What has gone wrong with Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?
Gareth Bale signed for Real Madrid in the summer of 2013 for a then-record transfer fee of £85 million. He had a brilliant start to his career in Madrid as the team won the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Champions League with Bale scoring in finals of both the competitions with one of them going down the memory lane of fans forever.
He was brought in with huge hopes which have not always been met thanks to his niggling problems but Bale has done well as a player winning trophies and scoring goals.
However, things seem to have changed a lot as he has found himself on the bench a lot this season. Gareth Bale this season has seen his role reduced to that of a squad player and has lost his tag of an undisputed starter which he used to have till last season. So what has gone wrong?
What led to this change?
Gareth Bale's injury problems are well known. Gareth Bale since his move to Madrid has suffered innumerable injuries which have not allowed him to showcase his full talents. As soon as he seems to be getting into the thick of things, some injury stops him.
Gareth Bale has scored 85 goals and has 59 assists to his name during his time at the Madrid club. His best season in terms of goals was his first season where he had 22 goals to his name. In the last 3 seasons, Bale playing time has been less due to his frequent injury issues as he has missed almost 40 to 50 percent of the games due to his injury problems.
However that never really led to him losing his starter tag at the club thanks to his Galactico status. However last season when Bale got a long-term injury, Isco performed so well that it had a negative effect on Bale's position in the starting lineup. Real Madrid also played some of their best football under Zinedine Zidane as they went on to win the UCL and the league double for the first time since 1959.
When the current season started, Bale again picked up an injury against Borussia Dortmund after putting in a Man of the Match performance. Since his comeback, he has been in and out of the team as Vazquez, Asensio, and Isco find themselves ahead in the pecking order.
The fact that he only started against Juventus at home in UCL knockout fixtures this season tells a lot about his current situation at the club, a match in which he was very poor. People have praised Zidane for taking the 'bold' decision of benching Bale for his inconsistent form and giving other players a chance.
Is Bale solely to be blamed?
Apparently no. Gareth Bale is a winger who loves running at defenders and while his favored position was on the left, he has been playing on the right for Madrid since his move. However, this season, Zinedine Zidane in some games has made him play as a support striker in 4-4-2 or even as a lone striker. This has affected his performances as it has limited him to just making runs behind the defense.
A player performs his best when he is used in a position he is comfortable in. Playing him out of his natural position will affect his performances no matter how good the player is.
Gareth Bale isn't comfortable playing with his back to goal. He is more of a player who likes to run at defenders and use his pace to get past them. Playing him in striker's position limits his freedom and affects his performances.
However, since his comeback from injury in December, Zidane has consistently used him as a striker which has affected the level at which he performs and has put him down in the pecking order. His involvement decreases when he plays as a striker. Against Espanyol away, Bale only had 33 touches in 80 minutes playing as a lone striker as he was isolated for large parts of the game.
The difference in his performances as a striker and as a winger is astonishing. Gareth Bale this season has scored 15 goals in La Liga. He has played 25 games in total out of which 10 he has played as a striker and the rest 15 as a winger.
In 10 games he has played as a striker, he has scored only 3 goals with two of them coming against Celta Vigo away who played a very high line and thus giving space behind them for Bale to exploit.
He has scored the rest 12 goals playing as a winger, with the most recent being a brace against Celta in what was an impeccable performance by the Welsh wizard as a right-winger.
Zidane has failed to use the Cardiff Express in the best possible way. By playing him as a striker, he has failed to use the threat Bale provides as a winger.
Bale is at his best when he is played as a winger as it gives him the freedom to express himself and use all the attributes of his game. Playing him as a striker and that too against teams that play with a deep block denies him space which he cherishes as an attacker.
What lies ahead?
The fact that he has not started most of the important games in UCL knockouts show that Gareth Bale is no more as important as he was before and that has raised questions over his future at Real Madrid.
The deployment of Bale as a striker has denied Madrid from seeing the best of Gareth Bale and take the best out of him. He still remains their best winger, however, Zinedine Zidane' changing his position frequently has affected his chances as a regular in the team as others around him have now gained more importance at the club.
A move back to England looks very possible and there also have been speculations about a move to Bayern Munich. With future being uncertain, the role that Bale plays in the UCL final against Liverpool can pretty much decide what lies ahead for him and his Real Madrid career.