It’s still early days but Bale looks on course to prove he is the Real deal
Life for Gareth Bale at Real Madrid has taken a sharp turn for the better since his near disastrous outing in the 2-1 Clasico defeat against Barcelona at the end of October.
On that occasion, Bale had just returned to fitness after a series of niggling injuries and he was deployed by Carlo Ancelotti as a central striker in front of a midfield containing the unlikely figure of Sergio Ramos.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given those circumstances, Bale was utterly ineffective and was substituted after an hour to leave many observers wondering exactly why Madrid had broken the world transfer record to secure his services.
He answered those critics in the best possible fashion just four days later by scoring twice in the opening 27 minutes to send his team on their way to an important and morale-boosting 7-3 victory over Sevilla.
From that moment onwards, Bale and Madrid haven’t looked back. Saturday’s 4-0 crushing of hopelessly outclassed Real Valladolid was their fifth consecutive victory in La Liga, with an astonishing combined goal difference of 24-6.
And Bale’s perfect hat-trick; header, right foot and left foot, took him to seven goals in nine league appearances, along with another six assists.
Those impressive statistics make it plain to see that the Welshman has quickly become an integral performer for Real Madrid.
And he has done it from the right wing, following Ancelotti’s understandable decision to abandon his experiment with the former Tottenham man as a central striker and instead deploying him in a three-man strike force alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
Perhaps most importantly, Bale has come through the last month of action without being hit by any further injury problems.
His truncated pre-season and the series of physical setbacks he suffered in the opening weeks of the campaign generated concerns that he would be forced to endure a stop-start first season in Spain, punctuated by plenty of spells on the sidelines.
Fortunately, that has not been the case, and Bale’s improved physical state has allowed him to showcase his undoubted talents.
He has also benefitted from the fact that the Madrid team as a whole has started to play with much more fluidity. It’s much easier to play well in a good team and the outstanding performances of Isco and Angel Di Maria against Valladolid certainly opened up space for Bale to exploit.
Xabi Alonso’s return to fitness has arguably been the single most important factor in allowing Ancelotti’s team to become a strong collective force.
The veteran midfielder’s stabilising presence allows the squad’s galaxy of stars to excel, and his return to action has allowed Ancelotti to finally settle upon a strong team structure with Bale playing an integral role.
However, the season is still young and Bale’s time at the Bernabeu will be judged by performances in big games towards the end of the campaign rather than a hat-trick in a routine home win.
It’s too early to proclaim the flying Welshman a roaring success or decisively state that his enormous transfer fee has proved good value for money – but he’s moving in the right direction.