Real Madrid 4 Atletico Madrid 1 comment: How securing 'La Decima' has topped a stellar first season for £85m Gareth Bale

The forward scored Real's crucial second goal in the final

Lisbon

Even the most die-hard Real Madrid fan will have questioned the amount of money shelled out on Gareth Bale last summer but a decisive goal to help Los Blancos end their quest for ‘La Decima’ will leave few questioning Madrid president Florentino Perez’s desperate desire to take the Welshman to the Bernabeu.

The £85 million man’s extra-time header put Carlo Ancelotti’s side on the way to a somewhat flattering but deserved 4-1 victory over city neighbours Atletico Madrid in the final of the Champions League on Saturday night in Lisbon. It ensured the former Tottenham Hotspur man planted a firm kiss on the side of the famous trophy at the first time of asking following his move to the Spanish giants. £85 million well spent, then.

Sergio Ramos rescued the day for a side that had been obsessed with winning their tenth European Cup. His header deep into added time ensured 30 minutes more after Diego Godin had seemingly put Diego Simeone’s disciplined troops on their way to a remarkable double after clinching La Liga just a week before.

It was Bale that provided the decisive second, however, heading home at the back post after superb work from Angel Di Maria out on the left forced Atleti goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to palm the ball into the path of the wing wizard. Marcelo sealed the win and Cristiano Ronaldo ensured he got his name on the scoresheet in a city that means so much to him. It was the former Sporting Lisbon man’s 17th goal in this season’s competition and it came from the penalty spot after Atleti had thrown in the towel.

 

Some may forever question spending so much on a footballer but, relatively, Bale has delivered in his debut season in Madrid. His stats already read well before the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in Valencia but his winning wonder goal, where he ran from halfway and beat Marc Bartra for sheer pace on the left before producing a clinical finish past Jose Manual Pinto, took him to new levels. Galactico levels. Saturday night’s strike in Lisbon, on the biggest club stage of them all, proved that was no fluke. So far, Bale has made it in the Spanish capital.

Big games require big players and big goals and the Welshman has delivered in abundance. Sunday morning’s outlook could have been much different had Spanish international Ramos not bagged his sixth goal in seven matches in all competitions, however. Before that late show Bale had squandered numerous opportunities to get his side on level terms and the vultures were circling. All that had been made good in Valencia could have vanished with his off-target shooting in Lisbon.

His first moment came just around the half-hour mark and it was the first real goalscoring opportunity of the match. After a somewhat scrappy opening former Benfica midfielder Tiago gave away a loose ball in the worst possible area to allow Bale to surge towards goal before a late sliding challenge from Miranda impacted on his shot drifting agonisingly wide of the Atleti goal. It was disappointing but it was encouraging - a warning sign.

Others followed but it was when the 24-year-old got away on the right following a one-two with Ronaldo and outpaced Miranda before striking the turf and seeing his shot trickle wide of the near post that he may have thought it was not his day. His shooting boots were not on and Los Colchoneros looked to be heading towards their first European Cup. Iker Casillas was in for much of the blame after being left in the middle of nowhere when Godin headed Atleti ahead but Bale would have been in for some criticism too. Not now. Not anymore.

While most may have been confidence-sapped following the frustrating frolics towards goal Bale kept his head up high and continued to plug away. His efforts were rewarded when he backed Di Maria up in the second half of extra-time and eventually nodded home from close range to all-but seal Madrid’s tenth European glory night. Los Blancos had been waiting for 12 years but Bale had to wait less than 12 months.

The statistics were not great for Bale but then again they didn’t need to be. The only statistic that mattered was the scoreline and his name as one of the goalscorers. His pass completion rate was 68 per cent, less than Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, as well as Luka Modric. Only Sami Khedira and Angel di Maria had a worse completion rate but the latter attempted three times as many passes.

Those below-par statistics do not stack up in what’s been a stellar first season for the Welshman in Spain. Bale has notched 21 goals in 32 starts for Los Merengues, with six coming in the Champions League, while also contributing 16 assists, four of which have come in Europe. Those are the kind of statistics a club such as Real Madrid demand and Bale has not let them down. 

What makes them even more impressive is that he’s done them under pressure and he’s done them without being fully fit throughout an injury-hit campaign. Signing for a club such as Madrid brings with it its own problems such as the weight of expectation, a new way of life and a new language. Bale was top dog at Tottenham but plays at least second fiddle to Ronaldo now. Los Blancos are a unique football club and some players, and managers, find it hard to adapt despite the quality they possess. Bale has fit in like the proverbial duck to water.

His lack of a pre-season was always going to a problem, too. It was on his arrival in Spain, so it seemed, with Madrid desperate to get their big-money man playing matches. Perez was eager to get his man on the pitch alongside Ronaldo at the Camp Nou in Bale’s first possible El Clasico and it backfired. Bale was not right fitness-wise for much of the first half of his season in Madrid but that didn’t stop the goals coming and it didn’t stop the assists. They only improved when his fitness was seemingly no longer much of an issue on the turn of the year.

Now he’s not only just playing second fiddle to his Ballon d’Or winning Portuguese teammate but he’s also pushing him to be top dog at the Bernabeu. Crucial goals in crucial games will go a long way to helping that and he still has time on his side. If Bale has produced this kind of quality in his first season in the Spanish capital imagine what he could do in his second season. He will not have an energy-sapping World Cup to compete in and should go into next term in much better shape.

The ‘BBC’ of Bale, Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo are one of the most feared attacking line-ups in world football and they’re only set to get better this year. When Bale put pen-to-paper on his lucrative deal last summer he probably didn’t envisage how successful his debut campaign would have been. Now, even with the Champions League behind him, he’ll be hungry for more and he’ll be hungry to improve - just like Ronaldo.

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