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.
|BRILLIANT BALE IN THE BIG HOUSE
|FROM OUR LIVE COMMENTARY|
|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.|
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
Bale's recent form should be enough to help him stay in the spotlight – at least for now. He's ready for his homecoming.