It was somehow inevitable that Gareth Bale would score for Real Madrid against former club Tottenham in yesterday’s Audi Cup clash, with the world’s most-expensive player looking sharp ahead of the new campaign.
The Spurs fans will long for the days that the Wales international was terrorising opposition defences, while since his 2013 move to the Spanish capital, the versatile attacker has had contrasting fortunes.
A key part of Carlo Ancelotti’s side that won the fable La Décima and claimed Copa del Rey success over perennial rivals Barcelona in 2013-14, Bale scored in both finals and had an impressive first campaign at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.
Since then things have moved sideways, with a less-than ideal relationship with Ballon d’Or holder Cristiano Ronaldo last term and a section of the Spanish media and the club’s fans turning on Bale since the turn of the year.
With the Italian trainer having been replaced by Rafa Benítez over the summer, the 2015-16 campaign is an opportunity for the Welshman to prove himself once more – but the role he will play this season for Madrid remains to be seen.
Speaking after his current side’s 2-0 victory over his former employers, Bale admitted his desire to play centrally for the Spaniards and stated that he had told his new manager as much.
In the exhibition clash Benítez deployed the star as one of his strikers in a 4-4-2 formation of sorts, with Bale clearly flourishing in a number ten position that affords him much more attacking freedom and a licence to roam.
The Wales international’s blistering pace has seen him pegged as a winger in the past, but some of his most impressive performances came when he was used in a central role for Tottenham; something that is currently being replicated for his high-flying country.
Just how Bale fits into Madrid’s team next season remains to be seen, with Benítez having key selection and tactical questions to answer.
This allowed Bale and Ronaldo to interchange on the flanks, with both having a role in drifting in-field; the Welshman was almost always positioned on the right so as to allow him to cut onto his stronger foot.
In truth, if Benítez is to move to a 4-4-2 formation it could well be in an effort to get the best out of Bale, as the system does not seem ideal for the rest of the players at his disposal.
Having just two central midfielders means that one of Isco, Toni Kroos or Luka Modrić will either miss out or have to play out of position, with the former Malaga playmaker seeming the most likely.
Taking Bale off the right flank and playing him centrally also raises questions over who will perform in the wide position instead, with no obvious option available.
However, the biggest query is the potential use of Ronaldo if Bale plays as the number ten.
Keeping him on the left flank threatens to negate his considerable influence and tamper with his considerable ego, while having a central midfielder less suggests more defensive responsibilities for the Portuguese star.
Playing him as the central striker could work, but this would mean that these two big-name stars, who have clearly not always seen eye-to-eye, would have even more of an emphasis on working together.
This would also rob the side of real width, with the likes of Isco and James Rodríguez, who would both prefer to operate centrally, more than likely asked to play on the flanks.
Pre-season usually has little bearing when the competitive action rolls around and for Madridistas it will be fascinating to see the system and personnel Benítez uses against Sporting de Gijón on the first day of the La Liga season.
For Bale, although he has expressed his desire to play in the number ten role for the Spanish giants, granting him his wish would surely offset the balance and potentially isolate main man Ronaldo.