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Real Madrid: Bale emerges as an alternative to Benzema


Before Real Madrid's LaLiga clash with Villarreal on Saturday, Carlo Ancelotti had said Gareth Bale was putting a shift in on the training ground (it’s no secret that’s not always been the case), adding: “When I pick him, he won’t let anybody down.” So it was only a relative surprise to see Bale start. And he did so in Karim Benzema’s position, flanked by Marco Asensio and Vinícius Júnior. Clearly, Ancelotti is unsure whether Benzema will make Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain and, as he mulls over his alternatives, has ended up deciding Bale is as good a solution as anyone. What we saw at La Cerámica suggests Ancelotti may not be wrong. If Benzema isn’t ready, Bale will play in Paris.

Bale's a player only motivated by the big occasion

Bale has squandered his career through a lack of passion for the game. It’s annoying to think about the player he could have been, just as it’s growing tiresome listening to the waning argument about the goals he’s scored in finals. The huge wad of cash he gets for nothing is galling, as is the memory that Madrid didn’t sign Kylian Mbappé a couple of years back because Florentino Pérez wanted to persevere with the Welshman. But Bale is a fine player, blessed with pace, good control, a fantastic left peg and great heading ability. A player for the big stage; the only stage that motivates him. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that, with the PSG tie coming up and Benzema struggling to make it, Bale has stepped things up in training. And Ancelotti has quickly taken note.

Bale didn’t score at Villarreal, but he came close on several occasions - and, with one eye on Paris, Ancelotti took him off with 15 minutes to go, with the points up for grabs, in case Benzema can’t play. That’s how important he now considers him to be. Although his replacement, Luka Jovic, hit the crossbar, the impression given by Bale - who also saw a shot bounce back off the bar, keeper Gerónimo Rulli getting the slightest of touches - was that he’s a much more viable solution to Madrid’s attacking emergency. Despite not scoring, the 32-year-old was the headline news in a game dominated by Villarreal in the first half and by Madrid in the second. A point that’s neither a great result nor a disaster for either side. Thoughts now turn to Europe.