At last the day has arrived and so has Gareth Bale. After a difficult opening two months to his Real Madrid career, the world's most expensive player looks increasingly likely to start in the world's biggest club match against Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Saturday. The Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti said he thinks Bale is fit enough to start for only the second time since his £86m transfer from Tottenham.
Bale is not expected to play much more than an hour but Ancelotti is considering a three-man attack of Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di María, with Karim Benzema beginning on the bench. Ancelotti refused to reveal the team, claiming he had to see how the squad trained on Friday evening and jokily blaming the club's press officer for scheduling the press conference for before the session but he did say: "I think [he's ready]."
Ancelotti said: "It is true that he didn't have an easy time until now but he has worked hard, he used the period of the international break to improve his condition and, in my opinion and in his opinion, he is ready to play from the beginning. When he plays, he will be ready."
Bale has started only one game for Madrid, when he scored a debut goal in the draw at Villarreal. He is yet to complete 90 minutes, appearing for 125 minutes in La Liga spread over one start and two substitute appearances. He has suffered a thigh strain after a summer of relative inactivity in which he played only one of Spurs' pre-season games before joining Madrid on the penultimate day of the transfer window. Madrid also revealed he has a minor disc protrusion in his back, which Bale said had been exaggerated by the sports newspaper Marca.
Against Juventus on Wednesday night, he was on the pitch for 25 minutes, playing on the right-hand side of the attack. "He likes to play there and that is where he will play," Ancelotti said.
In Bale's absence, Di María has performed superbly. Now, Ancelotti is been contemplating a system that allows them both to start. Barcelona are likely to allow Madrid the kind of space in which they, and Bale, typically thrive.
"I am sure it will be an amazing experience," Bale told Sky Sports. "I've had a few minutes this week and I've had a good week's training as well, so I think I'm fit enough. It is up to the manager now whether I play from the start or am on the bench. I am enjoying everything about Real Madrid at the moment. Obviously, it was a bit disappointing to get the injury but that is behind me now and I just want to kick on."
"You have to be patient with him," Ronaldo said this week. "With time you will see that he's a very good player." Saturday would be the perfect time to start.