There is an adjustment period for every new manager; an ambiguous interval of time when the team learns new philosophies, tactics, etc. and perhaps struggles in the short-term as a result. At sides where expectations are less, coaches are afforded the time to work through these growing pains and impose their visions on their clubs. But this is Real Madrid, and patience is hard to come by, meaning Lopetegui has to manage to get results while also developing a new identity and style for Los Blancos. In difficult moments like these, Julen has no choice but to look to big performers to step up and paper over the cracks. Against, Girona, that performer was Gareth Bale.
Admittedly, Bale’s performance was not totally devoid of mistakes. In the first half, his touch was somewhat erratic and he misplaced enough passes to record a mediocre passing accuracy of 80%. But despite this, the Welshman’s intent gave reason for optimism, as Bale continually dropped deep to offer himself as a passing outlet and play wall passes to the nearest central midfielder. The minutes wore on and Gareth, all warmed up, began to crisply combine with his teammates and even started switching play from flank to flank via well-aimed diagonals.
In order to diversify his approach and keep Girona’s defensive line pinned back, Bale also made several blazing runs off-the-shoulder of his markers. While the ball rarely reached him in such situations in the beginning, his persistence was eventually rewarded when he ran onto an Isco through ball to score the killing goal in the 59th minute.
These runs, combined with his deep movements, were essential in progressing Madrid to the final third - an area of the pitch where the Welsh Dragon was ferociously proactive at initiating attacking combinations and finding players in the box with clever passes. This led to a one-two between him and Modric that ultimately produced a goal for Karim Benzema.
If these patterns of play weren’t on, Bale used his trickery and pace to beat defenders 1v1 to get to the byline and fire in threatening deliveries.
Such plays demonstrated Gareth’s attacking intent, urgency, and decisiveness in a game where Madrid struggled for large portions of the ninety minutes. As mentioned earlier, Bale wasn’t perfect either, but his relentless movement off-the-ball and confidence in possession helped him get over some tough moments to carry Real Madrid to another win in the Lopetegui era.