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Gareth Bale’s Galactico expectations require time

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Gareth Bale is encountering an arduous situation at the Santiago Bernabeu. It’s been two months since Bale made the move to Real Madrid, and the Welshman has been vilified and harshly scrutinized by the Spanish media. The rapid influx in fans, owners and the media demanding immediate success has somewhat tarnished modern day football, as players and manager’s are continuously under severe pressure. Despite all the negativity surrounding Bale, it’s shocking to know that he was a household favourite a few months ago.

Tottenham Hotspur supporters were on the edge of their seats when Bale received the ball on the right flank in their final game of the season against Sunderland. Had it been a few years ago, he may have opted to pass the ball or attempt a pacy dash towards the byline to provide a cross – but not this time. His confidence was oozing off his sweaty skin and fear was expressed in the Adam Mitchell’s eyes, as there was only one logical outcome.

The 24-year-old Welshman cut infield with his fancied left foot and curled the ball with precision and pace, humbling Simon Mignolet as could do nothing but watch the ball fly into the top corner, despite his efforts to make a save. White Hart Lane erupted. Spurs faithful adapted to Bale’s brilliance throughout the season, and this was just another piece of magic to add to the highlight reel.

Bale ran towards the Spurs supporters jubilant, knowing that this would be the last time he’d share a moment of this magnitude at White Hart Lane. The celebration was more of a ‘come get me NOW’ opposed to a sign of hope that relied on their London rivals dropping points on the final day of the season to solidify fourth place.

Daniel Levy’s most prized asset was ready to make the big jump abroad, despite the North London side earning a club-high 72 points. Truthfully, it was foreseeable. Bale’s vast growth into a world-class player couldn’t be ignored. He thrived in a no.10 position under Andre Villas-Boas that handed the Welshman a free role to roam around the final third searching for gaps and openings in the opposition’s backline. However, he maintained defensive responsibility by quickly closing down centre backs to complement Spurs’ high-pressing game.

The pressure of living up to the ‘galactico’ billing is insurmountable. However, Bale – the 11th galactico – had bigger shoes to fill as his summer transfer to Real Madrid made him the world’s most expensive player. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to know that on two separate occasions, Bale’s career hung by a thread.

Bale’s athleticism was evident at a young age. The Welshman excelled in rugby, hockey and track-field throughout school, but football was Bale’s top priority.  The Welshman’s PE teacher Gwyn Morris was aware of the Welshman’s talent and challenged him to improve other aspects of his game by forcing Bale to play one-touch football and predominantly use his weaker right foot, as he was superior to the rest of his schoolmates.

Southampton youth scout Rod Ruddick spotted the Welshman when he played for Cardiff Civil Service in a U-9 five-a-side tournament in Newport, Wales. “Even at the age of eight Gareth had fantastic ability. When you sign a player at that age it is because they have great potential and he has just kept getting better,” Ruddick said.

“You could see his pace and quality on the training pitch but I think his left foot helped him stand out. What we saw then we knew he was going to be something special,” he added.

Bale worked his way through Southampton’s satellite academy, but his recurring back injuries sustained from a growth spurt, nearly prevented him from receiving a full-time scholarship.

The Welshman signed with Spurs for £10m in 2007 – a year after breaking into the Southampton first team – and he endured 24 consecutive losses when he featured for the North London club. Bale’s frail build was his downfall, as he struggled to stay fit, which saw Alex McLeish attempt to pursue to the Welshman to join Birmingham in 2009. “Gareth wasn’t in the Spurs side at the time and Harry Redknapp wasn’t able to get him a game for whatever reason,” McCleish said.

“What if he had come to Birmingham and enjoyed it? We were in the Championship at the time but eventually got promoted to the Premier League. That would have changed the picture for us financially. You just don’t know. Unfortunately, this time, for us it didn’t, he said.”

Bale worked hard over the next few years to become stronger physically and mentally – with help from former Spurs manager Harry Redknapp’s tough love approach in training – and the football world witnessed glimpses of his brilliance. He took the world by storm through his two performances against Inter Milan in 2010, where he singlehandedly terrorized Brazilian fullback Maicon. Bale’s ability was never questioned – it was whether he could replicate his performances on a consistent basis.

Under Andre Villas-Boas, the 24-year-old winger flourished, and took the first chance to move abroad to challenge for trophies, opposed to spending another year at White Hart Lane, fighting to secure a Champions League spot. It was his childhood dream to play for Madrid, but scrutiny and ridicule followed him like a shadow.

More so, Bale’s transfer fee has been the focal point during his sluggish start at the Santiago Bernabeu. Had Bale set the valuation, or publicly stated he was worth £85m, then it would be understandable – however he didn’t. The inflated transfer market has been beneficial to teams with lesser financial power, as they now possess the power to hold out until they receive their required price tag.

Is Bale a £85m player? No.

At the time, was Bale worth £85m? Possibly.

Considering his remarkable performances throughout 2012/2013, the three years remaining on his contract, and the fact that Spurs initially weren’t willing to sell the Welshman, the valuation isn’t far-fetched.

Consequently, the Bale saga, and a few niggling injuries, prevented the Welshman from participating in pre-season activities. Given the circumstances, it’s absurd to label the Welshman a ‘flop’ based on the first two months of the season. Adapting to a new league, culture, country and style of football is never easy. While some players settle quickly into a new environment, others need time and patience – and based on the abundance of turnover that transpired at Madrid this summer, it’s rational.

Carlo Ancelotti, known for his possession-based philosophy has struggled to find his best starting eleven, and has been adamant on fitting Bale into the equation. But the rise of Angel Di Maria – arguably Madrid’s best player this season – has highlighted the need of natural balance in Ancelotti’s attack, specifically in their 7-3 victory against Sevilla.

“The team lacks little offensively, but lost concentration when at 3-0, but then continued to play well. We need more balance because you cannot open up a game when you are winning 3-0,” Ancelotti said.

“We played faster and more vertical. We need more offensive balance, but the game was fantastic,” he said.

Bale displayed glimpses of old, grabbing two goals and two assists. Sevilla’s shape without the ball was diabolical for large portions of the match, which benefitted a Madrid side that prefers to attack on the break. The Welshman was allowed space to isolate defenders, use his blistering space to stretch the match by running towards the byline, make darting runs into the box and combine with his teammates in wide areas.

Likewise, Bale has struggled to impose his authority on matches against sides that prefer to sit deeper, and defend with nine men behind the ball. Opposed to England, La Liga sides are precise with their overall shape without the ball, as they aim to be organized and compact. With Cristiano Ronaldo playing a free role, Bale has less space to work with, is more likely to drift out of games via isolation, and is a conventional winger, which will explain his inevitable statistical decline.

Coincidentally, Bale and Madrid, are going through a transitional period. Ancelotti is searching for balance, a preferred formation and a cohesive unit – whereas, Bale is settling into life abroad, which will expect him to thrive with less space, in a natural wide role.

An £85m transfer fee guarantees high expectations, but if Madrid supporters and owners are patient, then Bale can prove to be an intelligent investment in the near future.

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2013 in FIFA, Published Work

 

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Chelsea 0-1 QPR

Match in a sentence

A dull London derby at Stamford Bridge saw bottom of the table QPR defeat Chelsea and potentially knock them out of the Premier League title race.

Analysis

  • Rafa Benitez decided to give Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Ramires and Ashley Cole a rest after playing a key role in Chelsea’s 2-1 victory against Everton on Sunday. Benitez replaced them with Ryan Bertrand, Oscar, Victor Moses and Marko Marin made his first Premier League start since joining the club in the summer. Also Ross Turnbull was in goal for the injured Petr Cech.
  • Harry Redknapp preferred to set up in a 4-3-3 that saw Adel Taarabt lead the line with Junior Hoilett and Jamie Mackie on the flanks. Redknapp selected Shaun Derry, Esteban Granero and Stephane Mbia to form his midfield three.
  • The Blues were always going to dictate the game in terms of possession, and they did, but they struggled to create goal scoring chances for large portions of the first half.
  • QPR became a compact 4-5-1 without the ball and the wide men (Hoilett, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Mackie) did a great job in the first half making sure Cesar Azpilicueta and Bertrand were unable to go forward. Marin and Moses also failed to make any significant impact in the first half.
  • Redknapp’s men were composed and unlucky not to be playing against a 10 man Chelsea when Marko Marin made a reckless challenge on Mbia. QPR had multiple opportunities to hit Chelsea on the counter but lacked quality going forward, they failed to deliver a final ball and didn’t test Turnbull.
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Marin Tackle on Mbia GIF. Click on it

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  • Chelsea started to create chances in the second half and it was down to Bertrand being able to get past Mackie, which allowed him to overload Nedum Onuoha with Marin. Chelsea was moving the ball quicker in the second half, which allowed spaces to be opened up and QPR legs tired.
  • Chelsea nearly took the lead as Frank Lampard smashed a low shot past Julio Cesar, but the linesman rightfully called him offside.
  • Benitez introduced Hazard, Mata and Ramires into the game and despite providing an influential spark the Blues were wasteful in front of goal.
  • Chelsea was punished in the 77th minute and they were unable to respond. Chelsea failed to clear their lines on a QPR corner kick, and it fell to Taarabt who provided Wright-Phillips with a lovely layoff ball and the former Chelsea player made no mistake smashing his shot past Turnbull.

 

  • Alan Pardew announced in his pre-game interview that Demba Ba will be a Chelsea player, and it may come to some relief for most Chelsea fans. Fernando Torres had another dire performance and with Romelu Lukaku coming back in the summer and Ba on his way, the Spaniard’s days are certainly numbered.
  • Many will blame Rafa Benitez for his team selection, but ultimately his players weren’t good enough on the day. They lacked creativity, hunger and they never looked like they were going to score. It also shows that Chelsea lack depth, which is the reason why it’s almost certain that they will be fighting for a European spot rather than the Premier League title.

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  • On the other hand, Harry Redknapp and his men picked up an unlikely three points that could prove to be significant in their relegation battle. It was QPR’s second win of the season in another London derby and it leaves Redknapp’s men five points away from safety. Although this win might not turn their season around, it does give them belief that they can stay in the Premier League. With so many poor sides in the Premier League anything is possible.

Stats

  • It was QPR’s first win at Chelsea in a league match in nearly 30 years, since a 2-0 win in the old Division Two in April 1983.
  • It was Wright-Phillips’ 1st Premier League goal in 54 matches in the division, since netting for Manchester City at West Ham in May 2010: 1-1.
  • Shaun Wright-Phillips scores against his former team. He made 82 Premier League appearances (4 goals) for Chelsea from 2005 to 2009.
  • Frank Lampard played in his 534th Premier League match against QPR and he is 1 short of entering the top 3 of all-time Premier League appearances.

Tyrrell Meertins

Follow me @TEEWHYox

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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Manchester United 3-1 QPR

Match in a sentence 

The self-proclaimed comeback kings survived a near scare, as three goals in eight minutes were enough to defeat bottom of the table QPR.

Analysis 

  • After coming off of two straight defeats to Norwich and Galatasaray, Manchester United operated in a 4-4-1-1 with Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young on the flanks. Also, Darren Fletcher was in the XI at the expense of Michael Carrick.
  • With Mark Hughes sacked, and new boss Harry Redknapp watching from the stands, QPR caretaker manager Mark Bowen was in charge. Bowen lined up in a 4-2-3-1 that saw Djribil Cisse lead the line with Adel Taarabt, Jamie Mackie and Kieron Dyer behind him.
  • United were expected to dominate possession in this game and so they did. United’s front four were interchanging positions attempting to draw QPR defenders out of position. At times it worked, but it wasn’t effective as QPR stayed organized and compact throughout United’s wave of attacks in the first half.
  • QPR were very narrow as the two wide men tucked in and their goal was to hit United on the break and run at their defenders (United defenders vulnerable when pacy players run at them). It must be said that QPR could have taken the lead in the first half as Jamie Mackie was causing them all sorts of problems whenever he drove down the middle of the park.
  • In terms of the selection on the flanks Welbeck isn’t your natural winger, and he often took the ball into the middle, which gave either Rafael or Patrice Evra license to get higher up the pitch depending on which flank he occupied. Whereas Young was more direct on his flank, despite the odd link up play with Evra.
  • The pairing of Paul Scholes and Fletcher had a difficult afternoon, as Scholes in particular was giving the ball away at ease, making poor challenges, and both were guilty of being overrun by QPR on the break. United lacked creativity, the final ball and they failed to penetrate in wide areas. QPR held their ground in the first half and did well, but they lacked quality when they got into United’s third.
  • It’s been the tale of United’s season as they fell behind in the second half courtesy of a goal from Mackie. It was sluggish defending from United and Dyer sent in a ball to Mackie, which he tapped in from two yards out. It was the 13th time in 20 games that United have conceded first.
  • Many (especially United fans) will say that United need to concede first, for the side to get going, and those people are wrong. United simply didn’t play good enough, frankly they were poor in the first half, and Fergie’s substitutions changed the outcome of the game. Anderson and Javier Hernandez replaced Scholes and Young, which pushed Rooney to the left and Welbeck to the right.
  • Anderson provided a different element to United’s midfield. He drove through the heart of the QPR midfield and provided energy and pace. With Rooney and Welbeck on the flanks this allowed Rafael and Evra to get forward and it created 2v1’s against the narrow QPR fullbacks.

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  • Frankly, the changes really affected the third goal as Anderson drove through the midfield and played in Hernandez who killed the game off. The first two goals scored by Evans and Fletcher, exposed the problem QPR have been having all season, which is defending set pieces.
  • QPR played well for 55 minutes of the game, but their inability to defend set pieces has haunted them yet again. They’ve yet to record a win this season, and with Southampton defeating Newcastle, the bottom half seems to be distancing themselves from the Rangers. Arry has a lot of work to do on the training ground and the first issue he addresses this week should be defending set pieces.
  • Despite the poor first half, three goals in eight minutes seemed to be the difference. Ferguson found a way to get his four main strikers on the field at the same time and it worked. Attacking prowess? Well against QPR at home, a top team should score goals. I’d say Ferguson’s tactical knowledge, which he doesn’t get much credit for, won this game. With City/Chelsea playing to a draw, all is well in the red side of Manchester.

Three Stars 

  1. Anderson 
  2. Wayne Rooney 
  3. Jamie Mackie 

 

Tyrrell Meertins 

Follow @TEEWHYox 

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2012 in Match Recaps

 

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