Why La Liga will develop Gareth Bale

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The most expensive player in the history of the beautiful game is preparing for his third season as a Galactico, and never will the pressure be higher.

After taking the league by storm in his debut season, the Welshman floundered somewhat in his second season, and was heavily criticised by La Marca, the most powerful sports paper in the country and indeed by many involved in the world of football.

Despite this, Wales Manager Chris Coleman has expressed earlier this week his desire for Bale to remain a Madrid player, and not return to the Premier League, where he made a name for himself.


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Why would he want his star performer and biggest asset to struggle even more? Surely this will be detrimental to Wales' Euro 2016 campaign if Bale isn't performing well. Coleman must believe that Bale staying put in La Liga must help him as a player, and here is why.


It is fair to say that playing for Real Madrid, having been brought to the club as history's most expensive signing ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, is a reasonably high-pressure situation.

Not only will the 26-year-old be under constant internal pressure to justify his more-than-hefty price tag, the fickle Real Madrid fan-base generally demand a comfortable and sometimes overwhelming victory in all of their games.

With every game that isn't won (even those that are drawn) the scrutiny increases from all fronts - the fans, the pundits, and most heavily from the media. 

It is also fair to say that Gareth Bale did not have a particularly good second season at Madrid. Being worth £86 million, you are expected to perform quite literally every single game.

This usually involves scoring at least once, and if not, then providing the assist for Ronaldo to score. Last season, Bale scored a pretty average 13 league goals, and made nine assists.

His goalscoring record meant he finished as the joint-11th highest scorer in the league, and also joint-eighth highest in assists, neither statistic inspiring much confidence.

His contribution in 'big matches' such as in the Champions League, Madrid derbies and El Classico's was also highly reduced from the season before, where he scored in both the Copa del Rey and UCL finals against Barcelona and Atletico Madrid respectively.

All of this meant that whenever Gareth Bale stepped onto the pitch, the limelight was on him, and not the good type. Pressure to perform will always be there at Real Madrid but last season, at times it felt as though people were watching him and waiting for him to slip up.

It was a negative pressure and this makes it much more difficult to play to the best of your abilities. However, in the long run, this will all help Bale to develop his game mentally and make him a stronger player as a result.

Style of Opposing Teams

A major difference in the way that teams from the Premier League and teams from La Liga play is their defending style. English teams generally favour a high-pressing style and this involves a high defensive line.

However, the high-pressing usually pulls players out of position and disrupts the shape of the team, for the benefit of reducing time on the ball for the opposition.

In contrast to this, Spanish teams tend to sit back and defend in numbers, pressing only when the opposition is in the final third of the pitch.

They retain their rigid team structure, making it difficult for players to run or pass through them. This comes at the expense of allowing the player more time on the ball.

Unfortunately for Gareth Bale, he tends to operate on the former being utilised. What's the main similarity between many of his Premier League goals (for example against Norwich) and his most famous goal against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey?

They all involve Bale knocking the ball into space and using his pace to beat opposition defenders.

One reason that Bale had a poorer second season is that teams learnt that if you defend in numbers, contracting the pitch and the space available to play the ball into, this will reduce Bale's pace as a threat.

It also meant that a lot of creative players have a smaller margin for error in which to pass the ball and so service is also reduced.

People may ask - why then did Barcelona become so successful last season? Well their players are small and nimble and can operate in extremely small spaces.

Both their wingers are capable of beating a couple of defenders at once, and the creative influence of Andres Iniesta became more important towards the end of last season.

But it was never all plain-sailing for them either, with many calling for Enrique to be sacked in the first half of the season when results were poor and they couldn't break down teams themselves. It is a process that needs time to adapt and Barcelona managed just that.

Bale will have to adapt his game to deal with the structured defending of La Liga, as this may well be what he faces in the Euros, playing for Wales.

If he can manage this and he becomes apt at working with high-pressing and highly-structured styles of defending, who knows where it will take him?

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Gareth Bale
Premier League
Real Madrid
La Liga

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