There haven't been many opportunities for Gareth Bale to express himself in Madrid white without also having the presence of his team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch. Now after Ronaldo's latest red card Bale has a chance to be the main man once again. At Tottenham, Bale was used to being the star player that opposing defences had to watch out for. At Madrid regardless of his price-tag he was always going to be under the shadow of his more illustrious attacking partner, at least until the Portugese ace begins his decline.
When Ronaldo has been out of action, Real Madrid have shown that they miss his influence and have been noted to pick up some poor results whilst putting in out of sorts performances. Of course, this could be coincidence as the occasions for Ronaldo missing a game are far and few between due to his fantastic personal conditioning. However, when he has been missing the perception is that Madrid lose a bit of spark in attack. Whilst this may be the case, Madrid normally have enough quality to blow away their opponents anyway. Except for when they don't. And therein lies the problem.
When Ronaldo is not present and Madrid face a team capable of not just putting up a good fight and defensive resistance but actually beating them, they need other players to step up and prove their worth. In previous seasons it would have been different but these days it is Gareth Bale that most fans would look for to make an impact if indeed CR7 is missing. Bale had an indifferent first few months of the season by his lofty standards as his performances were very erratic. However since the start of December I've found him to have improved and he is now taking more of a firm grip on games and imposing his will more than he was. Bale is also scoring more freely than he was at the beginning of the season with 7 goals from his last 10 games and improvements in certain aspects of his game such as his heading ability have not gone unnoticed.
Bale's recent last minute winner against the spirited Cordoba is a reflection of this sentiment. It was a high pressure situation and Gareth held his nerve and didn't allow his concentration to be broken. It must also be mentioned that from what we have evidenced so far, Bale is a player for the big occasion. He contributed to a goal in every single final - and by extension, trophy - that Real Madrid won in 2014 including scoring what turned out to be the winners in both the Copa del Rey and Champions League (La Décima!) finals. This importance certainly shouldn't be overlooked.
With Ronaldo set to miss huge games against Real Sociedad and Sevilla, Bale will be expected, fairly or not, to be Real Madrid's main offensive influence in these games. It is a run of games that could potentially consequently deciding Madrid's fate in the race for the 2014-15 Liga BBVA title. Having already been knocked out of the Copa del Rey, it would be a devastating blow to Madrid if this run of the games was not to be negotiated positively. Obviously, other talents such as Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez & Jesé Rodríguez to name just a few, will also be available to perform for Madrid so it's not as if Bale has to do all the heavy lifting by himself.
It will be interesting to see where Carlo Ancelotti decides to play Bale on the pitch. The main expectation is that the Welshman will retain his usual starting berth on the right wing in a 4-3-3 formation or right midfielder in a 4-4-2 formation but other alternatives do exist. For example, he could be switched over to the left side of the pitch that Ronaldo usually occupies as that was where Bale primarily operated before he came to Madrid. Another option would be to play Bale as a counter-part in attack with Karim Benzema. We've often seen Ronaldo vacate his more withdrawn role on the left to play increasingly centrally this season and there's little to suggest that Bale wouldn't be able to perform this role also if needed.
Los Blancos may revert to their 4-4-2 formation whilst Ronaldo is inactive in order to afford players such as Sami Khedira and Asier Illarramendi more minutes, as well as new signing Lucas Silva. This is definitely not a bad option as any of those three players could potentially compliment Toni Kroos in the centre of Real Madrid's midfield with Isco and James Rodríguez pushed out to the left-midfield and right-midfield positions. However, a different course of action would be to stick with the 4-3-3 formation and instead have a like-for-like replacement with Jesé Rodríguez coming in to get some more minutes than he's been accustomed to recently.
Bale and co. will have to prepare themselves for a succession of difficult encounters that as mentioned beforehand, have the potential to make or break this season.