Gareth Bale gave Real Madrid fans their first real taste of what he is capable of with two goals and two assists against Sevilla on Wednesday and the world’s most expensive player believes he has turned a corner.
The $138 million Welsh winger’s season has been disrupted by injury but his performance in the 7-3 romp at the Bernabeu showcased his strength and pace as well as his lethal left foot, and suggested he is close to full fitness again after recovering from a thigh strain.
Playing on the right of a three-man frontline with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, Bale opening the scoring with a fierce strike into the top corner, added a second with a deflected free kick and then set up his fellow forwards after powerful runs in from the flank.
“It was important for my form,” Bale told reporters after coming through the full 90 minutes of a match for the first time since joining from Tottenham Hotspur.
“After not having a normal pre-season I have to keep building rhythm so I can give my best,” the 24-year-old added.
“Obviously I need time to improve physically but I am very happy to have played 90 minutes.”
Bale should get another chance to impress when Real play at struggling city neighbours Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side are third in La Liga after 11 games after an unconvincing start, two points behind Atletico Madrid, who play their game in hand at Granada later on Thursday before hosting Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
Barca out in front
Unbeaten champions Barcelona, who edged Real 2-1 in last weekend’s ‘Clasico’ at the Nou Camp, are four clear of Atletico at the top and will stretch their advantage to seven with a win at home to Espanyol on Friday.
Ancelotti has yet to get the best from his expensively-assembled squad and the Italian, who replaced Jose Mourinho in the close season, said that while he was happy with his forwards the rest of the outfield players had room for improvement.
“We were pressing through the middle but left our wings exposed and the fullbacks had a few problems,” Ancelotti told a news conference.
“We have to find a balance among the other seven players and not just the three up front,” he added.
One player who can help Real exert more control is experienced Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso, who came on as a second-half substitute against Sevilla after five months out injured and was given a huge ovation by the home fans.
“He is a great player,” Bale said.
“He has been very consistent and reliable in recent seasons and it’s fantastic to have him back.
“His experience will help us on the pitch because he is capable of controlling the game very well.”
Barca’s Brazil forward Neymar is likely to return to the starting lineup against Espanyol after sitting out Tuesday’s 3-0 win at Celta Vigo as part of coach Gerardo Martino’s policy of alternately resting key players.
Their World Player of the Year Lionel Messi is due a goal after failing to score for three consecutive games for the first time in more than two years against Celta.