Is it Feasible for Rafa Benitez To Persist With Gareth Bale Through The Middle?

Gareth Bale Real Madrid

In a week where Delle Alli became the youngest player to score a Premier League goal for Tottenham since Gareth Bale vs Arsenal in September 2007, you get the sense Bale wouldn’t have minded jumping back in a time machine and returning to that moment of unbridled joy eight years ago. For, at present, he’s copping plenty of aggressive, harsh criticism that must be getting tiresome to bear.

In a season where expectations are unbelievably high and Real Madrid are as keen as ever to take out the title, the pressure is right on Rafa Benitez to not just get his side winning, but to get his team winning in style.

With Benitez’s desire to play Bale in the number 10 role, which has had mixed results throughout preseason, there was no great surprise when Benitez selected the Welshman to start Real Madrid’s La Liga opener, against Sporting Gijon, in this position.

While inherent abuse flew left, right and centre following the 0-0 with newly promoted Gijon, much of it at Bale too, there was actually a lot to like about his work.

Benitez knows what he brings to the table, and that’s exactly why the Spanish tactician believes so vehemently that utilising Bale just behind the striker is what’s best for the team.

“Gareth Bale is free to move over the pitch wherever he wants, as long as he is dangerous for the opponent or is creating danger.”

“Bale is quick, throws defences off balance and has other characteristics that the others don’t have.”

“If you analyse Bale’s movements, you’ll see they give the team respite. Isco and James elaborate play between the lines, but not Gareth. He creates spaces and looks to makes runs behind the defence.”

Real Madrid’s Welsh wizard certainly isn’t your typical playmaker, as noted aptly above by Benitez, but he showed he can still have a major impact from this station. And he evidenced this accordingly against Gijon. Questions still hover over whether this is, in fact, the best place to deploy the superlative attacker though.

Gareth Bale Rafa Benitez Real Madrid

A key caveat to him being able to operate effectively in this zone is that he must be interchanging with his fellow attackers.

Benitez probably knows this, and that’s why he affords him such great freedom to do as he pleases. In essence, it’s feasible for him to be deployed centrally, but to amplify Bale’s impact, he must also spend periods playing wide. Variations are key to his success. Playing 90 minutes solely as a trequartista just doesn’t suit him or the side.

The fact the former Tottenham superstar isn’t superb in tight spaces, where his lack of deftness can tend to let him down, (especially his often loose first touch and underwhelming one touch passing game), makes it even more imperative that he drifts out to the flanks.

In defence of Bale, it must be said that he worked really hard to find space in and around the final third, while he also showed a great deal of intelligence by taking up excellent positions in front of Sporting’s defence. His back to goal work was decent too, plus he also displayed his ability to make brilliantly timed runs in behind the defence.

It was just that aforementioned lack of close control that hurt him, which persistently meant he either retarded the flow of Madrid’s moves or lost the ball altogether.

It came as little surprise, then, that the 26-year-old actually did his best work when out on the left, following well managed switches with Ronaldo, where he could pick up the ball in a less congested area of the pitch, isolate an opponent and subsequently use his pace and dribbling to wreak havoc.

Bale’s movement out to the left undoubtedly had a positive flow-on effect attached to it, as it successfully created plenty of space centrally for his teammates to work into, for it dragged whomever was marking him with him. So while he didn’t always move to the best spots, in terms of space creation, he still benefited the team.

It was also interesting to note how Ronaldo, Real Madrid’s left winger, would move infield when he noticed Bale pulling out wide, which showcased the pair’s impressive understanding. These seamless transitions proved extremely difficult for Gijon to manage, but unfortunately for Madrid neither man couldn’t conjure up a winner for Los Merengues.

By the numbers, his four shots, three key passes, five successful dribbles and the fact he was fouled five times indicated he, despite the criticism, notably undertook a great deal of positive work. On the other side of the coin though, he did turn the ball over three times and lose possession a staggering five times courtesy of a sloppy touch.

It’s a bit tough to decipher whether Bale should remain as the no10 long term, for his dynamic, athletically geared skillset is obviously best suited to him playing in wide areas. A case can be presented either way, but it would seem more logical to play him on the wing, but changing Benitez’s mind could prove difficult, even in spite of apparent unrest in the Madrid camp over Bale’s deployment in this role.

Graham Hunter described the situation appropriately, noting: “Playing Gareth Bale in a creative central role in this Madrid attack is denying the obvious, not “freeing the beast” inside him.”

With Benitez’s side having worryingly not scored in five of his nine games in charge and looking disjointed in attack, it’s apparent that there’s still lots of improvement to be made.

Bale himself importantly recognises this too, saying: “We are getting better all the time.

“We’re learning, training and improving. With each game that passes we are becoming an even stronger unit.”

Going forward Los Merengues might be better served using someone like Isco or James in the central attacking midfield position and Bale on the flank, but Benitez clearly sees merit in his ideology and believes Bale has got the attributes required to succeed through the middle.

A match against another newly promoted outfit in Real Betis looms as another fascinating contest for many reasons. The hottest question will undeniably be: Where will Bale play? Before placing your bet on Madrid vs Betis be sure to check out this listing of the top overall gambling sites.

Only time will tell how things pan out, but we’ll be sure to learn plenty from how that game unfolds as to where Bale’s future lies – inside or out wide.