Real lefty Bale can silence critics against Valencia

Gareth Bale’s troubled second season at Real Madrid hit a fresh low with a poor performance in Tuesday’s Champions League defeat at Juventus but the Wales winger has a chance to silence his critics in Saturday’s La Liga clash at home to Valencia.

Bale, making his first start in Turin after a brief injury layoff, has been whistled by some disgruntled Real fans at the Bernabeu this term, a startling turnaround for a player who scored crucial goals in the finals of the Champions League and the King’s Cup in 2013-14.

That kind of return was why Real broke the transfer record to lure the 25-year-old from Tottenham Hotspur but he has struggled to live up to expectations as the world’s richest club by income chase a record-extending 11th European crown and seek to haul in La Liga leaders Barcelona.

Eliminated from the King’s Cup by city rivals Atletico in January, Real lost the Champions League semifinal, first leg at Juve 2-1 and are two points behind Barca, who host Real Sociedad on Saturday, in second in La Liga with three matches left.

Bale barely made an impact against Juve before being substituted near the end and had a mere 14 touches in the first half, six fewer than Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

To be sure, his statistics are similar to those from last season, with 17 goals and 10 assists in 45 matches in 2014-15 compared to 22 goals and 12 assists in 44 games last term.

However, the perception remains that he is not performing well enough and he has been criticised for being too selfish in front of goal and not contributing enough in defence.

Real coach Carlo Ancelotti has staunchly defended Bale and did so again after the Juve defeat.

“I took him off because he was tired and was coming back from an injury,” Ancelotti told reporters.

“He is too important for us and when a player is tired there is a risk of injury and I prefer to avoid problems,” added the Italian.

While Real’s season has hit rough waters, treble-chasing Barca are flying and go into Saturday’s game against Sociedad following Wednesday’s superb 3-0 Champions League win at home to Bayern Munich.

Luis Enrique’s side, through to this month’s King’s Cup final to face Athletic Bilbao, have scored 23 goals without reply in their last six outings in all competitions. (Reporting by Iain Rogers Editing by John O’Brien)