside Torino’s box and struck powerfully, seeing the ball go just over the crossbar.

Milan hit back through midfielder Junior Messias who unleashed their first shot on target in the 67th minute, after an error by Milinkovic-Savic who left the goal uncovered and allowed the Brazilian to shoot into the empty net.

Milan lacked clear chances to draw level, allowing Torino to end their unbeaten run of 17 Serie A away matches, the longest across Europe’s top five leagues.

Sarri laments Lazio collapse against Salernitana

Matteo Cancellieri and Boulaye Dia scuffle
Image:
Matteo Cancellieri and Boulaye Dia scuffle

Lazio coach Maurizio Sarri said his team lost their heads in their 3-1 loss at home against Salernitana on Sunday in Serie A.

Sarri’s side went into the game with six consecutive clean sheets in the league and were only one game away from equalling the club’s record streak of seven in a row from 1998.

“We had the game completely in hand until the equaliser, which caught us unprepared. We probably assumed the game was won and that made us lose all our balance and shape,” Sarri told DAZN.

Lazio scored the first goal with Mattia Zaccagni in the 41st minute but saw the visitors score three after the break.

“The game changed after it went to 1-1, the referee did not help keep the situation calm, but we still should have had the strength to overcome all of that,” Sarri said.

Lazio ended a lousy day with midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic getting a yellow card in the 72nd minute, suspending him for the upcoming derby against AS Roma.

“Not only was it not a yellow card, it wasn’t even a foul, Milinkovic-Savic had already passed the ball, the other player was late and there was no way to avoid the collision,” Sarri said.

“In 50 years of football I have never seen this type of yellow card given for a team that is attacking and in possession. If I say what I really think, they will give me a six-month ban.”

Lazio play at Dutch side Feyenoord in the Europa League on Thursday before facing Roma away on Sunday.

“We need to get ourselves back in order and start again, beginning with the trip to Holland, then we can think about the derby after that,” Sarri said.

Lazio are fourth in the standings on 24 points, eight behind leaders Napoli. Salernitana are 10th.

Real thrash Celtic to qualify as group winners | Ange: I’m not disheartened

Celtic finished their Champions League campaign winless after being thrashed 5-1 at holders Real Madrid, who qualified for the last 16 as Group F winners.

Real’s comfortable victory means they will be seeded in Monday’s last-16 draw and could be potential opponents for unseeded Liverpool.

The Spanish champions were 2-0 up inside 21 minutes at the Bernabeu thanks to penalties from Luka Modric and Rodrygo.

Already-eliminated Celtic could have pulled one back in the 35th minute but Josip Juranovic’s penalty was saved by Thibaut Courtois.

The Croatia defender’s miss was then punished in the second half as Marco Asensio, Vinicius Junior and Federico Valverde made it 5-0 after 71 minutes.

Celtic scored an 84th-minute consolation goal thanks to substitute Jota’s stunning free-kick as Ange Postecoglou’s side finished bottom of Group F with four losses and two draws.

Elsewhere in Group F, RB Leipzig won 4-0 at Shakhtar Donetsk to qualify as runners-up for the last 16.

How rampant Real swept aside Celtic

Real Madrid's Luka Modric celebrates after scoring
Image:
Real Madrid’s Luka Modric celebrates after scoring

Celtic went to the Bernabeu knowing they would finish bottom of the group regardless of the result, but they began their final game in the worst possible way after Real were awarded a penalty inside the first five minutes.

Moritz Jenz handballed Valverde’s shot and Real captain Modric converted to open the scoring in the sixth minute.

Team news

  • Real Madrid made two changes from their 1-1 home draw against Girona in La Liga on Sunday as Eder Militao and Marco Asensio came in for Antonio Rudiger and Eduardo Camavinga, who dropped to the bench.
  • Celtic made four changes from Sunday’s Scottish Premiership win at Livingston as Carl Starfelt replaced Cameron Carter-Vickers to make his first start in two months after injury.
  • Liel Abada, Daizen Maeda and Josip Juranovic were the others who came in, with Sead Haksabanovic, Anthony Ralston and James Forrest all dropping to the bench.

Real were soon given another penalty – this time by VAR – as Rodrygo’s strike struck Matt O’Riley’s arm and the Brazilian stepped up to make it 2-0 in the 21st minute.

Referee Stephanie Frappart then awarded her third penalty of the evening as Real Madrid’s Ferland Mendy fouled Liel Abada but Juranovic’s spot-kick was saved by Courtois.

Josip Juranovic after missing a penalty for Celtic vs Real Madrid
Image:
Josip Juranovic missed a penalty for Celtic at the Bernabeu

Six minutes into the second half, Real scored a third as Asensio produced an excellent first-time finish from Dani Carvajal’s pull back.

Vinicius Junior made it 4-0 in the 61st minute as the Brazilian tapped home Valverde’s cross and 10 minutes later the Uruguayan got himself on the scoresheet with a sweeping first-time finish.

Vinicius Jr celebrates after scoring Real Madrid's fourth goal vs Celtic
Image:
Vinicius Jr celebrates after scoring Real Madrid’s fourth goal against Celtic

The 1,800 Celtic supporters in the away end were given something to cheer about, though, when Jota curled a wonderful free-kick past Courtois.

But the 5-1 defeat meant the Scottish Premiership champions ended with just two points from six games – their lowest-ever total for a Champions League group-stage campaign.

Postecoglou: I’m not disheartened | ‘I believe we’re on the right track’

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou looks on during the Real Madrid match
Image:
Ange Postecoglou’s side finished their Champions League group with four losses and two draws

Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou speaking to BT Sport:

“Firstly, they’re a fantastic football team and they’ve got some real quality and from our perspective, we didn’t start the game too badly.

“At 2-0 we got our penalty, 2-1 maybe doesn’t change the outcome but maybe gives us a little bit more belief and puts them under real pressure. But I guess that’s been the story of our campaign.

“I never fear the worst because we’re still trying to play. I’m really proud of our players. We lost 5-1 against a fantastic team but the players never stopped trying to play. Thibaut Courtois was outstanding.

“I don’t fear for anything with this group of players. We’ve lost to a very good football team but I’m still proud of the player’s effort.

“I’ve said before, the key for us is to be here [the Champions League] every year. I’ve got no doubt the players have grown from this, Matt O’Riley, Reo Hatate. I’ve got no doubt they’ll be better footballers quite a few of our guys, and we will learn from it but only if we qualify again.

“If we perform like that, we’ll be hard to stop in the league. If we go in there with that intent every week, we’ll be hard to stop.

“I’m disappointed for the fans, disappointed for the players. I’m certainly not disheartened, I really believe we’re on the right track.”

Ancelotti: We were focused and concentrated

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti speaking to BT Sport:

“I think we played well, we started well. We were focused and concentrated.

“We wanted to play a good game after our last Champions League game was not so good [3-2 defeat at RB Leipzig] – we did well.

“Celtic had an opportunity to come back into the game with a penalty but I think that tonight we were really focused, we wanted to play well and win, and we did.”

Opta stats – Celtic’s Spanish woes continue

  • Celtic have lost their last six UEFA Champions League matches against Spanish opponents, conceding 24 goals while scoring just two in return.
  • Real Madrid have won all three of their home group stage matches in a UEFA Champions League season for the first time since 2015-16, a season in which they went on to win the competition.
  • Celtic conceded two penalty goals after 20 minutes and 47 seconds against Real Madrid, the earliest a side has ever let in two penalties in a UEFA Champions League match.
  • At the age of 37 years and 54 days, Real Madrid’s Luka Modric became the oldest UEFA Champions League scorer since Francesco Totti in November 2014 for Roma against CSKA Moscow (38y 59d).

What’s next?

Celtic have three more Scottish Premiership games ahead of the World Cup. They face Dundee United at home on Saturday; kick-off 3pm. Celtic then travel to Motherwell on Wednesday November 9; kick-off 7.45pm.

Their final match before the tournament is on Saturday November 12 when they host Ross County; kick-off 3pm.

Real Madrid have two more La Liga games ahead of the World Cup break. They face Rayo Vallecano on Monday November 7 before playing Cadiz three days later.

Who will win the race for Bellingham?

The question was simple, rhetorical, and delivered with a blend of arrogance and authority: “Does Jude Bellingham want to win the Ballon d’Or?”.

When you note which club has homed the most recipients of the accolade, the recruitment executive’s choice of opening gambit sings.

Real Madrid will position their offer to Bellingham – the most coveted young midfielder in Europe – as his opportunity to become the best player in the world at the place that breeds champions.

And those tasked with helping the 19-year-old make the smartest decision on his future state there is no better sales pitch: he does not care about where he could bank the biggest pay cheque, but where he’ll be challenged to become the optimum version of himself.

Manchester City's Phil Foden, left, fights for the ball with Dortmund's Jude Bellingham
Image:
Man City are one of the teams who could move for Bellingham

Bellingham has not concealed this to potential suitors privately and publicly. “I want to win way more, and I want to continue to push the boundaries of my own potential and talent,” he said recently.

Bellingham’s strength of character and clarity of what he expects from his career was central to him plumping for Borussia Dortmund when he joined from Birmingham City in the summer of 2020.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

With Jude Bellingham linked with a move to the Premier League in January, watch all of his goals and assists in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund.

Manchester United had offered more lucrative terms, gave him a tour of Carrington, and an audience with Sir Alex Ferguson. BVB distilled their push into a blueprint of how they’d aid his development and make him a full international within two years.

He’d be armed with European experience and a haul of minutes that many senior players around the continent would be envious of.

Bellingham spent months studying both clubs, as well the others that had made an approach to his dad Mark, from a purely football perspective. How did they use the ball, how did they react when losing it, where could he slot in, how would his gifts be maximised, and weaknesses eroded?

Bellingham will undergo the same process now on a different scale owing to the fee – in excess of £100 million – his talent now commands.

Real’s charm offensive has already begun and there is great seduction in becoming core to, as the club executive calls it, “the next all-star midfield.” Casemiro is gone, Luka Modric is 37, and Toni Kroos wants to retire at the Bernabeu even though he’s aware he is part of the present and past but not the future.


Tuesday 8th November 5:20pm


Kick off 5:30pm

Sky Sports Football HD
Sky Sports Football HD

Eduardo Camavinga, Aurelian Tchouameni and Federico Valverde will carry Real forward, with the hierarchy of Florentino Perez, Juni Calafat and Jose Angel Sanchez wanting Bellingham to be the golden thread.

They have the European royalty angle and haven’t been shy of pointing to Kylian Mbappe’s misery this season following his decision to snub them and agree to an eye-watering extension at Paris Saint-Germain coated with an insane level of influence.

Real Madrid need to freshen up their ageing all-star midfield
Image:
Real Madrid need to freshen up their ageing all-star midfield

The France international was also told he would be front and centre for the Ballon d’Or if he joined Real, and would know how it felt to ‘own the Champions League.’

Mbappe, the Spaniards say, opted for power and a swelled bank balance over “the sporting project” and it should serve as a lesson.

PSG do count a Ballon d’Or winner in Lionel Messi, but that is merely by virtue of him being registered at the club during the 2021 edition, which recognised his exploits with Argentina, and on a lesser level, Barcelona.

The only player to lift the prize outside of operating for La Liga’s behemoths was Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008.

Real Madrid and Man City are likely to compete for Bellingham
Image:
Real Madrid and Man City are likely to compete for Bellingham

Erling Haaland could alter that statistic at their neighbours Manchester City, and it is Pep Guardiola’s side that Real perceive as the most serious threat to them securing Bellingham.

Perez’s fears over the might of state-funded clubs is well documented but it is not the monetary element that is concerning in this regard. City are incredibly smart, well structured, and have a degree of stability across the operation not necessarily associated with Real.

Guardiola is a long-term admirer of Bellingham, already assessing two years ago: “He’s so good for 17, he’s a fantastic player. There was one moment when he didn’t get the ball from central defenders, how he shouts and demands that ball to him at 17 means a lot.

“I spoke with his manager, Edin Terzic, and he told me what you see in these two games is like every training session.”

City are plotting a midfield refresh as Ilkay Gundogan’s contract is up at the end of the season, Kevin De Bruyne is 31, and Bernardo Silva has explored options to exit the Etihad in recent campaigns. Guardiola has stressed the importance of evolution in keeping his team as the benchmark.

Bellingham scored for Dortmund against Man City earlier this season
Image:
Bellingham scored for Dortmund against Man City earlier this season

Bellingham already has phenomenal chemistry with Haaland on and off the pitch, while it is impossible to argue he wouldn’t “win way more” and “push the boundaries of my own potential and talent” at City.

United, meanwhile, have never scrubbed their interest in Bellingham. Their major priority in the summer is to add an elite forward, but they have credence they can battle for the best options on the market in every department under Erik ten Hag.

Liverpool’s dossier on the England international stretches back to his time in Birmingham’s academy and they are the top club most desperate for midfield surgery.

The Merseysiders are also viewed as the side who have put in the heaviest work over a long period behind the scenes to pierce the player’s decision-making process.

Jürgen Klopp had admitted in the summer there was only one issue in trying to sign Bellingham: “He’s not on the market, so that’s the first problem with that player. Well, the only problem with that player!”

Jurgen Klopp
Image:
Jurgen Klopp has also confessed that he is a fan of Bellingham’s

When the manager committed his future to the club until 2026, Liverpool believed it offered an extra layer of certainty and continuity to their recruitment ambitions and ability to lure prized targets.

Their lack of on-pitch identity so far this season and early worries over whether they will finish in the top four could be problematic and undercut that – especially considering the financial outlay required to snare him. Even if Liverpool are able to remedy their form, can they afford to spend the amount being spoken about on one player given the other nips and tucks the squad needs?

In terms of whether a few months of poor play will make a massive difference, ‘Team Bellingham’ is known to wade through years of research on a club to get a panorama on methodology rather than make snap decisions based on either overperformance or underperformance.

Steven Gerrard is the midfielder’s idol, but the teenager will not be swayed by sentiment.

A family friend told Sky Sports, “the way to win Jude’s heart is selling the football plan to his head.”

He also flagged that none of the fuss over Bellingham’s future has been flamed by the Stourbridge native nor his camp. It has stemmed purely from his displays, which not only surpass those of a similar age but of the game’s premier players.

In Europe’s top five divisions and the Champions League, only Joshua Kimmich has won possession more in the final third than Bellingham, who also ranks second for completed take-ons.

GRAPHIC

Deeper than the data and the evidence of our eyes is the fact, as Guardiola touched on, that he is already a leader and craves responsibility.

Sam Manoochehri oversaw Bellingham’s progress for four years as an ex-youth development coach at Birmingham City.

“I have never seen a mentality more elite than his,” he assessed. “When I worked with him, when something was tough, he loved it. I can remember games when he wanted to play himself at centre-half to test himself.

“Jude would actively go and seek the challenge without having to be pushed from the coaching staff.”

Jude Bellingham
Image:
Bellingham will be one of the most sought-after players in 2023

Michael Dodds, the academy manager at Birmingham, would add: “He always wanted better sessions, more feedback, greater challenges. Nothing was enough, because there needed to constantly be a test for him.”

Across the England set-up, there is a hankering to have Bellingham at a Premier League club. There is confidence he can develop into the national team’s captain and Real know the pull of returning home might trump the glory they can offer.

Bellingham is extremely relaxed about his future. Why wouldn’t he be when there is no shortage of quality destinations and clubs have to convince him why they are the strongest option to help him soar.