Gareth Bale is on track to feature in next week’s Champions League semi final against Juventus, recovering from a short period on the sidelines that saw him miss the second leg against bitter rivals Atletico.
Bale has been criticised more than praised this season, often being made the scapegoat for some of Real Madrid’s less impressive performances. However, along with Cristiano Ronaldo, the Welshman could well play an important role in deciding the outcome of this intriguing tie, making his fitness an extremely pressing issue.
TOUGH NUT TO CRACK
Juventus, in the traditional Italian way, have built a rugged defence that has been the cornerstone of the Champions League journey thus far. Conceding only five goals in the competition, their sturdy defence was very much on display during their encounter with Monaco in the last round.
You could argue Monaco themselves are an outfit that pride themselves on defensive capabilities rather than an attacking threat, however, the truth remains that they were completely shut out by the Italian champions, meaning only a single goal was needed to advance to the semi-final stage.
This efficiency has been an recurring theme for the Turin side, especially in the European competition. The have relied on the solidity at the back to progress forward, only scoring 13 goals this campaign, little more than one per game.
The resolve they have shown will no doubt be tested by Cristiano Ronaldo and his Real Madrid teammates. However, whether the Galacticos have enough firepower to take down the Old Lady will be dependent on the personnel they have available.
BBC Sport reported on Bale’s potential inclusion in the Champions League squad, a return that couldn’t have come at a better time. Coming up against such a resolute defence, they will need every ounce of pace and power Bale has to offer.
ALL ABOUT THAT PACE
Arsenal failed to break down an impressively organised Chelsea defence at the weekend, and it is likely, in Real Madrid’s home leg at least, a similar picture could be painted.
Many put Arsenal’s inability to score down to a lack of width and direct running. Their easy-on-the-eye passing style never troubled a deep lying Chelsea defence, and with their full backs being pinned back by the threat posed by a Chelsea counter attack, a fit Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may well have been the key to unlocking the opposition’s seemingly impenetrable backline.
In Bale and Ronaldo, Real Madrid have two of the best players in the world, let alone wingers. What Arsenal missed, they have in abundance. Both direct and explosive, their style of play is the perfect answer to what could well be wall of black and white.
The guile of Isco and James Rodriguez will be important up to a point, but with their preference to collect the ball deep, this more passive approach will suit the likes of Juventus, a team disciplined enough not to be stretched out of position chasing the ball where it cannot hurt them.
Bale’s pace is almost unrivalled in world football, especially when considering the talent he has to supplement it. The possibility of dealing with such explosive speed is one I am sure Juventus, although most probably confident in containing it, will have much rather preferred not to deal with at all.
With both Ronaldo and Bale in the side, Real Madrid have the potential to cause problems from either flank, naturally stretching the Juventus defence. The Italian side will know as well as anyone, those who have given either Ronaldo or Bale the time and space to make something happen in the past have usually been rather quick to regret it.
Real Madrid face Sevilla at the weekend, a game they will be looking to test the fitness of Bale, as well as french forward Karim Benzema. However, they will have to do so with caution.
Losing Bale for good at this stage would be devastating to their Champions League hopes, as well as their final push for the league title. The ex-Tottenham man, for all the stick he has received this year, is no doubt a top talent. Against a team of Juventus’ calibre, they will need all the help they can get.