Back with a bang! Bale shows Madrid just what they've been missing

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Since Gareth Bale limped off with an ankle injury in November away to Sporting in the Champions League, Real Madrid have kept winning to stay on top of La Liga and remain on form in Europe. But, on Saturday, he showed the team just what they have been missing.

The 27-year-old has worked incredibly hard to return to action as quickly as possible and after missing the game against Napoli at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday, he was back on the bench for the Primera Division clash at home to Espanyol.

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With 70 minutes gone, he replaced goalscorer Alvaro Morata amid big cheers from the Real Madrid fans. Despite the team's good form in his absence, those supporters had felt Bale's absence. And he soon showed them all just why he is so important.

His first few touches were straightforward passes as he seemed reluctant to run down the wing, but that soon changed as he raced onto an intelligent ball from Isco - who had also set up Morata for Madrid's opening goal - advanced into the area and beat Diego Lopez with an acute angled shot.

Alvaro Morata Isco Alarcon Real Madrid Espanyol LaLiga

It had taken him just 13 minutes to make his mark and his return to action is a timely boost for Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid with important fixtures ahead in La Liga and the Champions League. It was a lovely goal, too.

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Madrid have a wealth of options available and, with Karim Benzema rested on Saturday, Morata took his chance with a typically tenacious performance full of fight and running - and topped off by a well-deserved goal.

In Bale's place, the ever-reliable Lucas Vazquez started against his former club and did well, while Zidane can also call upon Marco Asensio, James Rodriguez or others in the attacking positions.

It is an embarrassment of riches and may be the strongest squad in the history of this club, but Bale offers something unique and he can make the difference at the very highest level.

Isco Alarcon Real Madrid Espanyol LaLiga

David Lopez Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid Espanyol LaLiga

Recently usurped by Paul Pogba as the world's most expensive footballer, the ex-Tottenham midfielder scored in the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals to help Madrid claim trophies at the end of his first season. And he impressed again as Real lifted the European trophy again last term.

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That is what he was bought to do and for all Madrid's magnificence in this match against Espanyol, which featured an outrageous nutmeg by Cristiano Ronaldo and some sublime skills from Isco, the Blancos had been unable to kill off the game until Bale's finish.

Interestingly, it was on the left where the Welshman featured - a position which many believe is his best, but one usually reserved for Ronaldo. That's because the Portuguese had moved inside following the departure of Morata, with Lucas on the right.

But wherever he plays, Bale is an asset to this team and, even though Madrid have consolidated their position at the top of La Liga and sealed a positive result at home to Napoli on Wednesday without him, his return gives the team a huge boost in the search for the major prizes later on in this season.