Gareth Bale came off the bench to a chorus of whistles and boos from the Santiago Bernabeu crowd but helped Real Madrid seal a 3-1 La Liga win over Real Sociedad on Saturday night.
The Welshman sparked controversy in midweek while on international duty but was thoroughly professional as he played a hand in Madrid’s third goal of the night when his cross found Karim Benzema who set up Luka Modric for the finish.
Earlier, a grotesque error from Sergio Ramos was pounced on by Willian Jose inside the opening two minutes. He latched on to the home team skipper’s ill-advised back-pass before rounding Thibaut Courtois and steering the ball into an empty net.
A sublime delivery from a Modric free-kick was met by a improvised finish from Benzema to restore parity in the 37th minute.
Early in the second half, Federico Valverde’s deflected shot from outside the box after Modric’s lay-off handed Madrid the lead before the Croatian then finished off the third goal after some good work from Bale and Benzema.
LUKA FINDS NEW MODE
It’s been a while since Modric was this influential in the final third. In the 82 minutes he played, the 34-year-old registered five key passes according to whoscored.com. He’s only managed eight in the other seven league appearances he’s made this season.
Make no mistake, he wasn’t totally dominant like he’s shown he can be at his absolute best. He didn’t command the ball and dictate the tempo of the game like he has in the past. But there was a certain freedom in the way he played against Sociedad.
At this stage, you don’t expect Modric to run past players and he didn’t but his passing was bold and his runs forward threatening. He wound up with two assists and a goal on the night and was heavily involved in the final third.
The simple reasoning is that he had a very good game. But there’s enough evidence to suggest that the midfield dynamic he enjoyed alongside Valverde and Casemiro had a huge role to play as well. The younger, mobile midfielders complimented Modric nicely and Valverde in particular seemed to link him with the rest of the game. This was the first time the trio started together in a league match.
Perhaps Zinedine Zidane has realised the value of playing only one of Modric and Toni Kroos at time.
BALE RETURNS TO BERNA-BOO
Footage of a jovial Bale back in training with his Madrid team-mates following the international break did the rounds this week but Zidane benched the Welshman for this game after he caused quite a stir.
When Wales qualified for Euro 2020 in midweek with a 2-0 win over Hungary, Bale celebrated behind a banner that read “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In That Order.”
Whether Zidane benched him as punishment is up for debate but going by the fact the announcement of his name was met by whistles and boos around the Bernabeu on Saturday suggests he might have shown him mercy instead.
However, a poor display from Rodrygo who started in his stead meant Bale was summoned in the second half with the game finely poised at 2-1 in favour of the hosts.
But even with whistles in his ears every time he touched the ball, Bale was one of the architects of the third goal which sealed the points for Madrid. He got down to the byline and hung up a cross with his right foot at the back post. Benzema’s knock-down was met with a fine finish from Modric.
Bale went on to be a consistent threat in the final 20 minutes, showing great character to perform the way he did.
SOCIEDAD THE REAL DEAL?
Only Barcelona, and now Madrid, have won more league games than Sociedad this season. Imanol Alguacil has certainly got the Basque side playing well and this was no easy ride for Los Blancos.
They may even feel a little aggrieved by the nature of the second goal but the fact remains that Madrid looked the more threatening side and were deserving of victory.
Disappointing results against Leganes and Levante this season has raised questions about their consistency and therefore ability to finish in the top four. This performance in the capital provided no answers.
Know more about Sport360 Application