A large price tag was always going to mean Gareth Bale's performances at Real Madrid were going to be closely scrutinised but, considering the injuries, he has every reason to be satisfied with his start to life in Spain.
On Saturday he returned to Carlo Ancelotti’s starting lineup—after being left on the bench for the Copa del Rey win over Osasuna—and responded with a goal.
Although, by the time the Welshman scored, Cristiano Ronaldo had already sent Twitter into a meltdown.
Meh, alright I guess. http://t.co/PDqvHmaoB1— Footballista (@Fo0tballista) January 18, 2014
That Ronaldo goal was bloody brilliant. I' saying best of the season from him, possibly by any player. Echoes of goal v Porto for Utd— Richard Martin (@rich9908) January 18, 2014
It took the Ballon d’Or winner just 10 minutes to open the scoring against La Liga's bottom club, Real Betis—and how he opened the scoring. Cutting inside, Ronaldo unleashed an absolute rocket on his right foot from 25 yards, which flew like an arrow into the roof of the net.
Stephan Anderson, Betis' keeper, just stood and watched—as he would 15 minutes later when Bale lined up a free-kick.
From the right corner of the penalty area, perfectly placed for a left-footed player, the former Tottenham man's set piece whipped up and moved a couple of times on its way into the back of the net.
If Ronaldo lets you take a free kick for Real Madrid, you'd better make it a good one. Gareth Bale didn't disappoint. http://t.co/4fZURDycHI— William Hill Betting (@WillHillBet) January 19, 2014
Just 25 minutes gone, and it was already game over thanks Ronaldo's right peg and Bale’s left.
The only mystery is how Ronaldo didn't score more. The Portuguese forward managed 10 shots (h/t whoscored), five of which were on target, while Bale managed a more modest two efforts on Anderson's goal.
“Bale performed well, but so did everyone on the team,” Ancelotti told reporters after the match (h/t football-espana), clearly happy that all his forwards—Karim Benzema, Angel di Maria and Alvaro Morata were also on target—had scored.
As favourable as the stats have been to Bale and Ronaldo this season, both needed their goals against Betis.
Madrid’s No. 7 had scored just once in his last three matches for the club in all competitions, while their No. 11 was without a goal since his hat-trick against Real Valladolid in November.
And with the performances of Ronaldo and Bale writing Sunday morning's headlines, the bar was set for Lionel Messi on Sunday night.
The Argentine was making his first league start since his return from injury, and the four goals he scored in the Copa against Getafe over two legs had already proved he was keen to make up for lost time.
Unfortunately, Levante had other ideas.
The Valencian side took a first-half lead through Loukas Vyntra, only for Gerard Pique to head home an equaliser with the match still inside the first 20 minutes.
Barcelona, of course, then spent the next 70 minutes on the attack looking to clinch all three points, but not even Messi could find away past Levante's rearguard and, on the odd occasion that he did, Keylor Navas was in sensational form in goal.
Just before the hour, he made a particularly impressive contribution to the match when he saved from Messi's left and then from Messi's head—although the latter was incorrectly judged to be offside.
Moments later, Juanfran blocked another goal-bound effort from La Pulga.
Messi ended the match with six efforts on goal (h/t whoscored), but he is still without a league goal since September.
Meanwhile, La Blaugrana end the weekend just one point clear of Real Madrid.
No Neymar This Weekend
Barcelona’s Neymar wasn’t able to add his name to the list of goalscorers this weekend, as he sat out the Catalan club's trip to Levante.
The Brazilian went off injured against Getafe in the Copa del Rey last Thursday, though fortunately the ankle problem which forced him off is not as serious as it looked at the time.
According to UEFA.com, the 21-year-old is targeting a comeback on February 16, when Gerardo Martino's side head to England to play their intriguing Champions League fixture against Manchester City.
Neymar's not letting himself get too down about it, either. He posted this video (Portuguese needed) on his Instagram account looking rather chirpy.