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While his ego and occasional outburst at team-mates may frustrate followers of Real Madrid, their continued reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo to dig them out of holes and lead their bids for silverware has been strikingly apparent for several years now, almost to the point where you felt any prolonged absence for the Portuguese winger could quickly derail their season.
That is why what we have seen over the past fortnight has been so significant. With Ronaldo out injured and Real Madrid faced with a Champions League Semi-Final and two tough must-win away games in La Liga to stay in the title race, Gareth Bale has stepped up to the plate and taken on the Ronaldo role as the focal point of the team’s attack and match winner.
Away at local rivals Rayo Vallecano, Real were 2-0 down inside the first 15 minutes and without their star player, Zidane’s men were desperately in need of inspiration. Gareth Bale more than delivered with 2 goals as he spearheaded a fine 3-2 comeback win that kept Real in with a sniff of the title.
The team again coped impressively in Ronaldo’s absence at the Etihad Stadium in the First Leg of the Champions League Semi-Final last week before Gareth Bale again stepped up with a crucial late winner in another tricky league game at Real Sociedad on Saturday.
Cristiano Ronaldo may still be the star and his likely return in the Second Leg against City will only boost Real Madrid’s chances but Bale is quickly growing into his boots and has shown enough this season and particularly in the past two weeks to suggest that he will one day replace Ronaldo as the talisman of this Real Madrid side.
One area he still has to improve is in the Champions League however and for people to take his role as the heir-apparent more seriously, he could really do with a big performance against the English club this week, particularly if Ronaldo isn’t 100% fit.
Flattered to deceive in Europe
The Welsh winger has flattered to deceive in Europe since an impressive first season in Madrid where he netted the decisive second goal in the Champions League final against Atletico. Bale has just 2 goals in 16 Champions League appearances since then and none this season. Ronaldo by comparison has a remarkable 26 over the same period including a brilliant hat-trick in the Quarter Final 2nd Leg comeback against Wolfsburg.
Bale’s poor form in Europe is perhaps the main reason why he still has his doubters in Madrid as his consistent contributions in La Liga this term certainly stack up well against any player in the league and that includes Ronaldo and Messi.
He is yet to truly show himself as the out-and-out match-winner and stand-out performer in a key game against top opposition though. Real Madrid followers may argue correctly that he needs to do that to really justify his tag as the world’s most expensive footballer and likely successor to Cristiano Ronaldo as the linchpin of this side.
That is why there is some pressure on Bale despite his recent good form in the league to put in a big performance when Manchester City visit the Santiago Bernabeu this week and if they get through subsequently in the final later in the month.
If he fails to perform, the doubters will continue to exist.
Written by Mark Sochon
Follow Mark on Twitter @tikitakagol
Check out his brilliant blog on all things La Liga, Tiki-Taka-Gol!
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