Gareth Bale watched the final exchanges of this breathless occasion from the bench, a physio administering treatment to both his knees after a bruising first outing as a Madridista, yet once the pain dulls this whole experience will only have whetted the Welshman's appetite for life in La Liga. A player who had felt so peripheral over much of the opening period departed Villarreal as a goalscoring debutant. The onus had been upon the world's most expensive footballer to make his mark early. Even now, the Welshman will believe he belongs.
The first appearance in Real Madrid white had stretched just beyond the hour-mark, the early uncertainty as this game by-passed him and his team-mates for long periods forgotten as a far post tap-in, converted with his right foot, restored the swagger that had so illuminated last season's Premier League.
Bale was crunching shots from distance after the break, thriving whenever he swapped positions with Cristiano Ronaldo to drift on to the left and sear beyond the home side's right-back, Mario Gaspar. The chief frustration centred more on his new side's inability to prevail against newly promoted opposition, Real's defensive shortcomings alarming and their goalkeeper, Diego López, largely responsible for preserving a point. Incorporating £166m worth of attacking talent is not the manager Carlo Ancelotti's only issue.
Yet it was the frontline that drew the focus, that lavishly assembled attacking trio playing behind the ineffective Karim Benzema, with Isco at its heart and world record transfers past and present at the Spaniard's side. Ronaldo remains this team's central character, the galáctico who claims free-kick duties and the pantomime villain pelted with bottles by rival supporters as he prepared to take corners. The Portuguese would score himself, inevitably, once Bale had departed for the bench, even if he was fortunate to see his shot canon back off Mateo Musacchio and through Sergio Asenjo's attempt to save. As it was, even a 203rd goal in as many Real games was not enough to ensure a fourth successive victory at the start of this campaign, and draws like this can feel particularly wasteful in a league when Barcelona conjure stoppage-time winners at the distant Camp Nou.
At least Bale has offered a taster of what awaits. Madrid had barely stirred when, seven minutes from the interval, Luka Modric conjured a sumptuous pass to send Daniel Carvajal to the byline and the full-back centred into the six-yard box. Bale had flitted to the left at Ronaldo's command moments earlier and, sensing his moment, burst beyond a dawdling Mario to convert as the cross fizzed beyond Asenjo. The goal was scrappy, the celebrations tinged almost with surprise, but the point had been made. The 24-year-old will prosper with this supply-line, whether he has to thrive in a relatively unfamiliar berth on the right of the attacking trio or not. His confidence will grow to justify those fluorescent yellow boots, the frantic pace of matches like this reassuringly familiar with memories still fresh from life in the Premier League. A goal on debut matches that pilfered by David Beckham, Luís Figo and Brazil's Ronaldo on their La Liga bows.
The £86m man could probably not have envisaged this going much better given his lack of match sharpness and he had not been the only visiting player to look dizzied as the dazzling yellow shirts buzzed around them through the opening half-hour. Villarreal are newly restored to the Spanish top flight, a club that had graced a Champions League semi-final seven years ago having risen again at the first attempt from the second tier and displaying ambition of their own by spending more than £6m on another former Tottenham player, Giovani dos Santos. The Mexican, once of Barcelona but rarely productively of Spurs, had been something of a revelation at Real Mallorca last season and would score his new team's second here, his shot across López squirting into the far corner to restore parity.
And yet, even with Giovani in their midst, Marcelino's starting lineup had still cost around £18m to construct with only two of the home players – the Mexican and the captain, Bruno – currently earning more than €1m on the wage bill, which made the runaround to which they subjected the most expensively assembled club side in history all the more eye-catching. Jonathan Pereira – profligacy aside – was a constant pest neither Pepe nor Sergio Ramos could properly quell, while Cani and Aquino swarmed all over a back-tracking and, at times, distinctly befuddled Real back-line.
Pereira had already twice been denied by López, one of the Villarreal side relegated two years ago, when Pepe dawdled, the striker spun and the ball squirmed loss for Cani to convert. Galatasaray, awaiting in the Champions League in midweek, will relish exploiting such weakness.
Ramos looked forlorn, his right-back Carvajal isolated and exposed on the opposite flank and Real creaking alarmingly, though Aquino's inability to convert a pair of chances just before the half-hour mark felt critical.
Within moments Bale had his equaliser and, while Nacho would miss an open goal after the break, there was an inevitability that Ronaldo would make his own presence felt. Villarreal still merited their point and will be heartened by their showing. Bale, if only privately, will have departed just as encouraged.
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