Bale bursts onto centre stage after 88 days out...

Gareth Bale turned on the afterburners, in search of a perfectly weighted pass from Isco, won the foot race with his renowned speed, fired a shot across goal and sealed the game against Espanyol. Bale’s strike brought up 2-0 on the score board and ended the visiting side’s timid attempts to threaten Kiko Casilla’s goal. Timid other than on the past of Hernán Pérez, who hadn’t played in the first half but made his presence felt in the second. Spanish journalist Carlos Marañón complained on the radio that Bale remained on the bench and the Welshman proved him right when he came on. Bale lifted the uneasiness that had begun to settle on the Bernabéu with his strike, a happy return to action after 88 days on the sidelines. He has arrived in time for what lies ahead.

Isco recital

Madrid played well in the first half, aided perhaps by an Espanyol side who refused to put up a fight. The visitors sat back, thinking more about avoiding an avalanche of goals than anything less. They had an opportunity when Gerard Moreno chased down a long ball but the linesman stopped him in his tracks in a questionable decision. But that was all Espanyol mustered in the opening 45 minutes. On Madrid’s side Isco provided a footballing lesson, backed by solid work from Toni Kroos and Mateo Kovacic, while Cristiano Ronaldo, on his wing, was quick, lively and looking to bring his teammates into play rather than betting every attacking move on the accuracy of his shooting. Lucas Vázquez and Álvaro Morata performed their work well, the latter opening the scoring with a fine header, enabled by a wonderful ball from Isco, through who all of Real’s dangerous play passed.

The introduction of Hernán shook Espanyol up and the winger even provided a scare on the break when he was suddenly though on goal and the ball accidentally hit his hand, leading the referee to mistakenly blow for a free kick. Espanyol did little else but push up a bit, maybe because of what people might think if they didn’t. With 20 minutes to go, Zidane brought on Bale, eyeing the spaces that had started to present themselves. And he found them, of course, giving the impression that his powers are still intact after his layoff. Ronaldo moved into the central striking role after Bale’s introduction but did not find the net and looked increasingly anxious in his gesticulations. At the end of the game he was denied a penalty that looked clear enough. Match referee Undiano Mallenco was the B side to the game. Isco and Bale were on song.