This Saturday marked the return of Real Madrid’s favourite Welshman, Gareth Bale. Prior to Saturday, Gareth Bale last featured for the Whites in the Champions League away fixture versus Sporting CP, before the then upcoming El Clasico. The Welsh Dragon suffered a 'traumatic dislocation of the peroneal tendons' in his right ankle, ruling him out for about 3 months.
This January, Real Madrid were painfully knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Celta Vigo thereby ending the Whites’ dream of winning a treble yet again. Bale who was injured for about 3 months couldn’t feature to help Real Madrid. However, Zidane’s men still have two important titles to play for; La Liga and the UEFA Champions League.
Gareth Frank Bale made his comeback when he returned in the 70th minute of Saturday's home clash with Espanyol. Just 13 minutes later, he raced with blinding speed onto Isco's intuitive through ball, outrunning Espanyol’s players with relative ease to put the ball in the back of the net past former teammate Diego Lopez.
Let us discuss how Bale’s presence can affect Real Madrid’s chances for these two competitions:
“jajajajaja.. Real Madrid have won La Liga only once in the last 8 years”.
If you bleed White, you must have surely been greeted with this remark in social media or even in real life. The detractors of the Royal Whites often come up with this remark to try and denounce Real Madrid as the greatest football club in history. Mind you, I said ‘history’. These detractors use a very convenient timeline to put weight to their claim. It is of course a fact that Real Madrid have only won La Liga just once in the last 8 years. Thankfully, this year things look positive for Real Madrid in La Liga (touches wood).
As of penning this article, Real Madrid lead La Liga with a 1 point lead with 2 games in hand. Bale’s return boosts Real Madrid’s chances for winning La Liga; a title that Zidane’s men seem desperate to win for the first time in 5 years and rightfully so.
It is worth noting that Real Madrid’s 40 match unbeaten run continued even with Bale having been on the shelf for nearly 90 days. However, in the matches that Bale couldn’t feature, Real Madrid literally had to crawl and fight for hard-fought wins and draws. With Real Madrid often finding themselves on the backburner, it took Ramos’ late headers in several occasions to rescue Real Madrid. Along with Ramos, Morata too when brought in late had an eye for goal.
Real Madrid might have painfully lost La Liga title to Barcelona in the final match day last season, but when injuries started to trouble Cristiano Ronaldo at the end of the season, it was Gareth Bale who led the charge for the fight for La Liga.
In the 2015-16 season, as a Ronaldo-less Real Madrid travelling to Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas for their match against Rayo Vallecano, Zidane’s men were pinned down by the home team 2-0, only for Gareth Bale to score a brace (opener and winner) and Lucas Vazquez adding one to beat Rayo Vallecano 3-2, keeping La Liga race alive.
Real Madrid once again seemed to be out of La Liga title race as their match in Anoeta against Real Sociedad headed towards a stalemate, only for Bale to head in the ball at the 80th minute, thereby keeping Zidane’s men alive to live to fight another day.
23 - Gareth Bale has scored 23 goals in his last 28 La Liga games for Real Madrid. Express. pic.twitter.com/B2aRAJDWKB— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 18, 2017
With Real Madrid having two games at hand and the Champions League fixtures also added to the mix, Zidane’s men are in for a tight schedule. Madrid are due to play 4 matches in 12 days. Gareth Bale’s services are vital at this stage of the campaign. The Welshman’s form and contribution might very well define Real Madrid’s campaign for La Liga.
UEFA Champions League
The Champions League competition is the competition that defines Real Madrid and its legacy. Anything less than winning the competition is deemed as a failure for the Whites. Los Vikingos’ rounds of 16 opponents are Italian powerhouse Napoli. Zidane’s men did extremely well in defeating Napoli, 3 goals to 1 in the Santiago Bernabeu. The tie is far from over as a hostile Naples await Real Madrid to visit them for the second leg of the competition.
Zidane will be banking on Bale to help ensure that Napoli aren’t allowed to recover from their 1-3 defeat to Real Madrid. Bale with his attacking and defensive prowess will be vital for Real Madrid. The Welshman being a manager’s player will prove to be a big boon to the team. Real Madrid can rely on Bale whilst looking for that vital away goal, keeping in mind his long list of offensive abilities which include darting runs, pinpoint crossing, sprinting, ball control, penetrating shots, penetrating runs, heading, knuckle shooting, outside curling, shooting from long range and short range, scoring from free kicks.
Another element that should be taken into account is how well he connects with his teammates and Cristiano Ronaldo in particular.
The Welshman with his blistering pace and penetrating runs helps identify Real Madrid as one of the most lethal and dangerous counter attacking side in world football. Bale can also be entrusted with defensive assignments as witnessed in his cameo against Espanyol, he looked to challenge and win the ball for Madrid.
Bale’s defensive abilities were also showcased in the 3-0 thrashing of Atletico Madrid earlier in the season. Zidane had their men line up in which looked to be a 4-4-2 formation. Bale placed in the left, had no problem in sacrificing his offensive abilities in order to help out in Madrid’s defense. The Welsh Dragon’s role in the defense changed the landscape of the game as he challenged and battled any man Atletico Madrid committed forward to create an opportunity from the left. Bale looked content in challenging and marking Atleitco players and at times clearing the ball.
Assuming Real Madrid are able to go past Napoli, sharks in disguise of football clubs await Real Madrid in the quarter finals of the Champions League. No team in the Champions League era has been able to retain the Champions League Title and Real Madrid will like nothing more than achieving this feat. The presence of Gareth Bale will improve Real Madrid’s chance tenfold of retaining the crown of the European Champions.
While talking to the press, it seemed Bale was not desperate to make his return to the team and rightfully prioritized not getting injured over hurrying up his return.
While speaking to the press, Bale said;
I was happy just to be on the pitch, to get a goal is an extra bonus and thankful to help the team and see the game off.
I was trying to be clever coming back. You don't want to go 100 percent into a sprint and pull a hamstring. There were a few times when maybe I could have knocked it and gone, but I wanted to be patient and build my confidence.
It was my first game back and we were 1-0 up, it wasn't as if we were losing. Then obviously when I had the chance to go I went. I had to pick my right moment and to build it slowly.
I've been out for three months so it will take a few weeks to get back to 100 percent. It's just about managing my game time, I've only been back training five days so we'll try and build everything up until I can play 90 minutes.
I plan not to get injured any more so hopefully now I can keep building my fitness up over the next few weeks, the next three, four, five games. And hopefully I can be fit for Real Madrid as soon as possible to play 90 minutes, and obviously for Wales as well.
It seems Gareth Bale has taken a smart approach in returning from his ankle injury. He is well aware of the fact that his injury might relapse something that his Real Madrid teammate and veteran Pepe had to experience. The Welshman has hinted that he is moving bit by bit and taking his time to get back to the fold of helping Real Madrid fight for titles.