Ideally, Carlo Ancelotti would like to have welcomed Gareth Bale to Real Madrid in an easy, soothing manner. There would have been plenty of time for the newbie to choose a locker, work out the training ground coffee machine and maybe even attend a cheese and wine meet-and-greet with the rest of the squad.
However, the Welshman’s first training session with his new club on Wednesday might be the start of an accelerated process to get Bale fit and ready for a clash with Villarreal, three days later.
To say that Bale has finally turned up at Real Madrid a little ring rusty is quite the understatement. The 33 minutes against Serbia in a World Cup qualifier was the forward's first piece of competitive action since the end of the last Premier League campaign. What’s more, Bale is carrying one or two knocks and strains.
Yet Villarreal’s El Madrigal stadium on Saturday could be his first sniff of Spanish action as Real Madrid have a bit of a squad shortage—by the club’s lofty standards—partly through bad luck and partly through bad planning. Isco is a severe doubt for the clash due to an ankle strain. Ordinarily, that would not be an issue with Mesut Ozil and Kaka around to easily fill in for the Spaniard.
Of course, that is no longer possible with both having left the club at the end of the transfer window. Luka Modric is more than capable of playing in the spot behind the Madrid striking position, however the Croatian is going to be needed in midfield with Xabi Alonso injured and Asier Illarramendi only just returning to full fitness.
All this leaves an open position in the starting lineup, which could be filled by Cristiano Ronaldo with Alvaro Morata potentially filling in on the left flank. Then again, Ancelotti might decide to go bold and give a run-out to exciting youngster Jese, who would do just fine as a No. 10. This would be the least disruptive of the possible lineups, with everyone pretty much playing where they feel most comfortable—something rather important in Ronaldo’s case.
What would be quite the shock, though, is for Bale to be out on the pitch when the referee blows his first whistle. Saturday’s opponents, Villarreal, are no simpering cannon fodder with the Yellow Submarine having won three from three in their opening league clashes.
Manager Marcelino has the team playing a brand of fast, counter-attacking football which is going to call on all the reserves of energy from the visiting Real Madrid side. A Welshman wheezing and panting around the pitch after 10 minutes is not going to be of use to anyone.
However, that is not to say that Bale may not play a small role towards the end of the game, due to the restrictions placed on Ancelotti by injuries and absentees. Bale's proper footballing unveiling was expected to be against Getafe at the Santiago Bernabeu in Round 5 of La Liga.
In terms of clashes for Real Madrid, that is about as easy as they come. But harsh reality may well see an early sneak preview of Bale in full-on action in a Madrid shirt with his new club needing his services as soon as possible.
Real Madrid Starting XI Prediction
Diego Lopez; Fabio Coentrao, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Alvaro Arbeloa; Sami Khedira, Luka Modric; Cristiano Ronaldo, Jese, Angel di Maria, Karim Benzema.