Jude Bellingham to Real Madrid: Where will he play, who will he replace and is he the right fit?

Bellingham Madrid midfield GFX
The England international is closing in on a move to Santiago Bernabeu, but there is no guarantee he will be first-choice in the Spanish capital

The flirtations have turned into courtship. Jude Bellingham is soon to be a Real Madrid player after expressing his intent to join the Spanish giants. The transfer fee still needs to be figured out, with Borussia Dortmund asking for an eye-watering €150 million (£132m/$166m). But this is Madrid, and such matters are generally ironed out. Money, in vast quantities, will change hands.

In truth, we were always likely to get here, especially after Liverpool pulled out of the race over a month ago. Madrid can offer one of the most promising young sides in world football, a world-class manager, and an intangible prestige that comes with playing in that famous white kit. Bellingham will be part of a side that will be expected to win La Liga every year, and serially contend for the Champions League. He will have the opportunity to learn from legends such as Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

As an individual, he will raise his profile, and assert himself as one of the best in the world while playing for one of the biggest clubs around. On paper, and presumably, in reality, this should all work out wonderfully.

But there are some specifics to be figured out here. Madrid have at least five starting-calibre midfielders already, as well as a presumptive No.10 if the manager switches to a different system. There is also an irresistible balance to their midfield. Indeed, Madrid's second-placed La Liga finish cannot be blamed on their aptitude in the middle third of the pitch.

So, there's no obvious fit for the Englishman. He will, in all likelihood, have to push one of Kroos or Modric out of the side, and perhaps overtake the exciting Fede Valverde in the pecking order. These are simple decisions in the long term, but Madrid is a club that does not look beyond the present.

This will all work out, but how, exactly will, it everything fit together? GOAL takes a look at where Bellingham can, can't and might play for Los Blancos next season:

  1. The positional oddities
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    The positional oddities

    Footballers are rarely a 'perfect fit' at clubs. Despite the good vibes that come with the intensifying rumour mill and anticipation of fans — as well as the enumerate internet tactical geniuses on Twitter — football is more complicated than that.

    There are some exceptions. Harry Kane, Karim Benzema, Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe could all arguably walk into any front line with few qualms. Modric and Kevin de Bruyne will fit into any midfield.

    But most players are moulded to a system. Messi as a false nine for Barcelona, Ronaldo as a central striker for Real Madrid and Mohamed Salah as an inside forward for Liverpool all spring to mind.

    And that could be a problem for Bellingham. Certainly, he has the talent to be a success at Santiago Bernabeu; he is already one of the best midfielders in the world. But he is also, at the moment, a very specific type of footballer. He is an elite ball carrier and low-volume passer who likes to burst into the final third and create from advanced positions.

    This is all very un-Madrid. Bellingham, for this team, is not simply a plug-and-play footballer. Still, there are some configurations that could get the best out of him right away.

  2. 4-3-3 with Modric and Camavinga
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    4-3-3 with Modric and Camavinga

    If there ever was a seasoned midfielder for Bellingham to learn from, it's Modric. Although the two are markedly different in terms of physical profile, they share some similarities in playing style. Both are aggressive dribblers who like to beat a man, both like to play forward, and both thrive in the final third.

    The pair in midfield would be a deadly duo. Bellingham could do all of his ball progression work, while Modric could serve as the connective tissue in between. Add Eduardo Camavinga as the No.6 and this appears to be the most balanced iteration of the Madrid midfield.

    It would, admittedly, mean sacrificing Kroos. The German is still an excellent passer, but his defensive weaknesses are becoming a real issue, while his goalscoring output has declined. It would be unlike Ancelotti to do such a thing, but this trio appears to be Madrid's best.

  3. 4-3-3 with Kroos and Modric
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    4-3-3 with Kroos and Modric

    Bellingham famously inherited the No.22 shirt due to his ability to play as a No.4, No.8 or No.10. And while he certainly has the skillset to operate in all three positions, Bellingham's best attributes are perhaps wasted as a defensive midfielder.

    Modric certainly isn't one, either. The Croatian, although still a midfield maestro, struggles to play 90 minutes anymore, and has started to become a defensive weakness for Los Blancos. Kroos, too, is not a true No.6 in the mould that Madrid ideally needs.

    But perhaps that doesn't matter. This trio would be so dominant on the ball that even some light work off it would suffice. With Modric and Kroos pinging it around and Bellingham getting into more advanced positions, this would immediately be one of the most exciting midfields in the world.

  4. 4-3-3 with Valverde and Tchouameni
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    4-3-3 with Valverde and Tchouameni

    As good as Modric and Kroos are, both are in the twilight of their careers. They simply cannot be relied on to play twice, or even three times, per week while in their mid-30s. Ancelotti has shown as such this year, with Modric, in particular, seeing his Liga minutes plummet — especially towards the end of the campaign.

    It is a good thing, then, that Madrid have two other promising midfield prospects. Valverde has enjoyed a breakout season, contributing goals at a far higher rate and establishing himself as a regular — albeit mostly on the right-wing. But the natural midfielder figures to slide back into the middle of the park soon enough.

    Tchouameni, meanwhile, was last summer's big-money signing and looks set to be Madrid's defensive midfielder of the future. These three will presumably be part of Los Blancos' setup for years to come, and although they may not all play together immediately, it would be a surprise if Ancelotti doesn't test them out together over the course of next season.

  5. As a No.10
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    As a No.10

    Ancelotti has flirted with a 4-2-3-1 at various points this season, usually as a way of shoehorning Rodrygo and Valverde into the same line up, allowing the Brazilian to operate in his preferred No.10 position.

    If he goes back to this set up again, it will likely be in order to get Rodrygo into his best spot. Indeed, you might imagine that Rodrygo would be none-too-pleased to see the formation designed to get the best out of him built around someone else. But as impactful as the youngster is, Bellingham is better.

    For stretches at the World Cup, Gareth Southgate deployed Bellingham as a de-facto No.10 — or at least as a very advanced No.8. Dortmund have done a largely similar thing at times, encouraging the player to take a starting position higher up the pitch and create in the final third.

    And given Ancelotti's wealth of options at the base of midfield — with Camavinga, Kroos, Modric and Tchouameni all vying for time — getting their big money signing in as a No.10 is also one to consider.

  6. On the bench

    On the bench

    There is also the chance that Bellingham simply will not start for Madrid. Ancelotti has been historically reluctant to integrate new signings into the line up immediately, especially with midfielders. Camavinga, for example, was stuck out wide for months and is still not a regular in his preferred position despite repeatedly turning in excellent performances.

    Tchouameni, meanwhile, was forced into the XI by need at the start of the season, but has seen himself phased out. Madrid, as a club, then, are not afraid to bench those who aren't playing well or rush them into the side too early.

    And if Modric and Kroos are both fit, and Ancelotti prefers to go with a more natural defensive midfielder, there's a chance Bellingham will have to wait for his moment.

  7. The verdict

    The verdict

    Bellingham shouldn't be a nailed-on starter for Madrid, not immediately. There is no doubting the midfielder's ambition or quality, but this is a side that has no margin for error, and potentially shoehorning in a player that might not be 100 percent ready is a risk.

    Bellingham, for all of his talent, doesn't necessarily fit the Madrid mould. He isn't a particularly high-volume passer, and he likes to run a team by dribbling. The whole selling point of this Madrid side is the harmony that keeps everything together. Modric, Kroos and Co. have thrived for years thanks to their lack of ego, their willingness to release the ball.

    Bellingham will undoubtedly learn. He is, quite simply, too good not to. And any manager, even one as tactically steadfast as Ancelotti, should be able to figure out a way to maximise his game-changing attacking and dribbling nous. But this is a player that needs protecting in the interim.

    Madrid have a perfect balance to their midfield, and Ancelotti has been reluctant to change it. There is precedent here. Tchouameni was supposed to be an immediate Casemiro replacement. Instead, he has fallen out of favour, and even occasionally cropped up in the ridiculousness of the transfer rumour mill in recent weeks.

    The France international's situation is something of a cautionary tale. Indeed, this is how it can all go wrong if a player is forced into the Madrid team too early.

    Bellingham is reportedly set to pen a deal until 2029. He is a player signed to be the future of Madrid. His contribution to the present isn't a priority.