Real Madrid 'leader' Jude Bellingham tipped to shine against Manchester City

Defender Rudiger full of praise for England star and confident of handling Haaland

Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham, left, celebrates with teammate Antonio Rudiger after scoring against Barcelona in El Clasico. AFP
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Real Madrid star Jude Bellingham has the maturity and "big personality" to be decisive in their Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City, according to defender Antonio Rudiger.

Tuesday's first-leg tie at the Bernabeu presents the curious scenario of the England national team's brightest talent lining up against the English champions in the colours of the Spanish giants.

Despite being only 20, Bellingham has already shown himself to be the man for the big occasion and there is not much bigger than high-stakes knockout football in Europe's elite club competition.

Bellingham, who Rudiger describes as being "like he has seen everything in life", has taken Spanish football by storm this season, scoring 20 goals and registering 10 assists in 32 games for Los Blancos, since arriving from Borussia Dortmund last summer.

Eight of those goal involvements – four goals and as many assists – have come in the Champions League, and Rudiger insists "fantastic player" Bellingham is here to stay.

"The way he handles himself is very good – he's 20 years old but if you talk to him it is already like he has seen everything in life. He's very old for his age," said Rudiger.

"I'm sure he is going to be a leader for [England]. For his age he is already very mature. He's just professional in everything he does.

"About skills, we don't need to talk – just need to hope and pray he stays healthy. Outside of the pitch I'm not worried because he has great parents, they do a great job and keep him with both feet on the ground. He is a fantastic player.

"To be honest I was a bit surprised because I didn't know much about him but, wow. He's a big personality already in our locker room, which is massive."

While acknowledging it will be a "tough game", Rudiger insists there is no chance of Madrid, the 14-time European champions, being in awe of City, the current holders. The 31-year-old German, who won the competition in 2021 with Chelsea, also said he is relishing his individual battle with City striker Erling Haaland.

Madrid will certainly be the fresher of the sides having not played since beating Athletic Bilbao 2-0 on March 31. That same day, City, who knocked out Real at the semi-final stage last season, were drawing 0-0 with Arsenal and have played twice more in the Premier League since.

"It is a tough game but we are Real Madrid, we are confident about ourselves and I feel from the dynamics we are in good shape, good mood, the team feels like a family," added Rudiger.

"This is what we have to show on the pitch and I am very sure we are going to do that. We will not just sit back and watch City have possession but, of course, that is part of the game.

"For me the Champions League is very important – we know the importance of this tournament, for the club. The plan will be the same as last year, to try to control dangerous players like Phil Foden, [Kevin] De Bruyne and, of course, [Erling] Haaland.

"Haaland is definitely one of the strongest strikers [I have faced]. It is not easy to control this player because I would say he lives off passes from his teammates. You cannot control everything but you have to try and control them as best as possible."

The game will be Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti's 200th in the Champions League, making him the first man to reach that milestone. The Italian, who also has the most titles (four) and most victories (114) in the competition, has bad memories of facing City though; their most recent meeting being a 4-0 drubbing at the Etihad Stadium as Guardiola's team wrapped up a 5-1 aggregate victory and a place in the 2023 final.

"I think it will be a very attractive fixture because it is a clash between not-similar teams − we have different characteristics but both teams have a lot of quality, both individually and as a team," said Ancelotti.

"This is a fixture with plenty to look forward to technically. We think we are better than them at certain aspects, they think the same about us, but we will see how things stand on the pitch and the side that will win the tie will be the better team.

"Last season, in the second leg, we played without character and personality. Courage and mentality are crucial in these kind of games and that is what we lacked in the second leg last season."

Updated: April 10, 2024, 5:13 PM