MADRID (Reuters) – Real Madrid striker Gareth Bale missed a rampant attacking display against Malmo but coach Rafa Benitez reaffirmed that he is a vital player for the team as they prepare for a tough La Liga clash against Villarreal on Sunday.
The Welshman has struggled for form and fitness this season and he was rested for the 8-0 destruction of Malmo on Tuesday which matched the biggest ever Champions League group stage win. That was when Benitez’s Liverpool beat Besiktas in 2007.
Bale has only scored four goals and while he has suffered two injuries, doubts remain over his link-up play and understanding with his team mates.
Benitez granted his wish to play through the middle of the pitch where he has performed effectively for Wales, but with little impact and he has recently moved to the left wing where he has been involved more.
“He is a fundamental player for us in attack as are all three,” Benitez told a news conference on Saturday, referring also to Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
“Bale is very dangerous and as well as scoring goals he has also been providing assists. He helps the team to function. There is the debate about him and where best he plays but he is working hard to help the team.”
Aside from their disqualification from the King’s Cup for fielding an ineligible player, Real have bounced back well following their hammering by Barcelona last month when criticism was heaped on Benitez.
Real have won their last five matches in all competitions, including two in La Liga, and have moved to within four points of Barca who dropped two in a draw at Valencia last weekend.
The experienced coach believes the clash with fifth-placed Villarreal will be a good indication of how well the team is now playing.
“The team has responded after the Clasico, scoring goals and setting records. It is always difficult against Villarreal and I think this match can be a touchstone for us,” Benitez said.
“I have a good relationship with the players. With the daily work we are all getting to know each other better and adapting.
“The recent results has given more confidence and the team is doing well in training. Villarreal are a well organised side and the aim is to pick up the three points and then see where the teams are around us in the table.”
(Reporting by Tim Hanlon in Barcelona, editing by Ed Osmond)