Bale in Madrid cri­sis

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

MADRID — ’Dis­as­ter’. ‘Ir­rel­e­vant’. ‘List­less’. The Span­ish Sun­day pa­pers did not make happy read­ing for Gareth Bale.

Real Madrid were ham­mered 4-0 by ram­pant lo­cal ri­vals Atletico on Satur­day af­ter­noon, and it was one of those oc­ca­sions when they were lucky to get nil.

The per­for­mance of Bale and the rest of his col­leagues will go down in in­famy along­side an em­bar­rass­ing 5-0 loss against Barcelona in Novem­ber 2010.

Af­ter such an abysmal dis­play even the usu­ally-loyal Madrid me­dia are on the attack de­spite the side re­main­ing top of La Liga. Bale, signed from Tot­ten­ham for a world record £85m in Septem­ber 2013, is one of their tar­gets.

Real boss Carlo Ancelotti was un­spar­ing in his crit­i­cism of his team af­ter their heav­i­est derby de­feat since a 5-0 loss in 1947.

“It was bad. Very bad,” he ad­mit­ted. “Atletico de­served to win in ev­ery as­pect: de­sire, qual­ity, or­gan­i­sa­tion, sec­ond balls, aerial balls. We didn’t have a sin­gle player who had a good game.”

That damn­ing ver­dict was uni­ver­sally shared by fans and pun­dits af­ter an em­bar­rass­ingly one-sided en­counter. The Cham­pi­ons League hold­ers failed to reg­is­ter a sin­gle shot on tar­get un­til the 81st minute.

Bale re­ceived more than his share of the blame, with for­mer Liver­pool and Repub­lic of Ire­land striker Michael Robin­son, who is now Spain’s fore­most tele­vi­sion pun­dit, strongly crit­i­cis­ing the Welsh­man af­ter his op­pos­ing full-back Guil­herme Siqueira set up Atletico’s sec­ond goal.

“He’s just watch­ing….a spec­ta­tor,” lament- ed Robin­son as the re­plays showed Bale am­bling back while Siqueira skipped to the bye­line with­out a care in the world and de­liv­ered a cross for Saul to ac­ro­bat­i­cally vol­ley home.

To sug­gest his per­for­mance was in­ef­fec­tive would be an un­der­state­ment. Bale had 44 touches of the ball, com­pleted only 22 passes and had no shots on tar­get. He made just one suc­cess­ful cross, con­ceded three free-kicks and –– cru­cially against a com­bat­ive team like Atletico –– did not make any suc­cess­ful tack­les.

He was de­scribed as “a de­fen­sive dis­as­ter” by tabloid news­pa­per AS, who also said the Welsh­man was “ir­rel­e­vant”. Its writ­ers could not bring them­selves to hand him a rat­ing in their match re­port. Only Toni Kroos, Fabio Coen­trao and Na­cho Fer­nan­dez were given the distinc­tion of 1 out of 3, with ev­ery other player was sim­ply left blank.

An­other pa­per, Marca, was slightly more gen­er­ous, giv­ing Bale 4.5 out of 10 –– mak­ing him the team’s joint “best” player along­side Kroos and Dani Car­va­jal. How­ever Marca’s writ­ers also de­scribed him as “list­less” and left lit­tle doubt that this game did noth­ing to bol­ster Bale’s rep­u­ta­tion in Spain, which is cur­rently some­what in need of a boost.

More wor­ry­ingly for Bale, this is not the first time in re­cent weeks that he has faced crit­i­cism.

The for­mer Tot­ten­ham and Southamp­ton man has been ac­cused of self­ish­ness on sev­eral oc­ca­sions so far this cal­en­dar year af­ter get­ting into good po­si­tions but fail­ing to pass to col­leagues.

Most no­tice­ably, Cris­tiano Ron­aldo showed his dis­plea­sure on the pitch af­ter Bale shot wide when he could have teed up his team­mate with an open goal dur­ing the lat­ter stages of a home win over Es­panyol in Jan­uary.

That came a week af­ter Bale’s fail­ure to pass to Karim Ben­zema was high­lighted as a key mo­ment dur­ing his team’s loss against Va­len­cia. He was sim­i­larly crit­i­cised for elect­ing to shoot rather than pass in meet­ings with Sevilla and Real So­ciedad.

A small sec­tion of Bern­abeu fans whis­tled and jeered Bale fol­low­ing those in­ci­dents –– although that is noth­ing un­usual from a fa­mously de­mand­ing and fickle set of fans.

For­mer Real star Manuel San­chis this week told Marca: “Bale has a lot of qual­i­ties but he some­times loses credit be­cause of his in­di­vid­u­al­ism.”

Bale also missed an op­por­tu­nity to stamp his author­ity on the team dur­ing Ron­aldo’s two-game sus­pen­sion fol­low­ing a send­ing-off at Cor­doba.

The ab­sence of the Por­tuguese star was touted as a chance for the Welsh­man to step into the lime­light and shine as the team’s key fig­ure. That sce­nario did not ma­te­ri­alise as he de­liv­ered sub­dued per­for­mances against So­ciedad and Sevilla, although manager Ancelotti strongly de­fended his record sign­ing.

For­tu­nately for Bale, he is not the main man in the fir­ing line fol­low­ing his team’s derby day hu­mil­i­a­tion.

Long-serv­ing goal­keeper Iker Casil­las com­mit­ted a ter­ri­ble er­ror for Atletico’s open­ing goal, al­low­ing a shot from for­mer Chelsea mid­fielder Ti­ago to squirm through his grasp. This re-opened the de­bate over whether he should be re­placed by Costa Ri­can in­ter­na­tional back-up Key­lor Navas .

Peren­nial poster boy Ron­aldo, who was sub­jected to mer­ci­less mock­ing whis­tles from the home fans through­out the en­counter, has also been sub­jected to fierce anal­y­sis af­ter an­other anony­mous dis­play.

De­spite 28 goals in 19 league games this sea­son, the Por­tuguese star has scored in one of his last four out­ings. He did not in­voke sym­pa­thy af­ter go­ing ahead with his birth­day cel­e­bra­tions de­spite the loss to Atletico on Satur­day night. He was pho­tographed cheer­ily singing with Colom­bian pop star Kevin Roldan in a Madrid night­club.

Plenty of at­ten­tion is also fo­cussing on the de­fence which yielded four goals and many more chances against Atletico, with the ab­sence of in­jured first-choice cen­tral de­fend­ers Ser­gio Ramos and Pepe a ma­jor cause of con­cern.

Bale’s place in the team is fur­ther pro­tected fol­low­ing an in­jury to Colom­bian star James Ro­driguez, who is set for a two-month spell on the side­lines af­ter break­ing a metatarsal bone in his foot dur­ing the mid­week victory over Sevilla.

Ancelotti has reg­u­larly in­sisted - most re­cently af­ter Satur­day’s loss - that his ‘ BBC’ front­line of Bale, Ben­zema and Cris­tiano will al­ways start when they are all fit, and there is no sug­ges­tion that Bale is close to los­ing his spot in the start­ing line-up.

Bale earned him­self plenty of credit dur­ing a strong first sea­son in Madrid, no­tably with a sen­sa­tional match-win­ner against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey fi­nal and a headed goal to give his team an ex­tra time lead in the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal against Atletico.

How­ever, any voy­age aboard the wild ship Bern­abeu is un­for­giv­ing and un­pre­dictable. The fact that even a na­tional icon such as Casil­las (nick­named Saint Iker) is com­ing un­der heavy fire will alert Bale to the fact that no­body is im­mune to harsh crit­i­cism.

For now, Bale’s place in the team is se­cure and he will con­tinue to be re­lied upon by Ancelotti as Los Blan­cos at­tempt to bounce back from their derby day dis­as­ter - start­ing with next week­end’s home game against in-form De­portivo La Coruna.

But there have been re­peated re­ports that Borus­sia Dort­mund star Marco Reus is on the radar of Real pres­i­dent Florentino Perez, and noth­ing can be taken for granted be­yond the end of this sea­son.

As An­gel Di Maria and Me­sut Ozil have dis­cov­ered in the last two sum­mers, Perez is al­ways pre­pared to dis­pense with su­per­stars when he be­lieves they have be­come sur­plus to re­quire­ments - ir­re­spec­tive of whether the in­cum­bent coach shares that opin­ion. Bale is seen as a com­mer­cially less im­por­tant com­mod­ity than team­mates such as James and Ron­aldo.

It would be an over­re­ac­tion to sug­gest that Bale’s im­me­di­ate fu­ture at the Bern­abeu is in jeop­ardy, but there’s no doubt that storm clouds have been gath­er­ing for some time.

He needs a big per­for­mance - and he needs it soon. — BBC

Real Madrid for­ward Gareth Bale.

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