Three takeaways from Napoli 2-3 Real Madrid: Partenopei can’t contain brilliant Bellingham

Napoli could not stop Jude Bellingham driving Real Madrid to victory in their 2023/24 Champions League Matchday 2 fixture, but there was one positive for the Partenopei.

Jude Bellingham and Vinicius Junior celebrate for Real Madrid. (@realmadriden)

After a Matchday 1 win away at SC Braga, Napoli were brought back down to earth by 14-time Champions League winners Real Madrid at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Matchday 2, as they suffered a 3-2 defeat in their second Group C fixture.

The Spanish giants quickly overturned an opening goal from Leo Ostigard when Jude Bellingham assisted Vinicius Junior. Bellingham then scored a wonderful solo goal just before half time and the Partenopei levelled the scores again through a Piotr Zielinski penalty, but goalkeeper Alex Meret was then unfortunate late on, as he turned a Federico Valverde strike into his own net.

The Maradona can’t always carry Napoli

At the beginning of last season, Napoli welcomed Champions League finalists Liverpool to Naples on Matchday 1 and humiliated the Premier League side during a 4-1 demolition, and the atmosphere at Stadio Diego Maradona certainly played a part in overwhelming their opponents.

Napoli’s starting XI for a Champions League game. (@sscnapoli)

Although the Partenopei had suffered defeats in the Europa League, when not always playing their strongest XI, they had only lost two of 21 Champions League fixtures at home. Last tasting defeat in November 2017 against Manchester City.

Once again, though, the loss to the Spanish giants showed that a gulf in class of playing personnel and experience can be a step too far for the Maradona atmosphere.

Natan-Ostigard partnership showing signs of promise

Napoli may have conceded three goals, but the first was an individual error from Giovanni Di Lorenzo, the second an act of individual brilliance, and the last a combination of technical skill and goalkeeping misfortune. An inexperienced centre-back pairing of Natan and Leo Ostigard had actually limited Los Blancos to shooting from distance and frustrated the visitors for long periods.

Leo Ostigard heads in for Napoli in the Champions League. [@sscnapoli]

With Scudetto hero Kim Min-Jae having left for Bayern Munich and Juan Jesus and Amir Rrahmani unavailable, supporters questioned the Partenopei’s ability to withstand most attacks with a 22- and 23-year-old marshalling the defence, but the duo are taking up the challenge, and even offer a threat at the other end of the pitch.

When Zielinski swung over a dangerous cross on 19 minutes, it was Natan who forced Real Madrid goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to make a panicked attempt to clear and send the ball soaring skyward. This sliced clearance allowed Ostigard to demonstrate an unexpected striking instinct and head the rebound into an unguarded net.

Jude Bellingham cannot be stopped

Jude Bellingham celebrates for Real Madrid. (@realmadriden)

At just 20 years of age, people are already running out of superlatives to describe the performances of Jude Bellingham in a Real Madrid shirt, with eight goals and three assists in nine games already. Highlighting why the Spanish giants handed Borussia Dortmund and initial €103m for the Englishman’s services last summer.

Against Napoli, Bellingham showed the awareness, anticipation and balance to cut out a Di Lorenzo pass and lay the ball off for Vinicius Junior to equalise and then evoked the memory of Diego Maradona’s famous goal against his country at the 1986 World Cup.

Although lacking the technical difficulty and importance of the Argentine’s goal, Bellingham showed similar purpose and self confidence when he set off at pace towards the Napoli goal almost from the halfway line, leaving Partenopei players trailing in his wake and curling a shot past Meret.