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Gareth Bale: from reviled figure to vital lifeline

At the Bernabeu on Saturday night, his colleagues will look towards him as they once looked towards Cristiano Ronaldo. But Bale needs to reinvent himself against Atlético.

Gareth Bale.

How times have changed for Gareth Bale. Having had a Real Madrid career plagued by injuries, the Welshman has gone being a reviled figure under Zidane to being the great hope to lead the new project under Julen Lopetegui.

So far he has shown his leadership credentials. He has played more minutes than any other player in Madrid’s eight competitive fixtures so far this season, and has been a vital lifeline when things have gone wrong. After the crushing 3-0 defeat to Sevilla on Wednesday in the Battle of the Pizjuán, only he and Toni Kroos managed to escape a beheading. Now Madrid will cling to the Welshman for the crucial derby clash this Saturday that could mark a turning point in the season.

But in order to stamp himself as the leader of the new project in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale will have to reinvent himself against Atlético. In the 17 games he has so far played against Los Rojiblancos, he has only managed to score one goal.

Yes, that one goal was an important one: the second extra-time goal in the 2014 Champions League final that put the game past Atlético at 3-1 and gave Madrid their historic tenth European Cup title. But since then, in 13 encounters, he has not managed to find the back of the net against the great old local rivals. (To put things in an even bleaker perspective, one goal in 17 games translates to an average of a goal against Atlético every 1,452 minutes).

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But Bale has looked a different player this season. At the Pizjuán, he was one of the few Madrid players who showed some fighting spirit on a night to forget. The Welshman managed eight shots on goal, more than any of his team-mates by far. And one of those rattled the post. Had it gone in, it could have changed the course of the game.

Hopes in Benzema diminished

After an impressive start to the season, in which he scored five in the first four games, Benzema fuelled excitement that, after Ronaldo’s departure, he could provide more goals. But since then, he has vanished into thin air. In the last two games against Sevilla and Espanyol, the Frenchman was replaced by Mariano after failing to turn up on both occasions. He has now gone 280 minutes without a goal, assist or shot on target.

On the other hand, Bale, apart from the four goals he has scored, has provided three assists and has played a part in seven of Madrid’s 17 goals so far this season. At the Bernabeu on Saturday night, his colleagues will look towards him as they once looked towards Cristiano Ronaldo. The Welshman has gone from being reviled, to being the lifeline.