Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid: Match Report

Poor old Gareth Bale. On the night when he can only have dreamed of once again showing the football world why he is not just a pretty pay packet, he fluffed his lines in his first Clasico and departed, a frustrated, forlorn and defeated figure after just an hour of playing an anonymous bit part on the biggest stage of all.

It was not for want of trying. Bale worked his yellow boots off, constantly looking to be involved in the action but looking a bit lost and not on the same wavelength as the WelshmanÔÇÖs attacking team-mates.

All he got to treasure from his big night was the memory of a booking, a couple of hopeless balloon shots and the wholesale derision of 90,000 merciless Catalans.

Oh yes, and also the chance to watch from the bench one of the great Clasico goals, a wondrous 78th-minute run, check, feint and chip from Barcelona substitute Alexis, which sealed a fairly comprehensive triumph for the league leaders and which, with Madrid now six points behind them, seemed certain only to lead to more searching questions about BaleÔÇÖs true value.

For was this not the sort of skill shown here by Alexis, BarcelonaÔÇÖs own Galactico new boy Neymar, who opened the scoring, and the evergreen Andres Iniesta that Madrid paid a fortune to see Bale provide?

Instead, even though there appears nothing much wrong with his fitness now, he is still not delivering anything even remotely like his best.

When he trooped off, head down, Real MadridÔÇÖs manager Carlo Ancelotti, arms folded, did even not acknowledge his suffering Galactico as he walked sadly by. A lad who thrives on confidence, though, will need an arm around him soon, though, if this continues.

A late goal from Real Madrid substitute Jese – in truth, the visitors looked better once he and BaleÔÇÖs replacement, Karim Benzema, who hit the bar, were introduced – gave the scoreline a flattering look for Madrid because they were a distant second best and Bale was as poor as anyone inÔÇëÔÇëwhite.

It had been a day to feel both genuine delight but also a real frisson of trepidation for Bale because, as he was out in the warm up watching the Barca Cules gradually piling into their 90,000 seater home with the chatter of anticipation beginning to rise, he could only have been reminded that he had been plunged into a fixture accompanied by a unique intoxication and pressure.

Last season, the equivalent game was bathed in an more fevered atmosphere, with the crowd offering a unique declaration of their desire for Catalan independence. Again, a giant banner was unfurled, demanding reclamation of self-determination for Catalonia, but to be honest, this time, the general aim seemed a mite more modest; a simple desire to see their ┬ú48 million new boy Neymar outshine MadridÔÇÖs ┬ú85 million Galactico. He did, too.

Once it had been announced that the misfiring Benzema had been dropped to allow Bale to earn his first start since the opening game of the season at Villarreal last month, there was a real buzz about the Nou Camp.

The Barcelona faithful were ready for some Bale taunting, having enjoyed watching the comedy sketch on Catalan TV in which he is portrayed cruelly as bumbling Forrest Gump, asking simpleton questions about how to stop Messi.

All Madrid asked, though, was ÔÇ£Run, Gareth, Run!ÔÇØ The Madridistas had seen so much of his brilliance on television – one of the 200 travelling fans privileged enough to land a ticket was waxing lyrical on the train from Madrid about BaleÔÇÖs strike against West Ham – that they felt his moment must surely be at hand.

Alas, though, the creeping feeling that here was a man still trying almost too hard began to surface. Playing to start with at the centre of an attacking trident, with Angel di Maria maintaining his grip on the right flank and Ronaldo moving to the left, he seemed more than a little nonplussed by the role.

Starved of possession, when he got a rare chance, Bale turned and hammered a hopeful one from 25 yards, which just sailed into the back of the cavernous lower tier.

All around there were little flickers of stardust being sprinkled, particularly from the Fred Astaire feet of little Andres Iniesta. A nice pirouette and a couple of magical back flicks here and a visionary pass there, like the one that freed Messi on the right flanks and should have seen him cut in and score a record-breaking 19th Clasico goal. Instead, he curled it fractionally wide.

By that time, though, Barca already seemed completely in the ascendancy and it was BaleÔÇÖs opposite No 11, Neymar, who delivered the first telling moment, latching on to IniestaÔÇÖs pass on the left edge of the box and, with his right foot, curling it, via CarvajalÔÇÖs deflection, into the far corner for his third La Liga goal.Barcelona looked dangerous each time they attacked, which was increasingly often, even if the use of Cesc Fabregas as a false nine and of Messi and Neymar working their magic largely from the flanks, did not make for the most comfortable looking attacking systems.

In contrast to MadridÔÇÖs front trio, though, who appeared almost as strangers, they were positively coherent. When Bale, having switched from left and then to the right where Ancelotti believes he is most happy, cut in and had another crack from distance, it was even higher and less handsome than the first effort.

It could not get much worse for him but it did. On the stroke of half-time, a raised foot on Gerard Pique resulted in a booking, which looked harsh. Ah well, at least it was not for diving.

In the second half, as Madrid started to come alive, Bale was a peripheral figure, trying to look desperately as if he belonged among this £800 million worth of talent. Better days must come but, when Ancelotti called time on his big night, it felt like an act of mercy.