Gareth Bale has new competition at Real Madrid. The 28-year-old is fully fit again and was recently reunited with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema in attack for the first time in over 270 days. However, the form of Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez means Bale’s starting spot is under threat once more.
Asensio and Lucas came off the bench to change the game as Zinedine Zidane’s side beat Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last-16 first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu last week, with the former following up that impressive show with two goals in the thrilling 5-3 weekend win at Betis.
Vazquez also did well in that match and was a handed a start for Wednesday’s match at Leganes (a fixture rearranged from December when Madrid were away at the Club World Cup) as Bale began the night on the bench.
And after Real had gone behind after six minutes, Lucas levelled shortly afterwards with a neat finish, before providing an assist for Casemiro to make it 2-1 just short of the half-hour mark.
That made it four goals and six assists for Lucas in 2018 in all competitions, the former Espanyol winger coming into some excellent form after a slow start to the season. This year, only Ronaldo (10 strikes and two assists) has participated in more goals for Real.
Bale was disappointing against Betis, the former Tottenham midfielder failing to make his mark in 73 minutes at the Benito Villamarin before being substituted, having touched the ball only 20 times even though Madrid scored five times.
Asked about the winger’s display afterwards, Zidane simply said: “Well, Gareth played his game.” It was, therefore, no surprise that the 28-year-old was left out of the starting line-up at Leganes, meaning Bale has now been a substitute in three of the last four games.
After the win at Leganes, Zidane said of Bale’s demotion: “It is a bit of everything, but I am happy with Gareth. We must go bit by bit with him, so that he finds his best level.”
With three matches in a week, he could well be back in the team for the visit of in-form Alaves at the Bernabeu on Saturday, but his place against PSG in the sides’ second leg at the Parc des Princes in March certainly looks under threat.
Even if Toni Kroos and Luka Modric fail to recover in time from injury, Zidane may decide it is in Madrid’s best interests to start with Ronaldo and Benzema (significantly improved on Wednesday) up front and a four-man midfield, with Asensio and Lucas as the two wide men.
The two Spain stars were full of energy and running in their short time on the pitch against PSG in the first leg, while their ability to track back and help out with defensive duties could be a big plus for Zidane in Paris.
Asensio and Lucas have certainly staked their claims for a starting spot in Paris over the past couple of weeks and if he is to feature in the big game on March 6, Bale will now have to prove himself to Zidane all over again.