Gareth Bale's Brace Keeps Real Madrid in the Title Hunt

Paul WilkesFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2014

Real's Gareth Bale, left, celebrates his goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Rayo Vallecano at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, March 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
Andres Kudacki

It's been a difficult week for Real Madrid and Gareth Bale. The defeats to Barcelona and Sevilla meant that criticism of the Welshman was rife.

His performances were below par in those contests, as he seemed to lack the cutting edge and end product that has defined his time in Spain to date. The media went even further as they highlighted two incidents in Andalusia, as proof that he was to blame.

When Sevilla's Carlos Bacca scored the winner, Bale was changing his boots. Later, he received a look of discontent from Cristiano Ronaldo after blazing a free-kick over the bar.

Manager Carlo Ancelotti felt that Bale had to make the footwear switch, but was unsure whether that was the appropriate scenario to do so. "To say whether it was the time to do it, I don't know," said the Italian, via AS. "The condition of the boot wasn't adequate and he had to change."

Perhaps the forward is struggling to adapt to his new boots. He only wore them for the first time against Schalke two weeks ago in the Champions League.

The Adizero F50 CrazyLights are the lightest boots ever and weigh just 135 grams, via The Daily Mirror. Whether they give the player adequate protection, only time will tell.

The torrential rain at the Bernabeu against Rayo Vallecano saw another test of his infamous sneakers. He did lose his footing at one point and when through on goal he embarrassingly kicked the floor.

There were times when he caused problems for left-back Razvan Rat and others when he seemed to overdo it—conceding possession too easily.

When he ran at Rayo's defence he was a constant menace, completing seven out of nine runs, via FourFourTwo Stats Zone. Though his final ball wasn't always accurate, with just 11 of his 19 attacking third passes finding their intended target.

The statistical differences perfectly illustrate his indifferent game; sometimes he was quality and on other viewings he was substandard.

At the other end of the pitch, his rival left-sided wide man Jose Carlos was doing his best to grab the attention. An excellent touch to bring the ball under control announced Carlos to the game after he entered as a first-half substitute.

With the world watching, he went along a very individualistic approach. He twisted and turned on several occasions, but failed to produce a decent cross.

One turn too many saw him limp off with a knee problem toward the end of the game, though by then the directness of Bale had conquered the Rayo back four.

Bale was heavily involved in four out of the five goals Madrid scored. He supplied the ball for Cristiano Ronaldo to open the scoring, in what has been a regular feature of Madrid's attacking play this season.

Then, in the early part of the second-half, he was on hand to deliver a cross for Ronaldo that the Portuguese forward then laid into the path of Daniel Carvajal, who netted his first for the club.

Good work from Angel di Maria gave Bale an easy finish to make it 3-0, which put the game beyond doubt. The Argentine was impressive again from a central midfield position.

Bale's second came directly from a Rayo corner. The Madrid defence headed the ball away and the winger was on hand to capitalise.

He carried the ball from box-to-box, negotiating his way past defenders on his way. One touch seemed a little heavy and gave Ze Castro the encouragement to try to nick the ball, but Bale was too strong in the challenge and completed his long run with an emphatic finish.

The 5-0 win wasn't as comfortable as the scoreline suggests, but means Los Blancos are once again within touching distance of the top 2.