Bellingham inspires 'complete team' Real to La Liga title

Bellingham inspires 'complete team' Real to La Liga title

Real Madrid were crowned La Liga champions on Saturday, wrapping up the title by beating relegation candidates Cadiz 3-0 at the Bernabeu before watching Barcelona lose 4-2 at Girona.

It has been an impressively dominant campaign for Carlo Ancelotti's men, who have lost just once all season – at local rivals Atletico Madrid in September – and are unbeaten in their last 28 league games.

BBC Sport examines the story of their success, which could easily end with more silverware with the Champions League now firmly in their sights.

Hey Jude! He scored on his debut, netted a late winner on his home debut, scored an injury-time winner in El Clasico (twice!) and is the undoubted La Liga player of the season.

Yes, Jude Bellingham's debut campaign in Spain has been spectacularly successful.

And it's not just about his 18 league goals. The England midfielder's willingness to work tirelessly from box to box, and his ability to create chances for teammates, have endeared him to the Bernabeu faithful and the demanding Madrid media – illustrated by a recent article in Marca headlining his impact as “immediate and unique”.

He has also displayed truly remarkable leadership qualities for a 20-year-old, stepping into a dressing room full of superstars and promptly commanding respect as the leading light of a squad packed with elite talent.

Bellingham's stature as one of the best players in the world has clearly been enhanced by his superb season, and it is now taken for granted in Spain that he is the leading candidate for this year’s Ballon d’Or.

Real are far from a one-man team, however, and Brazilian forwards Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo – operating in more central and flexible roles than previously following the departure of Karim Benzema and the positioning of Bellingham as a false nine – have also delivered with 13 and 10 league goals respectively.

There have also been strong contributions from a pair of back-up forwards in their first seasons with the club: Brahim Diaz has provided six goals and four assists, while former Stoke and Newcastle target man Joselu has notched nine goals despite only starting 13 games.

That has helped make Real the leading scorers in La Liga with 74, and allowed Ancelotti to regularly shuffle his pack and keep his stars fresh without a significant drop-off in productivity.

Overcoming defensive injuries At the other end of the field, an impressive aspect of Real's success is that it has been achieved despite long-term injuries to goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and starting central defenders David Alaba and Eder Militao.

This is firstly a great credit to their replacements, especially Ukrainian keeper Andriy Lunin. The 25-year-old had only started nine league games for Real before this season and was forced to see off the challenge of Kepa, who was signed on loan from Chelsea when Courtois was injured.

But it didn't take long for Lunin to establish himself as first choice between the posts thanks to a series of assured performances, to the extent that Courtois' recent return to fitness by no means guarantees he will be reinstated to the starting line-up for the climax of the Champions League challenge.

Antonio Rudiger has also enjoyed an outstanding campaign, bouncing back from an indifferent first season at the Bernabeu to display all the ferocious competitive spirit that made him so popular with Chelsea fans.

There must also be praise for Ancelotti, who has calmly rotated the resources at his disposal to compensate for the injuries.

And the stats speak for themselves: despite missing three defensive starters, Real boast by far the best defensive record in La Liga, conceding just 22 goals in 34 games.

Midfield mastery Between the prolific forward line and the successfully patched-up defence, everything has been knitted together by arguably the best midfield in football in terms of both quality and quantity.

At the other end of the age scale from Bellingham, Luka Modric is now a peripheral presence and may well leave the club at the end of the season. However, the 38-year-old can still be relied upon to deliver top quality when required, such as a memorable 20-yard winner against Sevilla in February.

Modric's old ally Toni Kroos is showing no sign of slowing down, producing one of the best seasons of his career with his metronomic passing and ability to resist pressure still as good as anyone's – he has played more passes into the final third than any other player in La Liga.

Dynamic Uruguayan Federico Valverde leads Real in league minutes played, and has demonstrated great adaptability to fill a deeper role following the arrival of Bellingham. Young French duo Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni complete Ancelotti's enviable half-dozen of top-class midfielders, combining elegance and steel in equal measure, along with enough versatility enough to occasionally fill gaps in the back four.

With their combination of goals from various sources, an adaptable defence and an incomparable midfield, all astutely controlled by an unflappable manager, Real are as close to a complete team as it gets.

They can play effectively in different styles – dominating possession and pressing high; sitting deep and defending diligently; counter-attacking with speed and purpose – and still possess arguably their greatest quality of all: the self-belief to find a way to win when the going gets tough.

That cocktail of individual and collective qualities has been mixed together to give Ancelotti’s men the domestic title with a rare degree of comfort, and could also soon see them, yet again, crowned kings of Europe.