Zinedine Zidane refused to guarantee Gareth Bale’s future at Real Madrid after the Welshman struggled again in a 2-1 victory over Eibar on Saturday.
Karim Benzema scored twice at the Santiago Bernabeu as Madrid came from behind after Marc Cardona, starting only after an injury to Pedro Leon in the warm-up, gave Eibar a surprise lead.
But Madrid improved and a pair of Benzema headers ensured the groans and whistles that had soured the atmosphere for much of the opening hour turned to cheers and applause at the end.
Much of the frustration was again directed at Bale, who started here after being dropped by Zidane for the defeat to Valencia on Wednesday.
Asked afterwards if Bale would be at Real Madrid next season, Zidane said: “We’ll see, I’m not going to tell you what’s going to happen. Gareth is a Real Madrid player, he has two years left on his contract. We will see. It is not the time to talk about this.”
Bale’s below-par performances and a lack of support from either coach or fans seem so inter-linked now, it is difficult to know what comes first. He departed again to whistles with 14 minutes left, a conciliatory hand slap from Zidane offering little consolation as he trudged off.
Benzema’s trajectory has been the opposite, the Frenchman now with six goals in five La Liga games, four of them since Zidane took over.
“Karim has had a great season,” Zidane said. “His goals have perhaps changed people’s perception of him. But he has never changed as a player.”
Madrid’s win means they are 10 points adrift of leaders Barcelona and two behind Atletico Madrid. Barca and Atletico play each other later on Saturday. Eibar stay 11th.
Zidane has insisted his players are not on trial but his changing line-ups at least suggest he is examining his options before the summer.
This time Sergio Ramos was rested, while Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Lucas Vazquez also dropped out. In came Nacho, Federico Valverde, Isco and Bale.
Bale’s half began badly as he failed to control Valverde’s overhit pass and then got worse as he missed a one-on-one when his finish was saved by Marko Dmitrovic.
— Chorus of whistles —
The scattering of whistles became a chorus after he dragged a shot wide from 25 yards and it was no surprise his confidence drained away, a poor touch following shortly after.
Bale was not the only one. Madrid lacked precision or purpose, as opponents were allowed through unchecked and passes went astray.
In the 39th minute, as the fans’ frustration was reaching its peak, Eibar scored, a crisp move down the left ending with a cute pass from Gonzalo Escalante to Cardona, who chipped into the net.
The second half started better for Madrid, with Benzema scoring only to be called back for offside before the Frenchman headed in the equaliser just before the hour. Marco Asensio did brilliantly to weave into space and dig out the cross.
Bale might have been in but Asensio’s pass struck the back of his heel and the Welshman departed with 14 minutes left, to disgruntled whistles.
Madrid scored the winner without him. Kroos’ whipped cross was again met by the forehead of Benzema and, again, the ball found the net.
Benzema should have completed his hat-trick late on but one finish was palmed away by Dmitrovic and another, with the goal gaping, looped over. He even hit the post with a bending effort in injury-time. The treble was not to be.
Zinedine Zidane dropped Gareth Bale and endured his first defeat since returning to Real Madrid as his side were deservedly beaten 2-1 by Valencia on Wednesday.
The last time Zidane left Bale on the bench, the Welshman proved a spectacular substitute against Liverpool in the Champions League final 10 months ago but there was to be no rescue act at Mestalla.
Instead, Valencia surged to a convincing victory, Goncalo Guedes and Ezequiel Garay scoring once in each half to leave Marcelino’s team within a point of La Liga’s top four. Karim Benzema headed in a late consolation in injury-time.
After a miserable start to the season, Valencia could yet enjoy a barnstorming finish.
Champions League qualification is now within touching distance while a Copa del Rey final against Barcelona and Europa League last 16 ties against Villarreal still await.
For Zidane, after two opening victories, this was perhaps something of a reality check, except Madrid’s reappointed coach has been sure to insist he is under no illusions regarding the task in front of him.
They now trail leaders Barcelona by 13 points, the same margin they were behind the Catalans under Zidane at this stage last season.
This was reminiscent of the limp displays that have undone Madrid all season, blunt in the final third, too generous in defence and bereft of either snap or spark in midfield.
Bale had started each of Zidane’s first two games, offering hope there might yet be a future for him in the new era, but his relegation to the bench suggests the Frenchman’s old doubts may linger.
Zidane’s press conference on Tuesday had been littered with questions about various players’ futures but Raphael Varane and Marcelo both started in defence, as did Keylor Navas, restored in goal ahead of Zidane’s son Luca and the injured Thibaut Courtois.
Valencia was far superior in the first half and the only surprise was that it took 35 minutes for them to score.
Navas punched a corner to the edge of the box where Guedes bounced the ball off Carlos Soler, stopped it and curled it between the goalkeeper’s right hand and the post.
Valencia unleashed a series of efforts in search of a second. Kevin Gameiro headed wide, Geoffrey Kondogbia half-volleyed over and Rodrigo’s bending shot whistled inches past the post.
Madrid had barely featured as Bale came on for Marco Asensio in the 64th minute, along with Isco, who replaced Toni Kroos.
Bale might have had an equaliser shortly after were it not been for Dani Parejo’s sliding block and then the Welshman sent a sumptuous pass to the far post, but it was cleared away from the waiting Benzema.
Valencia should have wrapped it up with 15 minutes left as five sprawled forward on the break but Rodrigo mis-controlled while his cutback was flicked first by Gameiro and then Soler, harmlessly into the hands of Navas.
If Madrid were more threatening they might have capitalised but they were not and instead victory was secured when Garay heading in Parejo’s cross with seven minutes left.
Sergio Ramos had a penalty taken off him, ruled out by VAR before Benzema nodded in a consolation in added time. It was too little too late.
Zinedine Zidane brought Real Madrid’s outcasts in from the cold and they repaid him with a win in his first game back as Isco and Gareth Bale each scored in a 2-0 victory over Celta Vigo on Saturday.
Isco had not started a single La Liga game under Santiago Solari but opened the scoring here shortly after the hour, before Bale got the goal his own committed display deserved to put sorry Celta out of sight.
Bale was teed up by Marcelo, who was also dropped by Solari but recalled, while Keylor Navas pulled off a superb save in the first half, having been brought back ahead of Thibaut Courtois.
Even Marco Asensio has been almost anonymous through Madrid’s troubles this season and he seemed rejuvenated too, his weaving run leading to the opener from Isco, who was otherwise the quietest of Zidane’s recovering group.
The victory ends a run of four consecutive home defeats and means Madrid reduce the gap to nine points behind Barcelona, who play away at Real Betis on Sunday.
That deficit will surely prove too big to close but Zidane’s job is to restore morale in the 11 league games that are left and to find out what, and who, needs changing in the summer.
At times, this felt like a pre-season fixture, not just because of the baking hot sun but the relaxed atmosphere and the sense this is now a team on trial.
Bale, whose relationship with Zidane deteriorated to breaking point last season, was arguably the biggest winner, his performance proving there could yet be a place for him in what the club’s president Florentino Perez has dubbed “the glorious new era”.
Marcelo impressed too while Courtois might well wonder what his next couple of months hold, given Navas, an old favourite of Zidane, looks to be back in favour.
Zidane had enjoyed his press conference on Friday, joking with journalists about their changed hairstyles and smirking as he admitted he had given the same answers before.
Bale rattles crossbar
There was a cosy feeling at the Santiago Bernabeu too, where fans had a new song to the tune of ‘Hey Jude’, replaced by ‘Zizou’, and cheered their new coach’s name when it was announced before kick-off.
Bale came closest to scoring in the first half with an acrobatic scissor-kick that crashed against the crossbar and later teed up Karim Benzema to tap in, only for the referee to book the Welshman for a foul in the build-up.
In between, Madrid were rather muted, but dominant in possession. Marcelo pulled back for Isco, who slipped, and then watched his fizzing shot from distance pushed away by Ruben Blanco.
Toni Kroos’ effort grazed the roof of the net and from a corner, Sergio Ramos headed wide.
Celta found chances on the break but never looked liked converting. Maxi Gomez, with only Ramos to beat, curled wide while Sofiane Boufal’s finish had to be blocked on the line by Marcelo as Madrid were again caught upfield.
Benzema’s goal was ruled out just before half-time and Luka Modric had one chalked off just after, this time VAR intervening to show Raphael Varane offside and close enough to be deemed active.
Isco’s influence had diminished and Dani Ceballos was ready to replace him just before he scored the opening goal. Asensio made it, a superb run allowing Benzema to cross and Isco to bundle in.
There was still time for Bale to add a second, his touch making space for the shot after Marcelo had slipped him clear. The ball clipped the post and rolled in.
Gareth Bale was relegated back to the bench for Real Madrid’s crunch game at home to Ajax in the second leg of the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday.
Bale had started the defeat to Barcelona in La Liga on Saturday but the Welshman departed to whistles in the second half and was dropped for the return against Ajax, with Madrid 2-1 ahead from the first leg.
Isco came on against Barca but was not even named on the bench while Marcelo was again named as a substitute, Sergio Reguilon preferred at left-back.
Ajax started with an unchanged side from the opening leg, with Frenkie de Jong set to play at the Santiago Bernabeu for the first time. De Jong will join Barcelona in the summer.
Real Madrid (4-3-3)
Thibaut Courtois; Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Nacho, Sergio Reguilon; Toni Kroos, Casemiro, Luka Modric; Lucas Vazquez, Karim Benzema (capt), Vinicius Junior
Coach: Santiago Solari (ARG)
Andre Onana; Noussair Mazraoui, Matthijs de Ligt (capt), Daley Blind, Nicolas Tagliafico; Lasse Schone, Donny van de Beek, Frenkie de Jong, Hakim Ziyech, David Neres; Dusan Tadic
Coach: Erik ten Hag (NED)
Reus, Goetze, Alcacer start as Dortmund target Spurs comeback
In the day’s other game, and with his side needing to score at least three goals, Borussia Dortmund coach Lucien Favre thrust Marco Reus, Mario Goetze and Paco Alcacer all into Tuesday’s line-up against Tottenham Hotspur.
Having lost their Champions League last 16, first leg at Wembley 3-0, Favre threw caution to the wind for the return at Signal Iduna Park.
For the first time this season, both Germany forward Mario Goetze and Spanish striker Paco Alcacer, normally used off the bench, started alongside playmaker and captain Marco Reus, back after missing the first leg with a thigh injury.
With Thomas Delaney on the bench, Axel Witsel is Dortmund’s sole defensive midfielder up against Spurs’ midfield duo of Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko.
Achraf Hakimi, who made a mistake in the first leg and again in Friday’s 2-1 Bundesliga defeat at Augsburg drops to Dortmund’s bench with Marius Wolf taking his place at right-back.
Spurs coach Mauricio Pochettino has stuck to a three-man defence that caused Dortmund problems in London, while England striker Harry Kane partners Son Heung-min up front.
Starting line-ups for the Champions League last 16, second leg between Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham Hotspur at Signal Iduna Park on Tuesday (kick-off 2000 GMT):
Borussia Dortmund (4-3-3)
Roman Burki; Abdou Diallo, Julian Weigl, Manuel Akanji, Marius Wolf; Mario Goezte, Axel Witsel, Marco Reus (capt); Raphael Guerreiro, Paco Alcacer, Jadon Sancho
Coach: Lucien Favre (SUI)
Tottenham Hotspur (3-4-1-2)
Hugo Lloris (capt); Toby Alderweireld, Davinson Sanchez, Jan Vertonghen; Serge Aurier, Harry Winks, Moussa Sissoko, Ben Davies; Christian Eriksen; Harry Kane, Son Heung-min
Bale has won four Champions League trophies and scored 101 goals in 218 appearances since joining Real from Tottenham for £85 million ($112 million) in 2013.
But he has failed to grab his chance to become the main man at the Bernabeu after the departure to Juventus of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Last week, the 29-year old grabbed the headlines after refusing to celebrate his winner at Levante, brushing off the congratulations of teammates.
His reaction drew only ambivalent backing from his manager and ferocious criticism in the Spanish press.
Bale’s limited integration into Spanish life has also drawn fire. He has not mastered the language and would rather watch golf on television than La Liga matches involving future opponents.
But Barnett added: “Despite what the Spanish press are reporting, he’s happy, he speaks reasonable Spanish and there is no problem between him and the rest of the Real players. The people writing these things know nothing about him.
“There has not been one single discussion about Gareth leaving Madrid. He isn’t going anywhere this summer. Despite what’s been reported, he’s content, he wants to stay at Real and they want him.”
Gareth Bale is back but returns not so much to a hero’s welcome but a Real Madrid team doing rather well without him.
When Cristiano Ronaldo left last summer, 45 days after Bale’s brilliant double in the Champions League final, the belief was they had their ready-made successor. The club’s president Florentino Perez was convinced.
It started well, with three goals in as many games, but the team shrivelled under Julen Lopetegui and Bale, like the rest of the squad, faded. Then his fitness broke down too.
There was a groin strain in October and an ankle problem in December. Both were minor but a calf injury at the start of January proved more serious and Bale was out for three weeks.
In that time, Madrid rebounded off a defeat by Real Sociedad to beat Leganes, Real Betis, Sevilla and Girona. They lost a second leg to Leganes in the Copa del Rey, but the tie was all but won.
Results were good but performances even better. Their 2-0 victory over Sevilla was probably their most complete display of the season while in last weekend’s 4-2 win against Espanyol, when Bale came on and scored, Madrid seemed to have their swagger back.
“We are showing we haven’t forgotten how to play,” said Luka Modric. “This is the Madrid we want to see.”
Chasing down Barcelona and a 10-point gap in La Liga will likely prove impossible but with the Champions League knock-out stages just around the corner, this gathering of momentum is timely.
The dilemma now for coach Santiago Solari is whether to restore his marquee players, like Bale and the fit-again Marco Asensio, or remain loyal to those that have sparked his team into life.
“Decisions are always made in the moment,” Solari said, when asked if Bale would come back in. “We will choose according to each game and take various factors into account.”
Benzema scaling new heights
Karim Benzema has been Madrid’s stand-out player this season and scaled new heights in recent weeks. He scored twice against Espanyol and then two more against Girona on Thursday in the Copa del Rey. He has five goals in his last three games, a return he last managed in January 2016.
Benzema will never get close to Ronaldo’s numbers but hopes that he might be liberated by the Portuguese’s departure are coming to fruition.
“I am sorry for those who only discovered Benzema last week,” Solari said on Thursday. “Karim has been doing this for many years, he has great talent and is a team player. Although it’s true, he’s in a great run of form.”
Close behind Benzema for impact has been Vinicius Junior, the 18-year-old Brazilian who was supposed to spend his debut season bedding in with the reserves.
Instead, Vinicius is arguably the face of Solari’s tenure so far, a youngster undaunted by expectations and taking his chance to excel. “Vinicius is football,” Solari said last month. “We are delighted with his progress.”
Most likely to give way is perhaps Lucas Vazquez, on the right of the front three, but he has a strong case too.
Madrid have won 14 of the 17 matches in which Vazquez has started under Solari, a trend seemingly not lost on the Argentinian, who has named Vazquez in 11 of his last 12 starting line-ups, the one omission due to suspension.
A glum-faced Bale was on the bench for the latest win over Girona, before coming on for 23 minutes in the second half.
It is possible Solari was preserving the Welshman, wary of pushing him too much too soon. More instructive will be whether he starts against Alaves in La Liga on Sunday, six days before a city derby away to Atletico Madrid. The pressure will be on to deliver.
By Sunday night, Real could be eight points behind Atletico, who play away at Real Betis earlier in the day, and 13 adrift of Barcelona, who are at home to Valencia on Saturday.
Barca will be chasing a ninth league win in a row but Valencia, after a miserable start, are improving. They have won four out of their last five in all competitions and have their sights set on the top four.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Huesca v Real Valladolid (2000)
Levante v Getafe (1200), Real Sociedad v Athletic Bilbao (1515), Barcelona v Valencia (1730), Celta Vigo v Sevilla (1945)
Villarreal v Espanyol (1100), Real Betis v Atletico Madrid (1515), Eibar v Girona (1730), Real Madrid v Alaves (1945)
Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari believes the calf injury that Gareth Bale sustained against Villarreal on Wednesday is not serious.
Bale will undergo tests on Saturday to diagnose the extent of the problem after being forced off at half-time at the Estadio de la Ceramica, where Real Madrid drew 2-2.
“We think the injury is not too serious,” Solari said at a press conference on Saturday. “He will go through tests today and we all hope he is back with us quickly.”
Expectations were high for Bale this season following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer but his rhythm has been disrupted by fitness issues.
He has made 22 appearances for Real this term but played 90 minutes only five times.
Bale’s absence could mean a reprieve for Isco, who has been out of favour since Solari took charge but replaced the Welshman against Villarreal.
Real Madrid host Real Sociedad in La Liga on Sunday and, speaking ahead of the game, Solari seemed positive about the prospect of Isco coming in.
“Isco is so good he can play wherever, in any position on the pitch,” Solari said.
“Sometimes it´s not all about speed. You can be effective with your creativity, imagination and technical ability. Every player has different characteristics.”
The draw against Villarreal leaves Madrid fourth in the table, seven points adrift of leaders Barcelona. Madrid have 30 points, which is the club’s lowest total after 17 games in 13 years.
Solari, however, insisted “you cannot underestimate draws”, and added: “The important thing is to keep climbing the table. To get from ninth to fourth has been difficult and we want to keep going. La Liga is long and in times of adversity, you see character.”
Marcelo has been among those criticised, with the defender at fault for Villarreal´s opening goal in midweek. He has returned after suffering a hamstring injury in October.
“Marcelo has had a very difficult injury and it has not been easy for him,” Solari said.
“He is getting his rhythm back and he is a fundamental player for the team and the club. Over a season you can have good and bad games, but we must look after Marcelo.”
As well as Bale, Marco Asensio, Marcos Llorente and Mariano Diaz are all recovering from injuries and expected to miss the game on Sunday.
Wales lost 1-0 to Albania in a friendly in Elbasan on Tuesday as Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale was restricted to a second-half cameo as a substitute.
The only goal of the game came as Bekim Balaj converted from the penalty spot after 58 minutes as Derby winger Harry Wilson brought down Taulant Xhaka — brother of Arsenal and Switzerland midfielder Granit — in the box.
Bale came onto the field as did Arsenal playmaker Aaron Ramsey shortly after as coach Ryan Giggs attempted to avoid a surprising defeat to the team ranked 60th in the world but it was to no avail.
In a frustrating evening for the visitors, Bale was shown a yellow card after 83 minutes for a needless tackle on Xhaka.
The best chance for Giggs’s outfit fell to Burnley forward Sam Vokes whose weak effort from five yards out was parried away easily by Albanian goalkeeper Etrit Berisha during stoppage time in the first half.
Defender Chris Gunter captained Wales to became his country’s most-capped male footballer of all time, surpassing former Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall on 93 appearances.
The result was Wales’ second straight loss after being beaten 2-1 to Denmark in the Nations League on Friday.
“It will hurt for a while because we don’t like to lose back-to-back games so it’s disappointing and we’ll take a few days to get over it,” Gunter told television channel S4C.
“I said before the game it wasn’t about myself, it was about the team coming here and putting on a good performance and a good result to end the year which is disappointing,” he added.
“Bale es fantastico”, Real Madrid´s interim coach Santiago Solari said, but still took him off in the 71st minute against Real Valladolid on Saturday.
Madrid were drifting towards a 0-0 draw at their Santiago Bernabeu home and, searching for inspiration, it was Bale´s number 11 that came up.
He departed to whistles from the fans even if Solari, perhaps deliberately, spared him being replaced directly by Vinicius Junior.
Nevertheless, the 18-year-old came on two minutes later and made the difference, his shot deflecting in to give Madrid the lead.
“Another day, Gareth will score,” Solari said. “And everyone will celebrate.”
But those quickest to criticise Bale are circling again ahead of the trip to Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Support for Vinicius has been intense and Bale is seen as the one standing in the way. “Vinicius puts Bale in trouble,” read the front page of AS on Monday.
One week into his still-temporary tenure at Real, Solari is confronting the familiar problem of how to get the best out of Bale, now the team´s most potent threat.
This season, free of both injury and Cristiano Ronaldo, he started well, posting four goals and two assists from his first six games.
But an adductor problem last month, combined with the team´s crash under Julen Lopetegui, disrupted his rhythm. He has returned but is still not fully fit. His performances have lacked edge.
Still, the number of times Bale has been substituted has been a surprise, not least because his withdrawals have often come in the moments when Madrid should need him most.
In his last nine matches, Bale has been taken off seven times, five of those when his team were chasing a goal. Once, with the game at 0-0 against Atletico Madrid, he was replaced due to injury. The other four – while level with Athletic Bilbao and Valladolid, and trailing Barcelona and Alaves – the reasoning was less obvious.
Those calling for Vinicius to take Bale´s spot perhaps overlook the Welshman´s 24 goals in 41 appearances last season. Two of them won Real Madrid the Champions League final in May.
Vinicius, signed from Flamengo for 45 million euros in the summer, is a precocious talent but he has fewer appearances for Real in his career than Bale has goals since August.
“Footballers cannot fight against what goes on around them,” Solari said. “The media, the fans, they are excited about Vinicius and that is fantastic, but his virtues are as evident as his weaknesses and his age. He has had almost no time to mature.”
If Solari believes the excitement around the teenager is worth harnessing, perhaps the Brazilian could slot into a front three alongside Bale, rather than instead of him.
Benzema´s early form has also dipped but he plays the role of an attacking pivot as well as anyone. Marco Asensio, who started against Valladolid, has been quiet while Isco is still regaining fitness after appendix surgery.
Finding the right combination, and extracting more from Bale, is likely to be top of Solari´s priorities.
Discounting the Copa del Rey win over Melilla, who play in Spain´s third tier, four of Madrid´s last five goals have come from their left-back, central defender and an own-goal. “It’s a very bad patch we’ve gone through,” said Sergio Ramos on Saturday.
Club president Florentino Perez could yet be tempted into the transfer market in January, particularly after UEFA abolished their rule on players being cup-tied in European competitions. Harry Kane, Robert Lewandowski or Eden Hazard are no longer restricted like before.
But for Solari, the time is now. Beat Plzen on Wednesday and even a draw away to Celta Vigo this weekend might earn him the job until the end of the season.
A lack of alternatives means Perez would do well to look again in the summer, as long as Solari can keep them ticking over in the meantime. To do it, he will need goals, and Bale.