Real Madrid were blessed with a golden opportunity after arch rivals Barcelona dropped an invaluable two points against Espanyol to kick off the weekend. By the looks of Real Madrid's performance in the first 30 minutes of the first half, it seemed as if Gareth Bale and Los Blancos were destined to take full advantage of the Catalan giants' defeat. However, Paco Alcácar spoiled Rafa Benítez's early celebrations as he equalized 30 seconds after the Welshman put Los Merengues on top in the final 10 minutes. Despite dropping a precious two points, Bale looked lively, living up to the famous €91 million price tag.
The Welshman has been on a streak of wonderful form since Real Madrid's loss to Barcelona in November. From the get-go, Bale immersed himself into Real Madrid's attack, creating space and whipping dangerous crosses into Valencia's 18-yard box from the right side. His footwork and vision was excellent Sunday night in the Mestalla.
After bullying the right side for the first 10 minutes, Bale's positive contributions payed off as he was key figure in Real Madrid's opening goal. Karim Benzema received the ball 30 yards out from goal. He skipped past a wimpy tackle and fed the ball to Bale who provided a passing option for the Frenchman. With his back to goal, Bale was left with few options as Valencia's defense suffocated the Welshman before his foot touched the ball.
Only Bale knew what was to come next.
He utilized the tight space to his advantage, feeding Cristiano Ronaldo a sublime one-touch back-heel. The superb pass split three defenders leaving Ronaldo with one defender to beat. Aderllan Santos picked his poison and closed down Ronaldo leaving a cutting Benzema acres of space to control the Portuguese's one-touch flick before slotting his shot past Jaume Doménech.
Granted Benzema started and finished off the play, without Bale's composure and awareness when Aymen Abdennour attempted to prevent Real Madrid's tiki-taka play, the goal wouldn't have occurred. The early goal was crucial for the visitors as they bombarded the net in the opening minutes of the game. But this shouldn't come as a surprise because Bale has been an integral part of BBC this season; he currently ranks first along with Neymar for most assists in La Liga (7). Obviously he's been directly involved with a number of Real Madrid's goals, but his contributions, like the one broken down above, won't show up on the stat sheet. Benzema will be credited with the goal while Ronaldo will receive the assist. Bale's back-heel will be remembered in the minds of the Madridista faithful worldwide, but it's important not to forget how crucial the winger is to Real Madrid's debatable success this season.
As the minutes winded down inside the Mestalla, both teams yearned for what was anticipated in being the winning goal. Lucas Vázquez was brought down on the right flank, resulting in a Real Madrid free kick. It was curled into the mixer where Bale rose to meet the ball eight yards out from the goal mouth. Bale's flick header was placed perfectly as it fluttered through the air past the outstretched reach of Doménech off the far post and in. The headed touch was a flash of brilliance but not out of the ordinary for the Welshman. In fact, Bale has been nothing short of spectacular when using his head this season as he currently leads La Liga in headed goals (4).
Ultimately, Valencia crawled back with a header from Alcácar, resulting in a draw, but Bale's performance shouldn't be overlooked.
As the season progresses and Ronaldo continues to age into his early 30's, Real Madrid should feel confident relying on Bale. He continues to impress and is quietly proving why he was brought in for such a big fee just a few years ago.