PETE JENSON: This is supposed to be the season Gareth Bale becomes important to Real Madrid again… but he missed the Clasico celebrations, has no Bernabeu goals in a year and his time in Spain is fizzling out
- Gareth Bale is nearing one year without a goal for Real Madrid at the Bernabeu
- Zinedine Zidane didn’t play him in El Clasico and Bale continues to be cast aside
- Bale came off the bench against Manchester City and Real conceded two goals
- He was not in the team photo after El Clasico and his time in Madrid looks over
As Real Madrid’s rollercoaster week came to an end at the Bernabeu on Sunday night the players gathered in the dressing room for the now habitual post-game team photo.
This one was extra-special because three players had commemorative shirts to mark passing career landmarks. Karim Benzema held a shirt with 500 on it to mark his 500th game for the club, Lucas Vazquez 200, and Isco, with his young son, 300.
Injured pair Eden Hazard and Marcos Asensio were there, as were Luka Jovic and Brahim Diaz despite having been dropped from the squad for El Clasico, and Rodrygo Goes, who was suspended. There was no sign of Gareth Bale.
Gareth Bale was again consigned to the bench for Real Madrid’s Clasico win over Barcelona
He is approaching a year without a goal at the Bernabeu and his place at Madrid under threat
Zinedine Zidane brought Bale on against Manchester City and they conceded two away goals
Having played no part in the win that put Real Madrid back in control of their LaLiga fate it seemed he was in no mood to share the celebratory mood sweeping the squad.
This month marks one year since his last goal at the Bernabeu. With Eden Hazard’s first season at Madrid wrecked by injury and Asensio also sidelined long term since the start of the campaign, this could and should have been the year Bale became important again but so far it hasn’t happened.
Arsene Wenger, speaking as a BeIN SPORTS pundit admitted he was as bemused as most as to why his compatriot Zinedine Zidane has not used Bale more.
Before El Clasico he said: ‘Since he’s been there I have seen him be decisive, scoring important goals in many big games. I don’t know what happened there. There looks to be unrest in his head. He has the quality Madrid need. They have a lot of players who come to feet and he is one who can expose rivals with pace and his finishing and his aerial ability.’
For much of Sunday night’s game Real Madrid were crying out for a powerful runner who could also finish reliably. Gerard Pique might have been exaggerating when he said it was the worst Madrid he had played against in the first half, but not by much.
Madrid had lined up with Isco, Benzema and Vinicius in attack and neither of them were really causing Barcelona too many problems in that first 45 minutes.
Bale was a notable absentee from the dressing room celebrations after the win over Barcelona
Isco and Benzema both lack pace and although Vinicius is quick his final ball or shot is still wayward. Even Spanish radio Cadena Ser’s excellent but pretty unreservedly anti-Bale commentary team were urging Zidane to throw Bale on in the second half and have him run at Jordi Alba who was just back from injury and struggling at left-back.
Zidane never even sent him to warm up, however. Instead it was Luka Modric, Lucas and Mariano who began limbering up on the touchline. Zidane did the opposite of what he had done four days earlier against Manchester City when he replaced Vinicius with Bale in the second half.
BALE’S STATS 19/20
Minutes per goal: 387
And just as bringing Bale on did not have the desired affect against City, not bringing him on this time seemed to work.
Vinicius made the most of being allowed to finish the game by opening the scoring with a shot aimed at the far post that took a deflection off of Pique and beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen at his near post.
And final substitution Mariano Diaz had such an impact that a joke heat-map, circulating on social media, of his two minutes game time, showed a red line of him running on across the pitch and then down the right wing to score.
Bale was not responsible for Madrid’s collapse against City. Both the goals scored by Pep Guardiola’s side came on the other side of the pitch. But it had been 1-0 when he came on and within 10 minutes of his introduction the side were 2-1 behind.
Bale looks increasingly removed from the squad and was not in their celebratory team photo
Despite the fact that he was unable to make an impact in midweek it was still felt he might be the man to hurt Barcelona. As Wenger had pointed out he can go beyond defenders while other Madrid players want to come to the ball.
But increasingly at the Bernabeu he is not the man sent over the top to chase through balls. Maybe years of whistles from home supporters have taken their toll on his confidence to make those runs or maybe there is no belief that the ball will be played anyway.
The statistic about him not having scored at home since last March 16 last year is slightly misleading. In that time he has only made five starts at the Bernabeu. Of his 11 starts this season eight have been away from home. There is a negativity generated when he is picked to play at home.
He has cultivated few friendly relationships in the Spanish media and his injury record and him being an individual who shies away from the limelight have made him easy to criticise.
Former Real Madrid captain Manolo Sanchis told Onda Madrid before El Clasico: ‘Bale is a brilliant player capable of carrying a team of Madrid’s size on his shoulders and make them play. But a lot of seasons have gone by and this has not happened.
Some in the Spanish media were calling for Bale to come on against Barcelona last weekend
‘My experience in the Real Madrid dressing room is that there are certain players that struggle to fit in and others that never fit in. I think the signing of Bale was made with the idea of him replacing Cristiano Ronaldo in mind. It hasn’t happened so another solution has to be sought.’
Spanish television journalist Edu Aguirre, also speaking in the build-up to El Clasico said: ‘Bale when he is 100 per cent is the best. Everyone agrees on that. The Madridistas would say it, the anti-Madridistas would say it, and even the people that don’t know football would say that Bale 100 per cent is the best. But when is he 100 per cent?’
All this comes after a very positive start of the season when he was Madrid’s best player away at Celta Vigo in the opening game. He then scored twice in a draw with Villarreal in the third match.
Spanish media spoke of him having been won back for the cause by Zidane. It seemed that having been on the brink of a move to China – a transfer Real Madrid pulled out of at the last minute – he had been re-installed as an important part of the team. But the down-turn was not long in coming.
More was said about a red card he picked up in the Villarreal game than about his two goals. And after he was left out of a Champions League home fixture with Brugge stories emerged of him still wanting to leave the club.
But he is failing to have an impact on matches at present and Zidane is not taking any chances
Bad feeling over Zidane’s summer comments that ‘the sooner he left the better’ were clearly still festering and there was some skepticism over whether he had started the season in the team because a truce had been called or simply because the manager had an injury crisis.
The timing of the stories about him wanting to leave still seemed odd. The campaign had started far better than anyone expected and now the mood was back in ‘unhappy Bale’ mode. Zidane would still turn to him regularly for tough away games but the coach seemed very reluctant to play him at home.
Bale has repeated several times since then that he is happy and willing to stay at the club until his season runs out. Team mates like and accept him. The golf club gifted to him at the Christmas Secret Santa was taken in the good spirit it was intended.
But, they like many looking in from the outside, are bemused as to why his career at Madrid seems to be fizzling out.
This weekend he could be involved in the trip to Betis. He might even get a chance to run in behind Eibar’s notoriously high defensive line the following week in Madrid’s last game before they go to Manchester for the second leg.
Despite his woes, Bale can still contribute to Real’s push for the double in the coming months
That game, however, is at the Bernabeu. If he plays and scores he will avoid that record of a year without a home goal [by three days]. But how long into the match will it be before there are whistles if he misplaces a pass?
All this might be good news for Wales. If he is not playing regularly then he will be in good shape to lead their charge on the Euros this summer. But if the disconnect at Madrid becomes too great and he doesn’t play in the run-in he will go into that tournament having played very little football this season.
More minutes for Bale ought to suit both Bale and his club. Madrid would have a better chance of turning things around at the Etihad with him contributing. And the title race will be easier to win with him fully on board.
But for now he continues to be out of the picture, literally, as was the case in those celebratory snaps taken for social media on Sunday night in the Bernabeu dressing room.
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