Real Madrid's latest legend, Jude Bellingham, stuns Barcelona and wins El Clásico with 2 goals

Real Madrid's Jude Bellingham, right, celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the La Liga soccer match between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Joan Monfort)

For FC Barcelona, Saturday's Clásico had every ingredient for a letdown. It was played by a team decimated by injuries, in a makeshift formation, at an auxiliary stadium. It was played against the eternal nemesis, Real Madrid, a fit squad full of new-age superstars. It was uncomfortably commercialized by Spotify, and quieter than usual, and — the list of limiting factors seemed endless.

But in the end, only one ingredient mattered: Jude Bellingham.

Bellingham, El Clásico's latest legend, beat Barcelona almost single-handedly, first with a world-class screamer, then with a stoppage-time winner in a 2-1 Real Madrid victory.

Madrid sputtered for much of the first half. Barca, wounded but resilient, took an early lead, and held it for 62 minutes.

But lying in wait was Bellingham, La Liga's leading scorer, already the toast of Madrid's Santiago Bernabéu as a 20-year-old English newcomer. He has taken Spain, the third country of his young career, by storm. And on Saturday, he took his burgeoning legend to new heights.

First, he powered his right foot through a nearly stationary ball, some 30 yards from goal, and rocketed it past Marc-André Ter Stegen to level the match at 1-1.

Then he won the 255th Clásico with his 13th goal in 13 games at Real Madrid, and the very type of goal that has defined his surge to prominence.

He has scored all 13 from his perch as a marauding midfielder. Playing at the tip of a diamond, he has simultaneously transformed Los Blancos and rescued them, time and time again, just a few months into his Madrid tenure. He has beaten Getafe and Union Berlin. He has deflated opponent after opponent with his ravenous pressing and calm passing, but most of all with his well-timed, undetected bursts into the penalty box. Barcelona is merely his latest victim.

Barca had outperformed expectations for 45 minutes, and led 1-0 via its own new midfield maestro, Ilkay Gündoğan. Gündoğan changed the face of the game in his sixth minute of involvement in this age-old rivalry. He chased a weak intervention from Aurelien Tchouameni as Madrid defenders and time stood still. He powered through David Alaba's indecision, and put Barcelona ahead with a smooth finish.

Madrid, meanwhile, seemed discombobulated, unable to grasp control of the game despite its numerical advantage in midfield. Barca clipped the post twice. Vinicius Junior's frustration was evident. Barca was buoyant.

But Madrid's quality never fully deserted the game. It roared back to the forefront in the second half. And it was propelled by, well, who else? Bellingham.

He has starred in the English Championship as a 16-year-old, and bossed the German Bundesliga at 18. He wowed at the World Cup last winter at 19, just like he has on every stage that's welcomed him, no matter how big.

So of course he pounced in the 92nd minute of the most-watched domestic club soccer game on the planet. He didn't panic when a floating ball looped into his path. He guided it past Ter Stegen, and barely broke stride or facial expression, sauntering over toward the corner flag, as if none of this was surprising to the man who'd conjured it.

He spread his arms, as he always does, to the crowd and the cameras, and nodded his head as his teammates sprinted to join him. He showed zero emotion, only a businesslike stare, as the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys stared back at him stunned. With the help of those jubilant teammates, he found a smattering of Madrid fans in the upper deck, going mental, and restruck his pose, which crystalized as the emblem of El Clásico for months, and perhaps years, to come.