Ronaldo's wingman: Madrid & Cristiano need Bale back to win the big prizes

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The Welshman has been sidelined since late November with an ankle injury and his return will be key to Real's hopes of claiming major titles this term


It seems a long time ago now. The last time Real Madrid won the Copa del Rey was in 2014 and Gareth Bale produced the winner with a remarkable run down the wing and finish past Jose Pinto to beat Barcelona at Mestalla.

Real Madrid crash out of Copa del Rey

It was a memorable moment and the last real joy for Los Blancos in the cup competition. In 2014-15, Carlo Ancelotti's side were knocked out by Atletico in the last 16. Then there was the embarrassing exit in 2015-16 for fielding the ineligible Denis Cheryshev, and on Wednesday, Madrid's 2016-17 Copa campaign came to an end with a 4-3 aggregate loss to Celta Vigo.

Bale was absent in both legs and has been sidelined with an ankle problem since late November. Initially, Zidane's side coped wonderfully well without him as they remained unbeaten until earlier this month - 40 matches in total in all competitions.

But the injuries are piling up all over the pitch and in attack, Cristiano Ronaldo has been some way short of his best in recent weeks. Against Celta, there was nobody to drag away defenders and create spaces with genuine pace. It was the type of match made for Bale.

Celta Madrid result

Lucas Vazquez was bright in his 15-minute cameo and scored the late goal that gave Madrid brief hope of a place in the last four, but the Spain winger is not at the level of Bale, and Real will hope he is back sooner rather than later.

Zidane not panicking after cup exit

Bale is expected to start ball work in the next few days as he steps up his recovery, and Madrid believe the Welshman will be ready to face Napoli in the last 16 of the Champions League in the middle of February.

Before that, Madrid face Real Sociedad on Sunday at the Santiago Bernabeu, followed by another trip to Celta (this time in La Liga) and a home match against Osasuna.

Then comes the first leg at home to Napoli on February 15, with the return in Italy on March 7. And unless he suffers a setback, Bale should definitely be back by then.

Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid Malaga LaLiga 21012017

Gareth Bale Real Madrid Leganes La Liga

Ronaldo has 19 goals in the current campaign and his record with or without Bale in the team is fairly similar. However, the Welshman chipped in with key strikes earlier in the campaign as the Portuguese built up his fitness, and it is no coincidence that Cristiano's finest display of the season - and also Madrid's - was with the two in tandem in the 3-0 win away to Atletico.

Injury crisis starts to bite for Zidane and Madrid

It was in the following fixture, a 2-1 victory at Sporting CP in the Champions League, that Bale was injured and three months later, he is still sidelined.

"It hurts to see players like Bale out injured," Zidane said in November. "We will have to keep on track without him."

They managed that for some time and Bale himself has said that he was buoyed by Madrid's 40-match unbeaten run. However, with the team now dipping in terms of results and Ronaldo struggling to find form, his return to action cannot come soon enough.

Madrid may be in a strong position in La Liga and they will be expected to advance to the last eight of the Champions League as well, but in order to win the major prizes this term, they need Bale back and firing. And so too does Ronaldo.