Real Madrid's positional dilemma over Gareth Bale
"It was a turning point for him”,
quoted Real manager Zinedine Zidane in reference to star man Gareth Bale’s performance at Dortmund on Tuesday night. It was a special performance from the Welsh man on the night.
Real hadn’t won a single game away to Dortmund in the previous six attempts, and Bale’s performance was absolutely vital in ending that run. Gareth Bale scored a stunner to get his side into the lead and later provided an assist for Cristiano Ronaldo.
The game, in a lot of ways, was set up for Bale. Dortmund played higher up the pitch and had a very high backline. The high defensive line meant there was enough space for the likes of Bale to exploit.
Pretty much how it eventually turned out, Bale used his pace to good effect, carving out decent opportunities for his side. It was his best performance since his return from injury late last season and will do wonders for his confidence.
But, there seems to be a pattern to Bale’s best performances over the years in a Real Madrid shirt - high defensive lines from opposing sides have got the best out of Bale.
Be it the performance from Tuesday night or from the memorable night in Munich back in 2014, Bale looks a different beast when confronted by a high defensive line. The same, though, cannot be said about him when confronted against opponents who sit back and soak up the pressure.
The lack of space to possibly dribble past or run past an opponent has been detrimental to Bale’s cause.
Performances against the likes of Deportivo, Levante and somewhat against Valencia state pretty much the same. Against teams that are ready to stay back and defend, and perhaps make it difficult for the opposition, Bale hasn’t had the same impact as against the high line units.
His impact in these games has been minimal and does not provide the outlet Madrid want him to be.
The problem gets worse when we see him playing on the right, extra touches in the final third are something one cannot really afford when playing against the deep-defending opposition. Playing on the right and with no space to offer, Bale tends to take that extra touch to either get the cross in or just play it back to the nearest outfield player.
Something that not only offers extra-time to the defending team, but in a lot of cases, also ends up breaking Madrid’s momentum in that particular game. One might try recalling the game at Bilbao in 2015, where we did see Bale struggle on the right against Balenziaga.
No real space to run through defences, and not enough space to cut-in on his right for a shot, invariably ended up lowering the tempo for his side.
The complexity of the situation increases once we start considering Madrid’s record against such sides without Bale. Real’s best displays, most of which came towards the end of last season all happened to play a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield.
Isco formed the attacking tip in the midfield with Ronaldo and Benzema leading the line. The formation was a change from the usual 4-3-3 that Madrid used to a great extent in presence of the Welshman.
However, playing with a four-man midfield meant that Madrid had better control over the game, kept the ball better and had greater penetration against the teams which defended deep.
The UEFA Champions League semi-finals and finals against Atletico and Juventus respectively from last season being the perfect examples.
Isco’s rise through the end of last season has only added to the pressure on Bale. Meaning that the Welshman now has to start somewhat from scratch in order to please the Bernabeu faithful regarding his place in the team.
With Madrid now able to quite comfortably portray a good four midfielder formation questions of Gareth Bale will be asked, as to why should the Welshman play when the side can play equally well with an extra midfielder. Something that did get the best out of star man Cristiano Ronaldo.
Injuries to Karim Benzema and suspension of Ronaldo early in the season has meant that Bale has had to lay as one of the front two on a few occasions this term. While his performances have been pretty good so far, the doubt about his playing out of closed spaces still remains.
Bale remains a threat playing off someone like a Karim Benzema but with Ronaldo in a front two, his position and linkup play remains somewhat of a question.
Zidane, though, has continuously backed the Welshman stating that the best of the Welshman is yet to come. Injuries and suspensions to a lot of his star players and regular starters have enabled Zidane to play Isco and Bale together so far. It will, however, be interesting to see what team
Zidane plays when everyone is fit and he’ll once again have a plethora of players to choose from. Whether it’s the Bale-Benzema-Cristiano famously known as the “BBC” or it’s a four-man midfield with Isco at the helm of it, meaning Bale might only make the bench. It is a dilemma for sure, a dilemma good to have in a team sport but not one that you don’t exactly want when handling a galaxy of stars who are all eager to prove their worth. Interesting to see how the situation and squad management of Zidane shapes over the coming months given his squad remains fit.