Madrid - Real Madrid head into Saturday's blockbuster clash
with Barcelona on the verge of crisis and in need of the world's two most
expensive players, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, to prove their worth.
Madrid trail Barcelona by three points at the top of La Liga
as their "Galacticos" have failed to fire, while Barca have hardly
skipped a beat despite losing four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi
to injury for the past two months.
When Madrid president Florentino Perez added Bale to a
star-studded squad over two years ago, the Welshman and Ronaldo were supposed
to form an unstoppable partnership.
Yet, since scoring in the Copa del Rey and Champions League
finals in his debut season, Bale has endured a frustrating 18 months due to
injuries, a lack of form and even Madrid's own demanding support turning on
When Rafael Benitez was appointed to replace the sacked
Carlo Ancelotti amid much uproar from Madrid's players and fans in June, he was
given one specific task -- to get the best out of Bale.
Also read: Ronaldo opens up on Messi, family life in new film
Yet, despite a promising start to the campaign in a new
central role, a persistent calf injury has restricted Bale to just seven
appearances in Madrid's 15 games this season.
Moreover, Benitez's men have tended to be better off without
Bale, winning six and drawing twice in the games he didn't feature compared to
four wins, two draws and a defeat when he has.
Bale still has credit in the bank with Perez and, by proxy,
Benitez. However, he was consistently booed by Madrid's fans towards the end of
last season and is likely to endure similar treatment on Saturday if he doesn't
produce his best display in quite some time.
- Ronaldo future in doubt? -
By contrast, Ronaldo's contribution to Madrid can't be
questioned, at least until recent weeks. The Portuguese has become the club's
all-time leading scorer in just his seventh season and won the Ballon d'Or in
each of the past two seasons.
Yet, by his own remarkable standards, Ronaldo's form has
dipped this season. A return of 13 goals in 15 games would be sensational for
most players, but there has been a worrying trend of those strikes coming in
batches against weaker opposition rather than when it matters most.
Indeed, Ronaldo has failed to net in nine separate games
this season, including when Madrid have dropped points against Atletico Madrid
and Sevilla and in two Champions League clashes against Paris Saint-Germain.
His behaviour at the end of the second meeting with the
French champions drew particular ire in the Spanish press as he warmly greeted
PSG coach Laurent Blanc and president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, fuelling rumours that
he could be ready to move on from Madrid at the end of the season.
Transfer speculation has also surrounded Bale with
Manchester United believed to be keen to bring the 2012/13 Premier League
Player of the Year back to England.
Bale also isn't helped by comparison to Neymar, who Barca
bought for a similar outlay in the same summer he joined Madrid.
In the time that Messi has been on the sidelines, Neymar has
arguably been the best player in the world, taking the lead role to propel
Barca to the top of the table.
Bale has never been able to put the consistency shown by the
Brazilian together at Madrid. When he did finally return to the side from
injury last time out at Sevilla, he and Ronaldo looked like strangers as Madrid
succumbed to their first defeat of the season.
Another one on Saturday and it could be the beginning of the
end for one, if not both, of Perez's most precious men.For
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