I guess he’ll be pleased enough. Though clearly not fully match fit, Bale started and scored in tonight’s game at El Madrigal, as Madrid escaped with a point against a vibrant young Villarreal side. The Welshman, having switched from the right to the left flank, did well to get in front of his marker and tap in Carvajal’s 38th minute cross. For the rest of his debut he looked understandably nervous as repeated attempts at one touch lay-offs, though largely successful, gave the impression of not yet brimming with confidence. It wasn’t until the hour mark that he opened his legs and ran at and past his man in a trademark GB11 burst of pace and power. The effort knackered him however and he was replaced by Di Maria minutes later. Like I say, I’m sure he will be happy enough with his first start in two months, in a new league, and after just a handful of training sessions with his team mates.
The true star of the show was the Madrid keeper, Diego López. Originally regarded as merely a pawn in Mourinho’s nasty practical joke to drop Iker Casillas last season, ex-Villarreal number one López was once again outstanding. He kept Madrid in the game with a string of saves to thwart the sharp attacking interplay of goal scorers Cani and ex-Spurs man Gio two Saints, and their mates, Pereira and Aquino. Slowly but surely the unthinkable is happening and Madrileños are beginning to consider whether López is actually being picked ahead of Iker on merit rather than some evil conspiracy.
Nobody else in white excelled. Benzema moped about upfront like a human Gallic shrug, CR7 got his customary goal from his customary 27 shots, and neither Modric nor Illaramendi pulled up any trees in the centre of the park. This was also the debut of the ex-Real Sociedad midfielder but at a mere €40m it hardly seems worth mentioning. He was also replaced just after the hour mark with consistent performer Sami Khedira coming on. With fellow new boy Casemiro on the bench and Xabi Alonso to come back, it will be interesting to see who Ancelotti prefers in the holding midfield position as the season progresses.
Isco had his moments, starting the move that led to Cristiano’s goal for example, but is not yet running games away from home the way he has done in his first couple of outings at the Bernabeu. But he is world class, a cross between Iniesta and Xavi, and he has many years in front of him to perfect his craft.
Someone who thankfully has far fewer years in front of him is Pepe. It has to be said though that the centre back, who in any other walk of life would have been jailed for his various indiscretions on the pitch, appears to be calming a little. It is almost like he has switched sides and has left his days of outrageously vicious intimidation behind him. Much like May Day ultimately did in a View to a Kill. He has lost his bite and, along with it, has gone his effectiveness as a central defender and anything that was interesting about the man. Hopefully Varane immediately replaces him when fit.
Early doors, but Villarreal look like a top 6 or 7 team this year. When all is said and done, a point at El Madrigal may turn out to be a decent one. But this Madrid team is still definitely a work in progress.
Incidentally, CR7 has just confirmed he has signed a new contract keeping him in Spain until 2018 on a reported €17m per year. More than GB11 then and just in time to make sure the Sunday papers run with this rather than Bale’s debut goal. Probably just a coincidence…