Decoding the reasons behind Gareth Bale's struggles at Real Madrid this season
What a difference a year can make. By the end of last season, Gareth Bale was being lauded as the man to carry Real Madrid forward along with Cristiano Ronaldo. Despite not having a pre-season with the team, he proved to be an extremely good signing for the Blancos and scored winning goals in both the Champions League and Copa del Rey finals.
He had answered skeptics who thought that the massive price tag would burden him a lot and that he wouldn’t be able to live up to it. But he shut them all up with his performances.
After a good first season, expectations further increased, especially because he had a pre-season this time around and was actually the best Los Blancos player in those games.
Now, however, there is actually a chance of him leaving the club after an awful season that was made worse by the jeering of some of the fans at the Bernabeu. So what went wrong for the Welshman in his second season?
Too much muscle weight added
Gareth Bale has never hidden his admiration for Cristiano Ronaldo. From his days at Tottenham Hotspur, he has displayed his awe for the Portuguese international and has tried to model his game on the current Ballon d’Or holder.
This was one of the reasons why Florentino Perez wanted him so much – to have another Ronaldo-type player on the right-wing. And that obsession has become the reason for his current downfall.
Gareth Bale’s most deadly weapon is his acceleration and speed. His lightweight upper-body meant that he could, with agility, move past defenders, leaving them behind with his tremendous pace. However, by the beginning of this season, we saw an entirely different Bale.
He had gained so much muscle weight that one wouldn’t be wrong to think that the only time the former Southampton youngster wasn’t in the gym was when he was eating, sleeping or answering the calls of nature.
With the increase in his upper-body weight, his main assets – pace and acceleration – took a severe hit and he could no longer outrun defenders like he once was able to.
It is not that too much muscle is bad. In fact, it is great for someone who almost always operates inside the box and has to hassle defenders, hold them off, and finish strongly – something which Cristiano Ronaldo does and hence his bulk physique is necessary. However, with Bale, that is not the case as he is being…
Suffocated on the right-wing
Gareth Bale made his name while playing on the left-wing. He ripped numerous defenders from there – Maicon, for one – and that is his best position. In his last season with Spurs, Andre-Villas Boas started playing him more centrally and that worked too because he could always outrun defenders by moving the ball past them with his left foot.
But he was rarely – only on some occasions – played on the right and never looked as effective.
Bale is not a Messi or Robben type of dribbler – someone who keeps the ball really close to his boots while dribbling. He is more like the classic-winger who uses his pace to help run at defenders, by knocking the ball into space and running at it with full speed.
This type of dribbling can only work when there is space to knock the ball into – which he doesn’t get when he is on the right. And when he does, it is either in the middle or towards the right corner.
In both cases, the space isn’t worth it because if knocked into the middle, someone else reaches the ball before him (note the drop in pace) and if knocked in towards the corner flag, Bale only has one option and that is to cross with his weaker right foot.
One could argue that Bale did not have a good season with Madrid playing on the right, but there are two reasons for that. One, defenders have had a season to learn from his movement and now know what he does and likes to do while the second reason is..