Ronaldo returns for Manchester United reunion but Bale shines brightest for laboured Real Madrid

The Portugal international got back into action against his former club but it was the Wales star who impressed the most ahead of the Uefa Super Cup clash in Cardiff
By Alex Moretto in Ann Arbor

Since his winning goal for Real Madrid in last season's Champions League final, Gareth Bale has not missed a beat. Cristiano Ronaldo's injury had Portugal in disarray during the World Cup and ensured plenty of sleepless nights for Carlo Ancelotti, but it has been a blessing in disguise for the Welshman, who has made the most of his time in the spotlight.


48' Bale is having all sorts of fun up against Keane in the Red Devils defence. He slips past him and provides a cut back to Isco, who shapes himself for a shot but allows enough time for de Gea to make the save.
Along with the Portugal international, Madrid's usual star-studded attack has been without Karim Benzema, Angel Di Maria and new signings James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos for the duration of their North American tour. But, unlike last summer, Bale has been able to flourish.

Until Ronaldo's introduction to the match with 20 minutes to play - a surprise substitution that sent the nearly 110,000 fans in attendance into hysteria - Bale had taken up the mantle of attacking inspiration-in-chief for the Spanish giants. And even though Ronaldomania returned, it could do nothing to dampen the 23-year-old's performance.

He continues to be the centre of attack for Madrid throughout a largely disappointing pre-season – and he certainly seems to be enjoying his time in the spotlight. He has both his team's goals on this North American tour, emerging as a true spearhead for his side, rather than an able lieutenant to Ronaldo.

He certainly needed this. While results may not have gone in Madrid's favour in pre-season, Bale has taken preparations seriously, determined to make amends for the sluggish start to 2013-14 which came about after he missed the entirety of the summer warm-up. His thunderbolt against Inter was followed up by a penalty against United, which he won and dispatched with supreme confidence. A 30-yard free kick in the second half was the width of a post away from flying in the bottom corner, and David de Gea was forced to repel his stunning bicycle kick.

"My adaptation last year was hard because I had no pre-season. This season I feel I am training well," he said in California earlier this week.

"I want to improve every season: give more assists, score more goals. I want to improve everything."

He may well manage just that. Bale notched 22 goals and 19 assists in all competitions last season; with a full pre-season under his belt, he could come close to doubling those numbers. His confidence and swagger appear to be at an all-time high, and he looks to be in mid-season form – just in time for the Uefa Super Cup in his hometown, Cardiff.

"My adaptation last year was hard because I had no pre-season. I want to improve everything."

- Gareth Bale
The chance to lift a trophy on home soil has come at the perfect time for Bale. The rest of the squad will be back with the team by then, but the Wales star has a head-start on many of his team-mates in terms of fitness and is almost certain to be handed a start against Sevilla - whether or not Ronaldo is fully fit, or James Rodriguez ready to make his bow.

Bale's recent form should be enough to help him stay in the spotlight – at least for now. He's ready for his homecoming.