Gareth Bale rid himself of Cristiano Ronaldo shadow but is now hidden by Vinicius Junior

Alex Rea 10/02/2019
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Gareth Bale enters the pitch for Vinicius Junior against Atletico Madrid

When Gareth Bale arrived at Real Madrid in 2013, the challenge was clear.

Having surpassed the world-record transfer fee set by new team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, the Welshman was tasked with breaking into the elite bracket and eventually usurping the Portuguese icon as the club’s superstar talent.

Ronaldo’s own evolution from left-wing weapon to penalty box predator meant Bale – through fault of his poor injury record as well – was ultimately forced to bend his game to the demands of Real’s spearhead.

Yet, when the time finally arrived for Bale to step up and out of Ronaldo’s shadow after he departed for Juventus last summer, the spotlight has now shifted elsewhere.

Vinicius Junior demands attention and does so by shining when the focus, be it from defenders or the crowd, is on him. Indeed, the teenager is a showman.

He not only embraces the collective gaze, but thrives on it also, no matter the stage, with the intensity of the fixture only increasing his performance levels and then by extension the hype.

The Brazilian started the Clasico Copa del Rey semi-final clash at the Camp Nou and illuminated that tie. He was instrumental again during the Madrid Derby at the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday, serving up a quite epic outside-of-the-boot pass to Lucas Vazquez and earning a penalty for Real’s second.

Gerard Pique and Diego Godin are two world-class and experienced centre-backs and they have both been dragged out of position to deal with him.

Everyone else, be it right-back or centre-back, has had no clue how to handle him. In just short of an hour, he made two successful dribbles, one key pass, an interception plus the penalty reward.

Real practically initiated every attack through Vinicius either by spreading play from left to right or navigating down the channel on his side. That’s been their plot forward in all six of the consecutive league games he’s now started in.

1002 vinicius v bale (1)

It isn’t just what Vinicius does from an attacking perspective either. Indeed, his industry defensively is just as notable, his work rate to cover every inch of the left side pivotal in enabling Real to press high and intensely. On both sides of the ball his energy has formed the fulcrum of Real’s plans.

His substitution for Bale before the hour mark was perplexing given his influence. Bale – again mostly due to injury as opposed to his talent – is virtually right back to where he started, in the dark and in the shadow of another star.

This time, though, the 29-year-old faces a newer, younger, faster and potentially even more marketable rival.

Granted, he did remind us all of his endearing quality with a trademark arrowed strike. It was his 100th goal for the club in all competitions, a momentous one indeed, yet even that landmark was silhouetted against the vivacity of Vinicius.

It’s a welcome rivalry for Santiago Solari, and the Champions League tie in Ajax on Wednesday will lend further credence to Vinicius’ establishment as Real’s first-choice for the front three alongside Karim Benzema. Bale will be left to fight it out with Marco Asensio and Vazquez for a starting berth or settle for another subsidiary role to Vinicius from the bench.

In truth, he should be accustomed to this by now, Bale just perhaps didn’t expect to be usurped by a raw 18-year-old who hasn’t even played half a season for Los Blancos yet.

“I’m not fazed by anything, I play for Real Madrid, the best team in the world and I fear nothing,” he said ahead of the Barca clash.

That includes Bale and anyone else trying to compete for his spot in the team.

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Real Madrid's Thibaut Courtois unperturbed by Atletico Madrid fans' boos

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Thibaut Courtois

Saturday saw Thibaut Courtois’s first visit to Wanda Metropolitano as a Real Madrid player. The former Atletico Madrid custodian was jeered throughout the game and had toy rats thrown at him.

But the Belgian was unperturbed by this and revealed he was completely focused on the game.

“I was calm and had a cool head,” he later said of his approach to this game, according to Marca.

“I didn’t see the plaque, I’m not about that. I was preparing to play. I was here for three years and that can’t be erased. I have maximum respect for Atletico.

“People respect me and the Atletico fans I meet on the street wish me the best. What happened is that this is a derby, so it’s a different kind of match.”

The Belgian also spoke about where Los Blancos stand in the La Liga title race now and how they will put up a fight until the last match.

“You always have to believe,” he said.

“We had a bad month in October and January started poorly, but now we’re doing well. We feel really good and it’s important to win matches against direct rivals, like we did today.

“We need to fight until the final match, but this coming month is a decisive one.”

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Sergio Ramos believes Real Madrid can catch Barcelona in the league

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Real captain Ramos

Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos believes that his team can catch Barcelona or at least make life difficult for their rivals in the title race.

A win over city rivals Atletico Madrid means that Los Balncos jumped to second spot in La Liga, within five points of league leaders Barca, who have a game in hand.

“We fulfilled our objective to recover our position in the table and reduce the distance to the leaders and now we will wait to see how they do,” he told BeIN Sports.

“It was very a complete performance from us and I think that the result is fair. I thought our performance was very intelligent and now the league is still to be fought for.

“There are many points up for grabs and any team can cause problems, as was seen in the first half of the season.

“We have hope and are going to fight for three competitions. The league motivates us and we want to continue fighting for it and make life difficult for Barcelona.”

The defender scored Madrid’s penalty on Saturday to make it 2-1 and admitted that he likes to take the responsibility of the spot kick.

“I am happy to assume that responsibility as it was important to score it,” Ramos added. “I hope there are many more and I can continue this run of scoring them.”

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