Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football European

Real Madrid's fantastic four may frustrate Gareth Bale

By Pete Jenson

Carlo Ancelotti is the only manager in the world for whom a returning Gareth Bale could actually be a problem.

Last night the Real Madrid coach admitted the Welshman was available again but Ancelotti was still not sure about whether to welcome him back into the starting line-up for tonight's game.

"I have doubts," the manager said. "I'm not sure if he will play from the start or to bring him on and give other players who have played a lot of games recently a rest."

On merit, Real's team stays the same. Since the former Tottenham winger picked up his gluteus injury, Ancelotti's side have put in their best three performances of the season. They put three past Liverpool at Anfield two weeks ago; they then brushed Barcelona aside in the season's first Clasico and beat Granada at the weekend in a convincing 4-0 win.

At the heart of this hitting-the-heights so early in the season has been the bringing together of a midfield quartet - all similar in style and stature; all lacking Bale's explosive pace and power but all helping Madrid to keep the ball better than they have done at any time in their recent history.

Isco has emerged as a fans' favourite - the Malaga kid is the closest they have to a local hero. Luka Modric was last week voted the best defensive midfielder in the league last season and alongside him Toni Kroos shows every week why Pep Guardiola was so upset by his sale from Bayern.

And the jewel in the crown is James Rodriguez. The star of the World Cup doesn't always become the star of the following season.

Buying the best player from Brazil 2014 was the very unscientific way that Real Madrid went about their business pre-season. As he huffed and puffed his way through the first few games of the campaign it seemed they might have moved hastily.

But one of his two goals against Granada last weekend - a left-footed volley - is already a favourite in the goal of the season race.

"We have the same attitude and the same style as always", Ancelotti said yesterday.

"Real Madrid try to play possession football. Sometimes we do it well and others not so well but the idea is the same."

Rodriguez has made it easier and nothing sums up the success of his and Kroos' assimilation into a midfield that also contains Modric and Isco than the fact that Barcelona are looking across at their eternal rivals and wondering why suddenly they have all the midfield talent.

'(Johan) Cruyff was right' ran one headline in the Catalan media recently. The former Barcelona player and manager had warned in the summer that Madrid were suddenly buying the players that Barca used to snap up. He feared for the consequences.

What Barcelona, and Liverpool too, wouldn't give to have any one of Real Madrid's fantastic four in their midfield tonight. If Bale does make the starting line-up one of Europe's most on-form midfielders will have been left out.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph