Friday, 17 July 2015

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to play backwards

It has been popular belief that Cristiano Ronaldo would finally be shifted from out on the left wing to a new role as a center forward this season, and it's not hard to see why. Current striker Karim Benzema is good but not great and has long been linked with a move away from the Bernabéu, and with Ronaldo now the wrong side of 30, it makes
sense that his knees should be given a little more rest than they once were.
However, new coach Rafael Benítez, who is generally a predictable, mechanistic tactician has caused a surprise in pre-season by experimenting with Gareth Bale as a striker instead. Of course, we can't read too much into what has been spotted on the training ground, and the Mirror report that the Spaniard also tried a much more conventional lineup with Benzema playing ahead of Ronaldo, Isco and Bale. But even so, it raises the interesting prospect of seeing a completely reshaped Real Madrid this season.
It tallies with a Daily Telegraph report from May, in which football correspondent Matt Law wrote of Benítez's plans to make Bale "untouchable" and the centerpiece of hisMerengues side, backed by president Florentino Pérez. As the man that shelled out a world record transfer fee to sign Bale from Tottenham Hotspur, it's little wonder that Pérez is keen for him to make more of a mark.
Playing Bale as a center forward would certainly be a way of putting him under the spotlight, but it remains to be seen whether it's the right way of getting the best from him. He's lightning fast and an excellent dribbler, and playing up top in a possession-oriented team could see him starved of the space he likes to break into. It would also risk alienating Ronaldo, who may be five years Bale's senior, but who comfortably remains Lionel Messi's strongest competitor for the title of best player on the planet.
One alternative -- which, according to Marca, Benítez has already tried -- is playing Bale as an attacking midfielder instead, with Ronaldo on the left, Benzema in the middle and Isco (and eventually James Rodríguez, once he returns from a post-Copa América rest) out on the right. Marca's Álvaro de la Rosa described Bale's role:
"His role as second striker came with the freedom to move to both flanks and play further forward alongside Benzema as the focal point of the attack."
Bale's certainly not a traditional, Juan Román Riquelme-style static No. 10, but Benítez's twist on this old role certainly seems more suited to Bale's attributes. He could still use his pace when he drifts out to overload the flanks, and runs through the centre of defences would maximise arguably Benzema's greatest assets -- his movement and link-up play.

It's still too early too predict how Real Madrid are going to play this season, and it's impossible to do anything other than hypothesise about their tactics may function. But if their pre-season training is showing us anything, it's that Benítez is willing to innovate in pursuit of making Bale a bigger feature of his team -- even at the risk of upsetting Ronaldo.
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