Gareth Bale made his latest return from injury on Tuesday night, coming on for Real Madrid in their 2-2 draw against Fuenlabrada in the Copa del Rey. It’s been a long, well-documented struggle for the 28-year-old, whose injury troubles have now put him at risk of being the name at the top of the list whenever player sales are discussed at the club.
By all accounts, however, Bale has no intention of leaving Madrid without a fight, and still believes that he can make it at one of the biggest clubs in the world. There’s no denying his talent, and he’s shown it on occasion for Madrid in between all the injuries.
Here are three ways Real Madrid could line up with Bale in their side.
Madrid’s formation in recent weeks has loosely been a 4-4-2/4-3-3 hybrid, largely because of Isco‘s freedom to roam in attack. What is constant is the three-man midfield of Casemiro, Luka Modric, and Toni Kroos, and the two-pronged attack of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
In this formation, Bale could either take Isco’s role, or partner Ronaldo – the assumption being that while Benzema might be considered untouchable, Ronaldo is definitely that. Plus, the Bale-Ronaldo relationship remains the most important dynamic when it comes to the Welshman’s role at the club.
There’s previously been speculation regarding a rift between the two, and Ronaldo seems to have benefitted from the players who have stepped up in Bale’s absence. Playing alongside the Portuguese could be the best way to salvage Bale’s Madrid career.
Zinedine Zidane has a tendency to switch to three at the back to make the most of the many attacking players at his disposal. It’s a tactic he often adopts when Madrid are chasing a game, and usually, it’s one of the moves that draws criticism from the media – the complaint being that there is no method involved other than having as many attacking players on the pitch as possible.
But Pep Guardiola has occasionally played Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane as wingbacks at Manchester City, with much the same purpose. If it can work there, why not at Madrid? And Bale actually has experience of playing both as a winger and as a full-back so a wing-back role might suit him. He could play as an inverted wing-back, drift towards the centre when necessary, and offer pace on either side for the midfield to exploit.
The other option for Zidane is to go back to the basics. Madrid played a 4-3-3 for so long, and even now, although Ronaldo and Benzema is clearly pushed furthest forward in a formation that has two up top, with Isco’s floating role and Ronaldo’s license to come deep it is at times a 4-3-3 anyway.
Of course, using this formation would again mean dropping either Isco or Benzema – which, at the moment, is Bale’s problem, no matter what formation Madrid adopt. His injuries have allowed Isco to jump above him in the pecking order, and Benzema is considered undroppable for the way in which he sacrifices himself in order to maximise Ronaldo’s output.
The truth is, while Zidane and Madrid have plenty of options as they go about reintegrating Bale into their squad, right now, when it comes to the starting XI, Welshman is always going to be on the outside looking in barring an excellent run of form.
Prosecutors believe the Croatian, whose wife Vadja is also cited in the accusation, evaded €870,728 in 2013 and 2014 via a shell company set up in Luxembourg.
However, that figure could rise once details of financial holdings belonging to the player in the Isle of Man are revealed to Spanish authorities.
Modric, 32, joined Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur for a reported fee of £30 million in 2012. He is just the latest in a series of star players based in Spain to be accused of tax fraud on income related to image rights in the past few years.
On Tuesday, Madrid left-back Marcelo admitted to a €490,917 tax fraud via his image rights in 2013.
As part of Marcelo’s agreement with the authorities, the Brazilian is expected to be handed a four-month suspended sentence and a fine worth 40 per cent of the defrauded amount.
Real Madrid’s all-time leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo appeared in court in July over accusations he evaded €14.7 million worth of tax between 2011 and 2014.
Barcelona duo Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano received 21-month and one-year suspended sentences respectively after being found guilty of tax fraud over their image rights in 2016.
However, five-time World Player of the Year Messi’s sentence was later replaced by a €252,000 fine.
Real Madrid need to pick up the pace in La Liga and Saturday’s encounter with Malaga at the Bernabeu presents the perfect opportunity to do just that.
With Barcelona already racing away at the top of the standings, the Madridistas have it all to do in order to defend their crown.
Here are a few talking points ahead of their clash with Malaga.
OPPORTUNITY TO PUT PRESSURE ON BARCELONA
We’re only 12 games into the season and Barcelona have already opened up a 10-point lead over the two Madrid outfits. However, the Catalans travel to second placed Valencia on Sunday night, offering Real the opportunity to reduce the deficit on Saturday and put pressure on their rivals ahead of their kick-off.
If Zinedine Zidane’s side are to recover from their slow start to the league campaign, this weekend could very well be the first step.
At the very least, a win would reduce the gap between themselves and Valencia even if Barcelona come away with three points.
RONALDO TO END LA LIGA DROUGHT
Cristiano Ronaldo has only scored once in La Liga this season and is currently on a four-game drought in the league. But that should come to an end at the Bernabeu against the league’s second worst defence this season.
After thumping Apoel 6-0 away from home in the Champions League this week, Madrid should be able to rediscover some of their swagger in the league. Crucially, the criticised front pairing of Karim Benzema and Ronaldo both secured braces on the night, doing their confidence a world of good.
In all fairness to the Portuguese, he has been playing well in the last few league games anyway despite his unflattering conversion rate. Ronaldo remains Madrid’s chief threat and is due for a big haul in the league.
After Lionel Messi picked up the Golden Shoe on Friday, a fourth to equal Ronaldo’s tally, perhaps the Madrid man will set out with a point to prove and Malaga may well be the unfortunate recipients.
VALLEJO TO GET ANOTHER CHANCE TO SHINE
Sergio Ramos is back in training but has been wearing a facial mask during sessions as he recovers from a broken nose while Nacho is suspended for this fixture. That means Zidane could turn to Jesus Vallejo in central defence.
The defender has already impressed this season and could have another opportunity to prove his worth. The 20-year-old shouldn’t have too much of a test though if everything goes to plan with Malaga hardly offering much of an attacking threat.
Only Alaves (6) and Las Palmas (8) have scored fewer goals than Saturday’s visitors (9) in La Liga this season.