Gareth Bale cameo wins back some hearts as Real Madrid come out on top

Gareth Bale came on, got whistled and helped make a goal, in that order. There was no forgiveness, although some of the anger slowly subsided, but there was football – and that is something.

The Welshman made his first appearance for Real Madrid for seven weeks, five days after provoking fury by celebrating his country’s qualification for Euro 2020 behind a banner that read “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order”, and did so with a reminder that he still has a part to play. He might prefer golf, as the joke goes, but he’s better at football.

Introduced with just over 20 minutes to go, Bale helped create the third goal and finally secure victory for Real Madrid. He came on to whistles and they continued with every touch, albeit with ever decreasing intensity. Eventually, there was even some applause, as he almost scored a late fourth at the end of an enjoyable game that keeps Madrid level at the top of La Liga.

Real Sociedad were a goal up inside two minutes, and it was a gift. Sergio Ramos turned and, blind, played the ball back towards Thibaut Courtois. Instead of it reaching the goalkeeper, it found Willian José, lurking by the six-yard box, and he stepped past Courtois and scored.

In those opening minutes, the best Real Madrid player on the field was Martin Odegaard – on loan to the visitors – and he had a wonderful opportunity to put his side 2-0 up but for once his touch was poor, although his scuffed shot did find Willian José who should have scored from close range. It was also Odegaard who then drew a sharp save from Courtois after another slick move from deep.

But the home side grew, and took a step up. Fede Valverde has given a dynamism to Madrid’s midfield that it badly needed and he helped pull them back into this match. Luka Modric ended up playing a part in all three Madrid goals before being withdrawn to an ovation. And then there was Eden Hazard, in shape now, starting to look like the man Madrid signed.

On 36 minutes a curled free-kick from the right, delivered by Modric, found Karim Benzema, who scored – with his chest. And if Sociedad had led within two minutes of the start of the first half, Madrid were just as quick in the second. Modric controlled a difficult ball, falling from high, and dropped it off for Valverde, whose shot deflected off Mikel Oyarzabal, changed direction and flew into the net. Madrid had the lead, but this was not over yet.

At one end, Rodrygo’s weak header failed to trouble Álex Remiro; at the other, neither did Odegaard’s shot worry Courtois. From the position he was in, alone by the penalty spot, and given how well he was playing, it should have done.

Next, Hazard shot into Remiro’s arms. Then Willian José failed to get a good connection barely six yards out. At that very same moment, Bale was heading to the touchline, ready to come on. The Bernabéu whistled long and loud. The referee, meanwhile, did not when, just then, Odegaard appealed for a penalty after Ramos handled.

Bale came on. The overwhelming majority let their feelings be known. His first touch was whistled, his second even more loudly. And they whistled him again when he escaped up the right and looped a cross to the far post for Benzema to head down for Modric to score the third. As Benzema and Modric celebrated, Valverde and Casemiro headed to Bale, embraced him and brought him across to join the rest.

With every touch now, the whistles were quieter. Adnan Januzaj escaped Ramos and hit the side-netting before Courtois made a superb save from Alexander Isak, but this game was won. For Bale, though, there was time for more. He flashed a ball across the six-yard box with five minutes to go and then almost scored in the very last minute, drawing applause. It was timid, but it was a start.


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