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There has been much talk of how new manager Rafa Benitez will use Welshman Gareth Bale to his best ability. Be it out wide or behind the stiker, Bale’s performances will always gather attention and criticism. Nathan Bliss takes a look at how one of Real Madrid’s most expensive signings performed against Real Betis. 

Rafa Benitez has a big job on his hands at Real Madrid. His tactical approach, training methods, team selection and every conceivable aspect of his tenure will constantly be under scrutiny during his time in Madrid. Welcome to the Santiago Bernabeu, Rafa.

There’s one conundrum though, that will arguably make or break his time at Madrid. What on earth does he do with Gareth Bale? Does he risk the wrath of Ronaldo by building the team around the Welshman? Does he risk the presidential backlash and leave the clubs record signing on the bench? It was time to make a decision. Benitez had his first home game as Real Madrid manager on Saturday evening, against Real Betis, so how did Bale perform?

Gareth Bale Real Madrid 2015

We got our first look at how Benitez will line up at home this season, a fluid and attacking 4-2-3-1 system, with Bale clearly positioned in the number ten position, just behind Benzema. As I mentioned, it is a fluid system so there is loads of movement between the front four players, with Bale able to find pockets of space and move between the lines.

Starting 11

Starting 11 // Source:

If we look at a combined heat map of the front four attacking players, you can clearly see the fluidity of movement and creative freedom that the players have. Whilst this is an attacking formation that will be able to create chances and score goals against most teams, Kroos and Modric are vital in this system as they provide balance to the defensive side of Madrid’s game.

Combined Heatmap

Combined Heatmap // Source:

Looking at a graphic of Bale’s touches, it was clear that he was positioned further up the pitch than a regular number ten, where a regular midfielder would drop off into space and look for the ball to feet, Bale took up more of a support striker role and is able to make various supporting runs throughout the game and support the attacking players in the final third.

Gareth Bale: Touches section wise

Bale: Touches section wise

To prove my point, let’s compare Bale’s heat map to that of Mesut Ozil’s vs Liverpool on the 24th August, who’s a more conventional number ten. As you can see from the graphic, Ozil also has freedom to move across the pitch and find pockets of space but rarely does he venture into the opponents penalty area. He looks to drop deep, camp on the edge of the area and provide passes and assists for his forward players. This style of play reflects negatively on his goal scoring statistics, as he’s further away from the opponent’s goal and has the responsibility of being the prime creator for the Arsenal side.

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Mesut Ozil vs. Liverpool: Touches section wise

With James Rodriguez in the side, Bale is able to play in the number ten role without the responsibility of being the side’s prime creator, allowing him to move into more advanced positions and support Benzema and Ronaldo in the penalty area during attacking moves.

This point is made clear when you compare the amount of touches and passes that each player had versus Betis. Other than the goalkeeper and Benzema, Bale had the least touches and passes of any Real Madrid player.

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Bale: Passing

As for the game itself, Benitez and Bale couldn’t have wished for a better start to their first home game of the season. Just two minutes in, James Rodriguez whipped in a great cross and Gareth Bale showed striker like movement in the area to get to the cross and make it 1 nil to Madrid. This further illustrates that Bale will be far further up the pitch this season under Benitez.

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However, there were signs of nervousness from Gareth Bale during the game against Betis, which due to the criticism that he’s been under recently, you can fully understand. This is shown through his reluctance to shoot at goal, with just 2 shots registered, in the 2nd and 89th minute, even Sergio Ramos attempted more. However, you can’t argue with his effectiveness, with both shots on target and resulting in a goal, whereas Cristiano Ronaldo attempted 6 shots and didn’t get on the score-sheet.

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Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 13.22.02

Last season, Bale was criticised by both the fans and the media for drifting in and out of games, he simply wasn’t getting involved anywhere near as much as he should. Against Betis, things seem to be getting better as the stats show that the Welshman was heavily involved in the final third of the pitch.
Of Bales 36 passes, 3 of those were key passes that led to a shooting opportunity for a teammate, only James Rodriguez made more (5). He also attempted 5 crosses, only Marcelo (6) and James Rodriguez (11) attempted more, with one of his crosses being an assist for Karim Benzema on 47 minutes. It was the same story with take ons, Bale attempted 3 dribbles, only Ronaldo (5) attempted more.

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The game finished with a bang for Bale, receiving a pass from Casemiro he ran directly at the Betis defence before unleashing a devastating long range strike that flew into the bottom left hand corner of Adan’s goal. This type of goal was commonplace in Bale’s final season at Spurs, when he played in a similar position behind the striker, lets hope that we’ll see more of this as the season continues.

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Its been a great start to the season for Gareth Bale, who deserves a lot of credit for his insistence to stay this summer, amidst the heavy criticism that has been directed his way by both the fans and the media. Let’s hope he continues his good form and is able to build on the confidence that the two goals against Betis will have given him.

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Written by Nathan Bliss

Nathan Bliss

Nathan Bliss

Nathan is a football writer who has written for several football websites and local newspapers. He focuses on European Football with particular interest in English, Spanish and German teams.Avid supporter of West Bromwich Albion. He's an Adel Taarabt and Bojan enthusiast, with a peculiar disliking for Dirk Kuyt.
Nathan Bliss

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