IN PICS: Gareth Bale's greatest moments at Real Madrid

Sport360 staff 24/08/2016

Gareth Bale has spent three trophy-laden seasons with Real Madrid and is now on the brink of extending his stay at the Bernabeu to 2021 with a lucrative new deal.Despite an initial turbulent period, the Welshman slowly but surely found his footing, demonstrating the worth of his world-record transfer from Tottenham Hotspur.Spanish newspaper Marca report that the 27-year-old's annual earnings are set to reach €10m, surpassing club favourite Sergio Ramos' alleged salary and becoming the club's second highest paid player behind only Cristiano Ronaldo.In anticipation of this renewed commitment, Sport360 selects snapshots detailing the Welsh phenomenon's illustrious career in Madrid thus far.What have you made of Bale's time with Real and do you think he is becoming a more important player in Zinedine Zidane's lineup than Ronaldo?Have your say by commenting below, using #360fans on Twitter or getting in touch via Facebook.#360view: Bale ready to be Madrid’s alpha maleZidane's star pupil Asensio causing selection headacheBale stars in Real win at SociedadUAE teenager handed Malaga trial#360view: Turan proves his worth to BarcaMessi & Suarez star in La Liga curtain raiser

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#360view: Bale ready to be Madrid’s alpha male

Andy West 23/08/2016
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Bale started the season in fine fashion.

When it comes to making an early statement of intent, scoring a goal just 72 seconds into your team’s opening league fixture isn’t too shabby.

Gareth Bale is back, and after spearheading his country’s unlikely progression to the European Championships semi-finals, now the Welsh star is ready to take La Liga by storm again.

With both Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo absent through injury from Real Madrid’s season opener at Real Sociedad on Sunday, Los Blancos were looking for Bale to step up and perform a leadership role in a fixture which on paper looked decidedly tricky.

His early goal did just that, settling his team’s nerves and providing the foundations for a comfortable 3-0 victory which also saw Bale have the last word as he netted the final goal in stoppage time.

There is now absolutely no room for doubt over Bale’s importance at the Bernabeu. His place in the starting line-up is unquestioned, and there is a growing train of thought that he is gradually displacing Ronaldo as the team’s most important player.

You could even argue he has already achieved that status following his outstanding performances towards the end of last season.
In Madrid’s climactic and most important game of the campaign, the Champions League final against Atletico, it was Bale – not Ronaldo – who drove the team forward.

The enduring image of that evening might be Ronaldo wheeling away in celebration after netting the title-clinching penalty, but Los Blancos probably wouldn’t have got as far as the shoot-out without Bale’s dominant performance in the opening half-hour – culminating when he won a free-kick and then flicked on Toni Kroos’ delivery for Sergio Ramos to scramble in the opener.

Bale had also made the decisive intervention to take Madrid into the final in the first place, securing the only goal of the semi-final meeting with Manchester City as his cross deflected off Fernando and looped into Joe Hart’s goal.

A few weeks earlier, the Welshman also delivered a man-of-the-match performance in the game which arguably turned the tide for Zinedine Zidane’s previously unconvincing time in charge: the 2-1 Clasico victory at the Nou Camp, when he was extremely unfortunate to have a goal disallowed for a supposed push before teeing up Ronaldo for the late winner.

Buzzing that the seasons started and even happier with the 3 points #halamadrid

A photo posted by Gareth Bale (@garethbale11) on

It marks an extremely impressive turnaround in fortunes from 12 months ago. Bale was entering the new campaign under Rafa Benitez with his future far from certain. He had produced a poor second season in Spain, especially in the latter stages when their challenge for silverware under Carlo Ancelotti withered away to nothing, and many felt he would not last the course.

Rather than becoming disheartened, Bale earned himself enormous credit by staying positive and working harder to fit into both the team and life in general, making a greater effort to learn and use the Spanish language, as well as doing more to integrate himself with the local community.

The results are plain to see, as even a series of injury problems didn’t prevent him from accepting more responsibilities for the functioning of the team, propelling him into his current new-found status among the Bernabeu’s alpha males.

Tactically, his biggest improvement has been a greater commitment to his defensive duties, with his willingness to track back and close down opposition wingers and full-backs a stark contrast to his casual approach to those chores during Ancelotti’s tenure.

Bale has simply become more mature, both in terms of his football and his mentality. He has come to terms with the demands of being the most expensive player at the world’s most wealthy club, and is flourishing.

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Zidane's star pupil Asensio causing selection headache

Andy West 22/08/2016
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Asensio scored in the victory at Real Sociedad.

After spending last season on loan at Espanyol, the former Mallorca winger has greatly impressed his French coach over the last few weeks to rapidly establish himself as a key member of the squad.

Asensio scored the team’s first competitive goal of the campaign with a long-range stunner in the UEFA Super Cup victory over Sevilla, and on Sunday vindicated Zidane’s decision to put him in the starting eleven for the league opening 3-0 win at Real Sociedad with a delightful chipped goal.

Accommodating the new sensation meant leaving established internationals Isco, James Rodriguez and Lucas Vazquez on the substitutes’ bench, and Zidane admitted the selection process was far from straightforward.

“Picking my team gives me a headache because they are all quality players,” smiled the Madrid boss, who is happy to have made a positive start to his first full season in management.

“What pleases me is that they are all doing extremely well. We fight for every ball, and seeing your team concede hardly any chances and keep a clean sheet is the most pleasing thing for a coach.”

Zidane had particular words of praise for league debutant Asensio, but reminded the fast-rising star to carry on playing his part for the collective cause as he said: “Asensio is working hard, he has quality and talent.

“He is very good with the ball and positions himself well. His goal was impressive and he lost his marker well. I was very satisfied with his game, but the most important aspect is the team.”

The man of the moment insists he will not get carried away with his sudden and unexpected success, claiming that he has no specific goals for the season.

“I don’t set myself any targets,” said Asensio. “I just try to work hard, play well and at the moment things are working out.

“I’m happy and even more so because my goals are helping the team. In training, I just try to do my best to be picked.”

Without question, the men who could become the biggest losers in Asensio’s emergence are Isco and James, whose frustration at failing to make the starting line-up was exacerbated by the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric were all missing through injury.

With Vazquez also established as a firm Zidane favourite, the prospect of Isco or James making the starting eleven on a regular basis now looks very remote, throwing their futures at the Bernabeu into fresh doubt.

Colombian star James, in particular, has been the subject of intense speculation throughout the summer after struggling to gain much playing time in the latter stages of last season.

Zidane has repeatedly stated that he wants to keep the former Porto and Monaco man, but with a week of the transfer window remaining his resolve may yet be tested.

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