Having broken the world transfer record for his €100 million move to Real Madrid this summer, Gareth Bale has had his chances to make an immediate impact rather restricted by injury, but boss Carlo Ancelotti believes he might be ready to start Real's next game.
Eurosport.Yahoo.com report (via Reuters) that the Madrid manager has seen enough from him in his last two substitute appearances to feature Bale more prominently:
He came on when [Wednesday's Champions League match vs. Juventus] has lost its intensity. That didn't help him play better but it was important for him to get some time on the pitch, I think now he is ready to start a match.
Good news for Bale—but given Real's opponents, would it be the best course of action to throw him in immediately?
Next up for Real Madrid are none other than La Liga leaders Barcelona, in the first Clasico of the 2013-14 season.
Bale has so far played three times this season in the league, with only one start—his debut—which also yielded his first goal. He has yet to complete a full 90 minutes in a Real shirt, has already featured in a number of different positions and has certainly not shown anything like a full game of his real level of ability.
Against Barcelona, Real have to avoid defeat. They will, of course, want to win, but being away at the Camp Nou and already trailing the league leaders by three points, it's imperative that they stop Tata Martino's men from pulling further away at this stage of the season.
Bale, therefore, has plenty of attributes to his game that will appeal to Ancelotti.
The former Spurs wide man has a good work ethic anyway, but it is natural that he will be especially inclined to impress his new fans, coaches and teammates by putting extra emphasis on hard work, rather than just his technical ability.
In addition, his searing pace over long distances will be a huge weapon.
During the game, Barcelona are likely to enjoy long spells of possession where they will be encamped mostly in Real's half of the pitch at Camp Nou. When Madrid win back the ball, however, they will know that in those moments, Barca are most vulnerable. It is in these instances that the acceleration and directness of both Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo will be of great importance to Real.
Counterattacking behind the defence, into the spaces vacated by Barca's attacking full-backs, is arguably one of the Catalan side's biggest weaknesses when it is done quickly and with purpose. Both Bale and Ronaldo are single-minded enough to hit that space first and then find their target—either the goal or a teammate—with their end product.
Add into the mix Bale's ability to take on a player, his shooting from range and the general lack of form and reliability over a central defensive pairing for Barcelona, and these are all areas where Real will look to take advantage.
Should Bale start vs. Barcelona?
Of course, balanced against those plus points has to be Bale's lack of match sharpness or fitness, his (thus far) inability to completely gel with his attacking teammates and the fact he hasn't experienced a Clasico beforehand.
Angel di Maria, the likely man to miss out if Bale is restored to the team, has also registered three goals and three assists in his last four matches, so it would be a knock to his confidence if he is left out.
For Bale though, these opportunities are ones which he has to take if he is to live up to being the world's most expensive player and one of the top players in the game.
It's pressure on his shoulders, and it's a gamble for Ancelotti to take—but when you pay €100 million for a player, you expect them to deliver the goods in big games like this.
Bale couldn't really ask for a better opponent to really stamp his mark and to announce his real arrival to the Real Madrid team.