The evening was about Cristiano Ronaldo and making a push to help him win the Ballon d’Or, although it looks like FIFA are doing their most to make that happen anyhow. Instead, it was about Gareth Bale showing just how good he can be even without the other Real Madrid superstar, while Alvaro Arbeloa provided a rare inspiration from the back, especially after Sergio Ramos extended his impressive record of red cards.
The most sent off player in Real Madrid history, although this time it was a soft one. Still a foul that denied a clear goal opportunity, and there weren’t too many complaints on the field unlike most Real Madrid matches, and yet it was quite the easy fall for Umut Bulut, who also scored an equalizer a minute after Gareth Bale put Real Madrid in front with a stunning free kick from 35 meters.
The end? It didn’t matter. Real Madrid won 4-1 because for teams that thrive on counter attacking, getting a man sent off isn’t the end of the world. Similar to a lot of matches played against Turkish teams in Istanbul, Real Madrid simply gave up on possession and focused on what they do best – use the speed of players like Angel di Maria and Gareth Bale to easily dispatch an opponent that suddenly finds itself, shockingly, feeling like the dominant team at the Santiago Bernabeu.
How will this work against other teams in Spain? Gareth Bale might not be Cristiano Ronaldo, but he offers the same threat of scoring from almost every distance and being almost impossible to stop if he’s given ample space to work with on the wing. Angel di Maria showed that time on the bench hasn’t hurt his skills, showing the usual vision and effective dribbling we’re used to seeing from him.
The surprising factor in all of this had to be Arbeloa, someone who always seems to be on the verge of losing his job at the club. A tad too clumsy as a defender at times, losing focus when he shouldn’t, not to mention always been the least technically gifted player on the pitch, his resilience and determination were much more of an asset than usual, scoring a goal and even adding an assist, something that’s never happened to him in the same match before.
The worry of somehow getting tangled up in final matchday calculations has passed. Real Madrid will get another chance to use Jese, Alvaro Morata, Casmeiro and Nacho in the lineup when they face FC Copenhagen in Denmark in a meaningless match to them, while Juventus and Galatasaray play in Turkey for the final ticket to the next stage. Real Madrid are in their “cope with Ronaldo” stage of the season, but Gareth Bale has done nothing but prove again and again over the last month or so, or to be more accurate ever since the clasico, that he’s not having any problem being just as dominant for his new team as he was for his previous club in London.