Last year, without a full preseason, Gareth Bale found himself severely short of fitness leading to a somewhat rocky start in La Liga. Eventually he found his feet and settled in at Madrid producing some fantastic displays—his magnificent goal vs Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey Final in particular his greatest individual highlight.
This year, though, fans have been a bit disappointed. With a preseason and a full summer of rest while the majority of his teammates played in the World Cup, fans expected the evolution of Bale but he struggled to consistently put together worthwhile performances.
To be fair his end output is as good as ever. In only nine games this season Bale’s already notched five goals and four assists, including a brace of assists to Cristiano Ronaldo this past weekend as Madrid obliterated a poor Athletic Bilbao side. But when he’s not scoring or assisting Bale’s build up play and general action in the final third leave a lot to be desired.
This season Bale’s signature move seems to revolve around him overrunning the ball attempting to speed past an opposing right-back. It’s a strategy that worked so famously well against defenders in the breakneck speed Premier League. But In Spain, Bale’s overreliance on his physical attributes has hindered him. Right-sided defenders simply goad him into relying on his speed. They smartly don’t play him too tight—lest they get burned for pace, instead challenging him to beat them by some other means.
Despite these shortcomings Bale has managed to become one of the top players in the world, a testament to his overall ability as a pure physical force. Where Bale falls short in attacking play and ingenuity, he’s able to make up for with his physical skills and cannon of a shot.
It’s rare to see Bale make an incisive run behind a defender or intricately break down the defense with some impressive buildup play. But it makes sense, Bale after all has played most of his career in a wingback or wing midfield role, where inventiveness and creativity are subjugated for pace and power.
Often when a team sits back and allows Bale to come at them, he’s runs out of ideas fairly quickly and becomes increasingly frustrated. Bale craves space; compare this to Benzema or even Madrid starlet Jese who show much more vibrancy in and around the box.
When Bale is able to find space behind defenders he’s fantastic but otherwise he appears in vain to recreate his goal in last season’s Copa final. But it will come with time: Bale is still only 25-years-old and he’s only been playing in an advanced role for the better part of the last three seasons, his wingback tendencies still show up as expected but as Bale continues to improve so will his overall game.
The stats will always be there, simply because Bale is a physical marvel, but the mental side of his game still has a ways to go and if Bale can continuously improve as he’s done repeatedly throughout his career year, the sky’s the limit for him.