When Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off against Athletic Bilbao last weekend, it seemed like poor timing. There's never a right time to be dismissed, either within the match or the subsequent suspension.
Although, if there are adequate replacements or the next few matches are a little easier, then it cannot be all that disastrous.
Ronaldo left the field with Gareth Bale missing through injury and with the visit of a team—that had won four out of their last five matches—on the horizon. Villarreal had already held Real Madrid in the reverse fixture, when Bale surprisingly made his competitive debut.
The Welshman has had to deal with a number of minor setbacks since arriving in the capital, but it never seems to alter his form. It's been a disrupted campaign for Bale, and seven is his longest run of consecutive league games.
"Bale has played well when he was fit," said manager Carlo Ancelotti to ESPN's Dermot Corrigan earlier this week. "He has had some problems, for sure he will be much better next year. First, after having a normal preseason, and also with more knowledge of Spanish football culture."
Ancelotti is right, Bale has been impressive. He now needs to play every week and maintain his fitness. Alongside Ronaldo he has been decent, but without the Portuguese forward it's his time to shine.
Is Gareth Bale better without Cristiano Ronaldo?
At Tottenham Hotspur, everything went through Bale; his individualistic style meant that the team worked to feed him the ball.
His star quality was evident, and despite reinvesting the transfer money on a number of decent players, they are struggling to adapt to life without their talisman. It's a similar situation for Ronaldo at Real Madrid. He is the main man, the one the others look to first for inspiration.
The signing of Bale was supposed to alleviate the pressure and offer an alternative, but it's difficult when the team is geared towards another.
Luckily for Bale, his stylistic similarities with Ronaldo means that he is the perfect replacement.
When Real Madrid beat Real Valladolid at the end of November, Bale scored a hat-trick and assisted the other, with Ronaldo unavailable. Against Villarreal at the Bernabeu once again, he was the catalyst for the team's success.
It was a poor error in judgement by defender Chechu Dorado, but Bale's anticipation and closing down was deservedly rewarded.
Through one-on-one with Sergio Asenjo, he cooly chipped the goalkeeper to open the scoring. His directness on the counter-attack was a threat throughout the game, as was his wing partner, young Jese.
Poor Jaume Costa at left-back for the "yellow submarine" was given a torrid time trying to deal with Bale.
Costa was fearful of Bale cutting inside onto his preferred left foot to shoot, so he continued to position himself to push the inverted winger out wide.
In theory, the idea made sense, but such is Bale's speed and ability, he curled one cross to the far post with the outside of his left boot. Then moments later, he simply used his weaker right foot to supply Karim Benzema with his first of the evening.
The games with Getafe and Elche will provide further opportunities for Bale to showcase his ability, with the team focussing on enhancing his talents.
When Lionel Messi is out for Barcelona, then the team is forced to change slightly to accommodate his substitute. Neither Neymar nor Cesc Fabregas shares the same attributes, offering their own unique traits.
Madrid aren't going to face such troubles, with Bale and Jese offering similar characteristics as to those of the phenomenon that is Ronaldo.