What is Gareth Bale's best position for Real Madrid?
By Martin Laurence, WhoScored.com
Last Updated: 06/08/15 11:12am
Gareth Bale wants to play as Real Madrid's No 10. But what do the stats say his position is?
"It's my best position." That is Gareth Bale's assessment of his ability in a central attacking midfield role, having played as a number 10 during pre-season for Real Madrid.
After scoring against former employers Tottenham from a starting berth behind forward Jese - in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema - this week, Bale is hoping to make the spot his own in Rafa Benitez's adopted 4-2-3-1 formation.
"When I played for Tottenham, I felt I played my best football there and, when I play for Wales, I play there and play my best football. For me, that's my position and it's where I want to play", argues Bale.
It's an approach that Benitez has suggested might be trialled ahead of the upcoming 2015/16 La Liga campaign. Is it the right direction for the Welshman to go in after a difficult season last time out?
First of all it's worth contemplating the quality of competition in place at Real Madrid to assess whether Bale should be the prime candidate in a playmaker role.
Most would consider that the skill sets of James Rodriguez and Isco are better suited to a position in tight spaces behind a striker, while Bale's explosiveness and ability to cause a threat with runs both on and off the ball could be wasted in central areas.
James in particular was Madrid's creator-in-chief last season, with a team-high average of 2.7 key passes per game heralding 13 assists. Meanwhile Bale's respective figures were at 1.6 key passes per game for a return of nine assists, which was still a noteworthy tally.
The Colombian earned a rating of 7.85 from WhoScored.com, which was enough to rank second for Madrid behind Ronaldo and in advance of Bale's score of 7.66. The suggestion that Bale had a poor season is certainly a stretch, but he couldn't really build on what was an impressive debut campaign in La Liga.
Given his record transfer fee, owner Florentino Perez has tasked Benitez with getting the best out of Bale once more, and it seems a switch of position is being considered in order to reignite his career at the Bernabeu.
So is there substance to the player's claims that he is better suited to a central position?
Considering Real Madrid have tended to line up in a 4-3-3 formation during Bale's time at the club, he hasn't had the opportunity to play in a support role to a lone striker in La Liga, though he has started five matches in a centre-forward position. Bale scored once and registered two assists in said games for a rating of 7.61, but his score in matches starting from a more familiar right-sided berth remains superior.
Bale has started 42 league matches on the right side of a front three over the past two seasons, with a direct hand in 40 goals in those games (23 goals, 17 assists) for a superb rating of 7.81. It's clear then that for Madrid, his best form has come on the right flank, but Bale does have a point with regards to excelling for Spurs in a central role.
The Welshman's sensational season at White Hart Lane that earned him a move to Madrid in 2013 culminated in a role in the middle of the park, given the freedom to move across the final third to devastating effect. An average rating of 7.92 for the season from WhoScored.com was the highest of any player in the Premier League, though that figure was even higher when just accounting for starts in behind the striker.
Bale started 10 matches in an attacking midfield role towards the end of his final campaign at Tottenham, scoring eight goals - six of which came from outside the box - and registering three assists for an average rating of 8.10. It's also true that Bale has played a starring role in Wales' astronomical rise to the top 10 of FIFA's world rankings from a similar berth.
It appears, then, that Bale may have a case in his claims that a number 10 role could be his best position. However, given that James performed the better of the two last season, the South American is arguably more deserving of that spot in Benitez's system.
Nevertheless Madrid's need to get the best out of a player they broke the transfer record for may yet mean that Bale gets the nod at the start of the season, with the likes of Isco and James restricted to positions deeper or wider in the midfield.
If the former Tottenham man can recreate the form he displayed in London in a central berth, however, he may just prove worthy of that chance.
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