The Gareth Bale situation at Real Madrid: Can anyone really be blamed?
Bale's fall in the pecking order at the Bernabeu is not entirely his fault
It's been a sorry state of affairs for Gareth Bale this season in the Spanish capital. His playing time at Real Madrid has dropped significantly this season and the drop in minutes is something one could expect from a player who has historically struggled with injuries.
And while injuries do remain a worry for the Welshman, his drop in minutes has not really been because of his injuries alone. Bale, as it stands, has fallen drastically in the Real Madrid hierarchy and is struggling to find a place in this Real Madrid side.
The emergence of Marco Asensio and Lucas Vasquez
Bale struggled through the first half of the season with injuries, something that has been a major thorn in his Real Madrid career. His absence on a lot of occasions hurt the team.
His absence also coincided with what was a tumultuous period for the club. Zidane’s continuous use of a four-man diamond in midfield didn’t yield results, meaning that the French manager shifted to a flat four in the centre of the park.
A flat four which meant that wingers were now a key ingredient for Zidane’s side. Bale’s absence meant that Marco Asensio and Lucas Vasquez were now the obvious choices for the role.
The roles suited the two Spanish wingers very well. Bale, since his return from his calf problems, hasn’t exactly played the minutes he or any Real Madrid fan would’ve hoped for.
A few starts, plenty of substitute appearances and hardly any big game starts, one can perhaps say that Bale’s time at the club might be coming to an end. But how did it come down to this?
What is it with Bale that he’s not a regular starter at Real Madrid anymore? Is it anyone’s fault? If yes, whose fault is it?
Vazquez and Asensio were tough to drop based on form
Bale’s absence provided an opportunity for fringe players in Vasquez and Asensio, an opportunity they both took really well. It was something that propelled Zidane’s faith in the two.
The two being only fringe players in the past, their eagerness showed on the pitch. Are these two better players than Gareth Bale? At this moment in time, no. The two are not at Bale’s level and definitely do not possess the Welshman’s traits.
That may, however, change in the future, especially Asensio, whose performances have proved his talent and his will to succeed.
The two have been brilliant in attack from out wide, stepping up at various moments when needed. The performance away to Paris showcased that fairly well. The separating factor however one feels is the sacrifice the pair makes for their share of defensive work.
It’s the defensive output of the two Spanish wingers that sets them apart from Bale and might have possibly put these two above Bale in the pecking order.
They have been the perfect foil to Madrid’s full-backs. Tracking back and helping the wide spaces at every instance, something with which the side struggled early on in the season.
Defending wide spaces has been covered quite well. Bale is someone who Zidane doesn’t see performing in that role very well. Especially in the big games, wherein the impetus to defend is bigger.
Bale’s best position in the side has been a topic of speculation this season. When given opportunities this year, Bale’s best performances have all come when he’s started out wide. Be it in a more advanced role in a 4-3-3 or in a more traditional role in a flat 4-4-2.
Zidane’s use of the Welshman in recent times, however, could possibly be the reason for his lack of playing time. The French manager has time and again used the £86m signing from 2013 as a striker or a second striker in a 4-4-2.
These positions have never been Bale’s favoured roles. He remains a wonderful winger but he lacks the movement of a proper number 9 and, when leading the attack, he doesn’t really add anything to his link-up play.
All in all, it hasn’t been a wise move from Zidane to play him up front, a role in which he isn’t exactly comfortable. The first half display against Juventus is a testament to this. A display wherein the man from Wales looked lost at times and wasn’t really involved in the build-up at any point.
The positional interchange may have perhaps resulted in Bale losing his confidence. Perhaps the finger could be pointed at Zidane for this. Bale’s been vital for Madrid out on the wide and the positional juggling has clearly not worked.
With just 81 minutes to show for in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League this season, Zidane’s faith in the Welshman has diminished drastically. Bale has gone from being one of the untouchables to a non-regular.
Given the current situation, reports of him leaving the Bernabeu in the summer are justified. Zidane has remained firm on Bale’s situation regarding transfer speculation, like he was with Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez last season.
It is safe to say the Bale situation may soon be heading for a permanent solution.
Injuries have always been Bale's Achilles heel but this time they may have damaged his demeanour a lot more. Bad luck has played its part and the much-awaited emergence of the likes of Asensio has made it worse for the Welshman.
Bale’s situation remains a mixture of everything and not entirely down to one person. The situation may still improve, injuries and suspensions may still lead Bale to be a key player for the remainder of the season.
However, the likely situation at this point is that Bale’s time at the club may finally be up, something that might be completely out of the hands of the Welshman.