Gareth Bale should not shoulder the blame for Real Madrid's Champions League semi-final first-leg defeat at Juventus, according to Sky Sports' Spanish football expert Guillem Balague.
The defending European champions slumped to a 2-1 defeat at the Juventus Stadium as goals from Alvaro Morata and Carlos Tevez – either side of Cristiano Ronaldo’s equaliser – handed the Serie A champions the advantage ahead of next week’s second leg.
Bale has drawn criticism from the Spanish press following the defeat in Turin - but Balague feels that would be better levelled at manager Carlo Ancelotti, who sought to address the absence of Luka Modric by deploying Sergio Ramos in midfield.
“Bale wasn’t at his best, but he certainly wasn’t the only one,” Balague told Sky Sports News HQ. “A lot of commentators in Spain have said this was a very bad Real Madrid performance.
“It certainly wasn’t the best, but you could see it coming. The absence of Modric is just a huge blow for Real Madrid and they haven’t been able to replace him.
“Sergio Ramos in midfield is not the solution and I just don’t understand that. He did well against Atletico Madrid but they didn’t need to attack, against Juventus they did.
“Sergio Ramos is not a midfielder. Why not play him in Kroos’ position in a more defensive role and allow Kroos to adopt the free role he has played for most of his career.
“I’m not sure he will repeat the Sergio Ramos ‘experiment’ again.”
Bale returned to the starting line-up for the first time since picking up a calf injury against Malaga in April and was used in an unfamiliar role alongside Ronaldo up front.
Sergio Ramos in midfield is not the solution to Modric's absence, he is not a midfielder. He did well against Atletico Madrid but they didn’t need to attack, against Juventus they did. I’m not sure he will repeat the Sergio Ramos ‘experiment’ again.
The Welshman produced an abject performance by his usual high standards, recording the second-fewest passes by any player and having the least amount of touches by any Real Madrid player.
Balague believes Bale was the victim of a lack of match sharpness, although he questioned Ancelotti’s decision to keep him on the field until the 86th minute.
“Bale was missing and that is something that has been pointed out by the media. He’s just come back injury but he didn’t appear in the whole game,” he added.
“It’s quite clear that Bale is not physically sharp. For Gareth Bale to be at his best he has got to be physically sharp.
“He played as a centre-forward next to Ronaldo, who has become more of a No 9 than ever. Gareth Bale didn’t seem that comfortable in that position.
“If that was the case, though, why did Ancelotti keep him on the pitch for so long? Why was Isco sacrificed and why wasn’t Jese Rodriguez brought on earlier.
“When Chicharito came on, Real started playing with three forwards and there was less defensive sacrifice from the forwards, this gave the game to Juventus – that was another mistake from Ancelotti.
“Finally Bale was brought off for Jese who only had five minutes to make an impact, certainly not enough time.”
When asked why he chose to leave Bale on the field for the majority of the game, Ancelotti said: “Bale was tired, he’s just come back from an injury and he’s too important for us.”