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SOCCER

It’s not over for Gareth Bale at Real Madrid

The Welsh forward still has a role to play - he is the perfect alternative when Benzema needs to rest. He will get a send-off against Betis.

Update:
Gareth Bale. (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Quality Sport ImagesGetty

At last Gareth Bale made an appearance at the Bernabéu and by the way things are looking, it probably won’t be the last time during these final weeks of the campaign. Bale came on for the last 20 minutes in last night’s home win against Getafe  - his first appearance in front of the home fans since 26 February 2020. The first leg of the Champions League Last 16 tie against Manchester City in the pre-pandemic days - that was the last time the Welsh forward was seen out on the pitch at Madrid’s stadium. The home fans acted as judge, jury and executioner on Gareth’s return. He was brought on to replace Benzema on 74 minutes - as a centre-forward - a clear indication of Ancelotti’s intentions. He has made five appearances in LaLiga this season - coming off the bench to play in a central, attacking role in the last two, against Villarreal and Getafe.

While many believed that there would be few chances for Gareth between now and when his contract runs out on 30 June, Ancelotti has other ideas. He sees Bale as the perfect option whenever Benzema might need a rest.

A lot has changed since the first three league games of the season, against Alavés, Levante and Betis, in which Bale and Eden Hazard flanked Benzema in a three-pronged attack. Bale was deployed out wide on the right, and in that position he scored his first and only goal of the campaign (he’s on five plus one assist for Wales. After that, he struggled with injuries and was mostly unavailable up until December. This year, he has taken part in two Champions League games (the first legs against PSG and Chelsea) and two in LaLiga (Villarreal and Getafe) - in all four he has played as an out-and-out centre-forward.

Ancelotti prefers Bale over Jovic and Mariano

He hasn’t had a great deal of playing time - just 97 minutes in total, but how when he has been called on is significant. In all four of those games, there was only one occasion when Ancelotti didn’t have any other options. Jovic was ruled out against Getafe, he has been suffering from twinges to his right ankle since the last international break while Mariano was included in the squad but then dropped at the last minute. “He wasn’t feeling well” was Ancelotti’s explanation. Bale started against Villarreal and looked sharp even though he didn’t find the net. Jovic meanwhile was on the bench, replacing the Welshman in the second half.

In Paris, he replaced Karim for the final few minutes while Jovic remained on the bench. It was the same story at Stamford Bridge when Ancelotti opted for Gareth rather than Mariano to give Benzema a breather once he had completed his hat trick. There was a possibility that Bale could have played a part in El Clásico but he ruled himself out after overdoing it in training. Four days later he scored a brace for Wales against Alaba’s Austria.

There is no questioning his talent, but it is his apparent lack of commitment to Real Madrid that fans don’t understand. The Bernabéu made that clear when he entered the pitch against Getafe - although he isn’t the first Madrid player to be given the whistling treatment by home fans, nor will he be the last. Posing with a ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order’ flag after Wales had qualified for Euro 2020 did a lot of damage. Fans felt he was mocking them. His miraculous recovery and stellar display for Wales just days after ruling himself out of the Clásico didn’t help either.

But contrary to popular belief, Bale still has an important role to play at Real Madrid and will be given an opportunity to redeem himself before he leaves.

Ancelotti is well aware that after Benzema, the only player in his squad that can guarantee goals is Bale. Jovic has scored three in 49 games; Mariano, 11 in 69. Ancelotti understands how the fans feel and at the same time, he has always defended Bale and will help him to leave on a high note. “He’s ready to play, he wants to end his time at the club well. He deserves to play at the Bernabéu, it’s only fair. He’s had problems to deal with, he hasn’t played lately but he has entered into the history of this club with his goals and his triumphs,” the Italian said in his pre-match press conference before the Getafe game, making his intentions clear.

He’s only scored one goal this season, but Bale’s figures during his time in Madrid are excellent - 106 goals and 67 assists in 257 games for Madrid. That is an even better registry than he managed over two spells at Spurs -  72 goals and 61 assists in 237 games, some of them when he was still playing at right-back. He has delivered when it mattered the most - outsprinting Marc Bartra to win the Copa del Rey in 2014 when Cristiano was out injured, his towering header in the Champions League final in Lisbon and coming on as a sub in the 2018 final to single-handedly resolve an incredibly tight game against Liverpool. Ancelotti knows that Bale is no longer the explosive player he was back then, but he is showing that he is the best alternative to Benzema - not Jovic or Mariano. Gareth Bale could well be back out on the pitch at the Bernabéu on Tuesday when Chelsea visit and if everything goes according to plan, a send-off in the final league game of the season against Betis...

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