Real Madrid's Bale useful as impact sub... and not much more
Gareth Bale again disappointed as a starter in the win over Ajax, and recent games suggest Madrid are better off using him off the bench.
Gareth Bale again failed to grasp his opportunity in Real Madrid's Champions League win at Ajax. For the second time in the last six games, the Welshman began on the right of the front three alongside Vinicius and Karim Benzema... and for the second time in the last six games, he was hauled off after an hour: against Alavés in LaLiga earlier this month, he got 63 minutes; on Wednesday night, he got 61. In both cases, he left the field after performing poorly, having scarcely caused the opposition backline any trouble and been guilty of looseness in defence.
In Amsterdam, the 29-year-old sent three shots on goal - all efforts from distance that posed little threat - completed 20 passes out of 28 (71%), gave away possession 13 times, and won it back on four occasions. He did at least show greater commitment to his defensive duties than usual, winning 13 of his individual duels, but he was just a dead end going forward, particularly when compared to Vinicius, who was a nightmare for the Ajax defence and single-handedly created the holders' equaliser, scored by Benzema. When a clearly less-than-impressed Santiago Solari responded by replacing him with Lucas Vázquez, Madrid improved noticeably.
Bale looks to be best used off bench...
Right now, all the evidence suggests that Bale is fit for little more than the role of impact sub. In four of his last six matches, he was brought on in the second half, playing 26 minutes at Espanyol, 23 in Girona, 26 away to Barcelona and 33 at Atlético. And in two of those appearances, he had an effect in the short time he was given: at the RCDE Stadium, he grabbed his side's final goal in a 4-2 win, before also rounding off the scoring in a 3-1 victory at the Wanda - just when Atleti were pushing for an equaliser, too. On each occasion, it was a similar story: receiving the ball in the danger area, he proceeded to demonstrate how lethal that left foot can be.
If there's one thing that Bale undeniably possesses, it's an eye for goal: the ex-Tottenham man has netted 12 times in less than 2,000 minutes of game time this term, and is Madrid's second-top scorer behind only Benzema (19). However, recent experience seems to show that he is best placed to bring his qualities to bear on games in the final stages (particularly when you consider his regular physical problems): tired opponents, more space to run into, greater tactical disorder...
Bale faces battle to start ahead of Vinicius, Vázquez, Asensio...
It's a brief that Bale may well have to settle for, not least in view of the fact that Vinicius has overtaken him once and for all in the pecking order on the left (the Brazilian has now started 12 games in a row), and that Marco Asensio is steadily returning to full sharpness, scored the winner at the Johan Cruyff Arena, and has always made no secret of his belief that his best position is on the right, where Bale is already struggling to keep out Vázquez. Solari now has a few front-three combinations at his disposal. As things stand, how often his chosen trio will include Bale is unclear.
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