Real Madrid's Welsh striker hoping for success on his return to England for tonight's semi-final first leg against Manchester City
Madrid: In the midst of his best form since joining Real Madrid, Gareth Bale is desperate to end Manchester City’s Champions League dream in the first leg of their semi-final today.
Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale in action during the La Liga match against Sevilla at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan last year in Spain. pic/Getty Images
Without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale led Madrid back from a 2-0 deficit with a double in a hard-fought 3-2 win at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday to keep Real just a point adrift of La Liga leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. Bale was lauded as “phenomenal” by coach Zinedine Zidane with his performances in recent months living up to the world record price tag that Madrid paid Tottenham Hotspur for his services three years ago.
Madrid’s history in the competition and star power make them the bookies’ favourites to reach a 14th European Cup final.
However, with City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan having spent an estimated £800 million ($1.2 billion) on transfer fees in the past decade, Bale refused to accept City are underdogs. “The most important thing is to get the victory,” he added.
“When you go into big games against big teams like that, no one is ever really the favourite. You have to work hard and play really well to win. We are going to go in now with confidence. We’re looking forward to it, I’m excited.”
Ronaldo is expected to be fit and will receive a hostile reception at the Etihad Stadium after winning three Premier League titles and a Champions League during six years at Manchester United. However, Karim Benzema is a serious doubt after limping off with a knee injury before half-time at Rayo.
City’s 28-goal Argentine striker Sergio Aguero will also be facing a familiar foe having spent five years with Atletico Madrid. And Real defender Raphael Varane stressed the importance of not allowing Aguero the space to shine.
“He’s a great player. We have to pay extra attention to him,” said the French international. “He’s decisive and fundamental for City. We have to keep a close eye on him. We know his qualities, I think we must not leave him any spaces and be on our guard to stop him.” Bale’s admiration for the English game remains and he is keen to make an impact in his first match on English soil . “I always loved playing in the Premier League, I still watch it and it will be great to go back,” said Bale. — PA Sport