Gareth Bale answers his critics - Analysis of Real Madrid winger's performance in 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund

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Bale scored a superb volley.

It hasn’t been a happy couple of months for Gareth Bale.

The Welshman has had to deal with transfer speculation, slipping down the Real Madrid pecking order and being jeered and whistled by his home fans during a few ineffectual displays.

Yet he’s actually quietly putting together a solid season, having scored twice and assisted three times heading into Tuesday’s crunch Champions League away tie against Borussia Dortmund.

He added to both counts on the night, scoring a wonderful volley and teeing up Cristiano Ronaldo as Madrid won 3-1 win in Germany, meaning he’s now been directly involved in more goals this season than any other Madrid player. Not bad for someone who’s supposedly underperforming.

Here’s an in-depth look at Bale’s performance against Dortmund.

Basic stats

Goals – 1

Assists – 1

Shots – 2

Dribbles – 0

Passes – 28

Key Passes – 2

Pass Accuracy – 86%

Touches – 42

Bale had cause to celebrate after a stunning goal.

Bale had cause to celebrate after a stunning goal.

Effectiveness

Tuesday night’s performance was vintage Bale.

He popped up on either wing, making his trademark runs to beat Dortmund’s defenders with pure pace, and was smart with his distribution – including a perfectly-delivered cross for Ronaldo to run onto and finish. His defensive work rate was similarly excellent, and vital as the German side threatened Madrid’s rearguard quite often. And he was always available for the out ball for his defenders and midfielders.

Not to mention, he started it all with a wonderful volley to open the scoring.

Bale was one of Madrid's star performers on Tuesday.

Bale was one of Madrid’s star performers on Tuesday.

Key moments

18th min: Robin Van Persie made a habit of scoring goals like this. A clipped ball into the box, and the 28-year-old met it perfectly on the volley, timing it sweetly to almost caress the ball into the back of the net. It’s a goal that requires perfect technique and yet Bale’s finish was almost nonchalant.

49th min: Gareth Bale at his best. A perfectly-timed run behind the defence allowed him to run onto a through ball on the left wing, and then all he had to do was look up and find Ronaldo. Bale’s cross was placed at just the right place for Ronaldo to convert.

78th min: It was nearly a Bale special. Madrid counter-attacked at pace and a long ball allowed the former Tottenham ace to run at goal from the right. He was staring down Dortmund keeper Roman Burki, with a vintage goal almost guaranteed, but it took a well-timed sliding tackle from a recovering defender to snuff out the opportunity.

Ronaldo knew who to thank for his first goal on the night.

Ronaldo knew who to thank for his first goal on the night.

Our verdict: 8/10

Zinedine Zidane will be asking for more of the same from his Welsh winger. A goal and an assist is always a good performance, and Bale wasn’t far away from adding to the tally on either count.

The Real Madrid boo-boys have been out in full force to hound Bale back at home, but this was a magnificent display that hit back at the critics.

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Will Lionel Messi be man-marked again and other talking points as Barcelona play away to Sporting Lisbon

Andy West 27/09/2017
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Barcelona will play against Sporting Libon in their second Group Stage game of the Champions League 2017-18 season.

As we get closer to the clash, here are a few talking points.

MATHIEU’S GRUDGE MATCH?

This might be an unkind suggestion, but Jeremy Mathieu has probably attracted more headlines in the last three days than he did in the last three years.

The French defender, who joined Sporting Lisbon this summer after spending the previous three campaigns with Barcelona, has been a busy man in the run-up to his reunion, giving plenty of interviews not exactly badmouthing his old club but making it clear that he had a breakdown in relations with manager Luis Enrique and president Josep Maria Bartomeu, and saying he regarded his former teammates as colleagues rather than friends.

Now the veteran central defender, who can also play at left-back but was widely decried whenever he did so for Barcelona, has his chance for some kind of revenge.

And although his prime task is in defence, he also offers a goal threat at the other end with his aerial power from set-pieces and his new-found ability to take free-kicks – something that was never allowed while he played at Barcelona.

And if he does score a late winner, it’s safe to say he won’t be following the recent trend by refusing to celebrate against his former team.

Jeremy Mathieu

Jeremy Mathieu

SEMEDO’S HAPPY RETURN?

A somewhat less controversial reunion will be enjoyed by Nelson Semedo, the Portuguese international right-back who was snapped up from Lisbon-based Benfica by Barca this summer for €30 million.

As he makes his return to his home city, Semedo can be happy with the start he has made to life at Barcelona, where he has established himself as the club’s first-choice right-back and suggested he can successfully fill the gaping hole left by the departure of Dani Alves two summers ago.

But Semedo is not without competition, with Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal also delivering decent performances in recent weeks, and it will be worth paying attention to which of the trio manager Ernesto Valverde plumps for today.

In fact, there’s a fair chance that two of them will play, with the mixed form of Gerard Deulofeu and the injury to Ousmane Dembele opening up a vacancy on the right wing.

And if Valverde decides to rest Ivan Rakitic or Andres Iniesta and field Roberto in midfield, we could even see all three of Barca’s right-backs starting at the same time.

Nelson Semedo

Nelson Semedo

MESSI MAN-MARKED AGAIN?

Barca’s most recent outing, a 3-0 victory at Girona on Saturday, has ignited a tactical debate over how Lionel Messi should best be handled by opposition managers.

Although they lost the game, Girona were successful in quelling that threat of the Barca star, who neither scored nor delivered an assist after being tightly man-marked by home team midfielder Pablo Maffeo, with Girona boss Pablo Machin admitting he wanted to take Messi out of the game and make it a nine versus nine contest.

That’s all well and good for a plucky little underdog like Girona, but for a big team like Sporting Lisbon playing in front of 50,000 home fans in the Champions League, it would be a pretty negative move to effectively sacrifice one of your players and Sporting boss Jorge Jesus is unlikely to repeat the strategy.

And, of course, Jesus will have almost certainly planned his approach long before this weekend and won’t suddenly change his plans on the basis of how Girona played. But as the season unfolds, it’ll be interesting to see whether man-marking Messi becomes a tactical theme.

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

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Seven Deadly Stats with Cristiano Ronaldo saving his best for the Champions League after Dortmund win

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Real Madrid have surprisingly struggled in La Liga this season, and their underwhelming display in the Champions League opener against Apoel Nicosia – a game they nevertheless won 3-0 – had some wondering if they were vulnerable in the Group of Death.

Borussia Dortmund were hardly the side they would have wanted to face in this form, as Madrid had never won away to the German club in six previous attempts. But on Tuesday, Madrid were at their ruthless best, with Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo leading the European champions to a 3-1 win in Dortmund.

Here are seven deadly stats from the game…

BALE FEELS AT HOME – AWAY FROM HOME

Bale has had a tough time at Real Madrid this season, especially in front of his home fans. The jeers and whistles that Madridistas directed at their club’s record signing undoubtedly have been off-putting, even if his performances do deserve some criticism.

Away from the cauldron of the Santiago Bernabeu, however, the Welshman is thriving. His superb volley to open the scoring at the Westfalenstadion was a timely reminder of his talent.

Now, if he can just do more of that at home…

CARVAJAL THE ASSIST KING

When it comes to defenders who excel going forward, Marcelo and Dani Alves are the names that first pop into mind. However, it’s Marcelo’s counterpart at Real Madrid who’s ruling the roost.

No defender has more Champions League assists since the start of last season than Dani Carvajal, whose lovely clipped ball set up Bale’s opener. In fact, across all positions, there’s only one player who tops the Spaniard’s tally – and there’s certainly no shame in a right-back being beaten to top spot on this chart by one of the world’s leading forwards and its most expensive player.

GERMANY’S NIGHTMARE

If the opposition is German, Cristiano Ronaldo is bound to score. He scored five goals against Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League quarterfinals, along with a goal against Dortmund in the group stages – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Ronaldo’s record against teams from the Bundesliga.

So it was no surprise when the Portuguese forward ran on to finish from Bale’s cross in the second half to extend Madrid’s lead.

It was his 24th goal against German opposition, and number 25 would come later on in the night.

MADRID’S BEST PLAYER THIS SEASON?

For all the criticism levied at Bale, the Welshman is actually having a fairly decent start to the season.

His struggles leading the line at home, combined with Madrid’s stuttering start in La Liga, have masked the impact he’s had so far in this campaign.

A goal and an assist against tough opposition in an away game should help calm the critics, at least temporarily.

AUBAMEYANG LOVES REAL MADRID

Although he ended up staying at Dortmund, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made no secret of his desire for a move this summer, with Real Madrid reportedly being his dream transfer.

At this rate, Los Blancos should sign him just so he stops scoring against them.

RONALDO’S FAVOURITE STAGE

Ronaldo was far behind in the La Liga Golden Boot race last season, finishing 12 goals adrift of Lionel Messi. Maybe it’s because he’s saving his best for Europe’s premier competition.

He topped the Champions League scoring charts last season with an astonishing burst in the latter stages, and he’s hit the ground running again in this year’s campaign. His second goal on Tuesday marked the second straight game in which he bagged a brace.

THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SNIPER

It’s not just that Ronaldo loves scoring in the Champions League – it’s how lethal he’s become in the competition.

The narrative that Ronaldo’s traded in being spectacular for being efficient (to spectacular effect, ultimately) has been around since the start of last season, but he’s taken it to a different level in Europe.

Just take a look:

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