Without the enlightenment of Jude Bellingham, Real Madrid could not find the way to the goal, and against Rayo Vallecano, they looked for it in a thousand ways. He tried 22 shots, for nothing. Without the inspiration of the Englishman, he was left dry against a team that stayed on its feet without ever forgetting to play and try to get closer to Kepa’s area. But Vini and Rodrygo are not starting to score, as Ancelotti claims and Joselu also seems to have broken his little love affair with the goal at the Bernabéu. The tie leaves Girona alone at the top of the table and leads Madrid to a week of doubts with a Champions League match on Wednesday, against Braga, and another in the League on Saturday, against Valencia.
That Bellingham’s unreal moment was going to go wrong was feared almost from the beginning. There was a moment when the stadium held its breath. The bass drum stopped and the voices faded little by little in the stands, as the realization spread that the Englishman had fallen. And he didn’t get up. He bent down to control a low ball with his chest and when he reached the grass and supported himself with his left arm, pain attacked him in his shoulder. Seconds passed, the paramedics manipulated his joint, he went to the stretcher, and the Bernabéu waited with the volume at zero. Silence for the restlessness of the stands with his last great love. Until, four minutes later, he returned to the field, and little by little he greased the team.
Madrid played the game as if they were heating a pot of water, gradually increasing the temperature in search of the boiling point, which it did not reach. He began exploring the left wing, where Vini, Bellingham, Fran García, Modric, and Camavinga gathered to add passes as if the ball were his and there was no rush for anything. Thus, turn by turn, they approached the baseline, once Bellingham, another Vini, still preliminary explorations at low revs.
Rayo barely escaped the siege, although the touch of their midfield gave them time to breathe. Isi, Unai López, Óscar Valentín, and Pahté Ciss moved the ball well. Francisco’s team also approached the opposing goal from the left, but there was a gap between both attacks. When Álvaro García reached the area and looked, he only found white t-shirts.
On the other side, Madrid was increasing the pressure in the boiler. Camavinga swept the center from the pivot left by the injured Tchouameni. The Frenchman dominated the area at the cut, distributed correctly, and accelerated upwards to add spice from time to time. He and Valverde were flying around, and the Uruguayan galloped over lines as if his rivals were standing still.
But the footballer who helped connect the pieces was, once again, Jude Bellingham, recovered from a gigantic scare. He appeared between the lines to provide an outlet for anyone who needed support to progress. He stepped in the areas that Modric used to step in, this time further back, without Kroos in the eleven. The Englishman opened the way for Fran García and Alaba to finish, two shots that went over the crossbar.
Vini was also getting warmer. On this occasion, he did not find himself facing one of his most intense antagonists. Iván Balliu disappeared from Rayo’s roster shortly before the match due to some discomfort. In his place, Francisco placed the Romanian Ratiu at right back. The Brazilian came one step closer to that version of the last two seasons capable of unbalancing any defensive system. Little by little he found a way to get rid of Ratiu and the help that Isi, Lejeune, Moomin, or whoever happened to be giving him. Vini invented again, fantasy footwork, panic in the area, fun in the stands, and a couple of outside crosses loaded with poison.
But even then Madrid did not find the goal, immersed in a monologue in which Joselu narrowly missed a diving header and Vinicius was narrowly unable to push it a few centimeters from the line. Ancelotti added even more coal. Modric out and Rodrygo in, who crossed the first shot he had too far, and Kroos into the sand instead of Fran García, which brought Camavinga to the side.
On the other bench, Francisco did not consider taking cover and put Trejo, Bebe, and Falcao. But Ancelotti’s men maintained the siege, growing in proportion to their desperation with Rayo’s resistance and their delays. And in the end, nothing.