Real Madrid would appear to be as good as in the last eight of the Champions League, the competition they won for a 10th time last season, following a 2-0 triumph at Schalke on Wednesday evening.
Away goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, whose drought (!) is now over, and Marcelo ensured Madrid pretty much put the tie to bed - barring a nigh on miracle - before the return fixture at the Santiago Bernabeu on March 10.
But while Ronaldo announced his return after nothing more than a brief goalscoring hiatus, Gareth Bale seemed to still be suffering from the immense pressure he has found himself under for much of the campaign.
Bale, the club’s record acquisition, has been the target of criticism from the Madrid press and supporters due to perceived selfishness and, seemingly, the failure to justify this with a better goals tally.
This is the same player who scored the winner in last season’s Copa del Rey and found the net against Atletico Madrid to all but confirm La Decima, but these Madridistas are a somewhat fickle bunch.
Cat calls and hisses of displeasure have often greeted Bale this term after the Welshman has made decisions to infuriate the crowd, and only now does this seem to be playing deeply on his mind.
Eager to please
There was clear evidence against Schalke that Bale, even if he was not in front of his home fans, was trying desperately to find Ronaldo more regularly rather than pursue personal glory when in possession of the ball.
Carlo Ancelotti denied after the game that he had instructed Bale to play the ball earlier to Ronaldo, but it was clear the 25-year-old, on this occasion at least, would rather shift the play than commit to causing any real damage of his own.
He was trying too hard to give the Madrid fans that they want and it was to the detriment of his own performance. As highlighted by Frank Lampard in the post-match analysis, Bale is a nice lad who is eager to please - but he needs to be more single-minded.
Bale flourished at Tottenham playing to his own strengths - running at defenders and wreaking havoc. It is what he does and best and something that has drifted out of his game a touch since his recent travails with Madrid.
Back to basics
But they way to win back the supporters will be to stick to his guns and do what comes naturally. He was able to do so last season and will no doubt do so again when his confidence returns once more.
He need only look at Ronaldo to realise that even the best go through sticky spells - although it is all relative, course - and something akin to a back to basics approach will be the best way for Bale to go about his business.
An arm around the shoulder from Ronaldo, who has been visibly frustrated by Bale at times this season, would not go amiss. Bale benefits from this comforting approach - it is no coincidence Harry Redknapp was the first to get the best from the Welshman.
Great players lose form and confidence - or both in the case of Bale - but they do not lose that unerring determination or, of course, their talent. Bale has been very good in his career to date, perhaps not great, but there should be little doubt he will become so with Real Madrid.
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