The world’s most expensive footballer picked a costly time to pick up a knock. Injured after returning from international duty with Wales, Gareth Bale missed Real Madrid‘s wins against Levante, Liverpool, Barcelona, UE Cornella and Granada.
He returned to action as a second-half substitute against Liverpool on Tuesday night, but by then the pressure had already been lifted. Carlo Ancelotti’s side scored 19 goals during the five wins Bale missed and Marca readers have since claimed this is Los Blancos’ best side of all-time—suggesting competition for places is fierce.
However, despite the dazzling form of his attacking players, Carlo Ancelotti has already said Bale will start this weekend against Rayo Vallecano.
“He did well,” the Italian coach said in reference to the former Tottenham man’s cameo against Liverpool, per Marca. “He played for half an hour and felt good. I thought it came too soon for him to start; he’ll start on Saturday, but we won’t be fielding 12 players!”
And while Bale, who scored in two cup finals last season, is likely to establish himself once more as a regular in Ancelotti’s side, he could still do with returning with a bang on Saturday at the Bernabeu.
Madrid-based AS say he is “gate-crashing” the 4-4-2 system, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Bale starred in a 5-0 win against Athletic Club before the international break. A similar performance will be needed against Rayo if he is to keep his nose ahead of James Rodriguez and Isco.
The Madrid-based Rayo represent a friendly opponent for Bale, too. Last season he famously reduced their full-back Anaitz Arbilla, now at Espanyol, to tears due to his unstoppable speed.
His return to the side has been welcomed by one of the candidates to miss out, James Rodriguez.
“Nobody gets angry [about making way for Bale],” said the Colombian, per Marca, who scored twice against Granada last weekend. “Bale is a great player and if he has to play, he’ll always do well. We have to be ready for and open to all possible eventualities.”
With five goals in his 13 Madrid appearances this season, Bale hasn’t been as prolific as the demanding Madrid fans may have expected him to be on the back of a full pre-season.
That doesn’t mean he’s not been good, though. He’s had some very good performances; there have also been some quiet ones as well.
Given the short-term doubts over his place in Ancelotti’s best side, though, he can’t afford not to speak up against Rayo. Any hint of a timid outing will lead to calls for Isco, James, or whoever is dropped to be restored in his place. It’s a demanding environment.
Long-term, Bale will almost certainly maintain his place in the side. Whether that’s in a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 is a conundrum for his manager.
He may have missed some of the most exhilarating outings of Madrid’s season—Anfield and the Clasico spring to mind—but until that point he had been an undisputed starter and he was very much involved in the first six matches of Real’s current 12-match winning streak.
Bale’s Madrid career has been plagued with questions and doubts, so this situation is nothing new. Expect the usual response on Saturday.