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La Liga: How Bale, Benzema & Asensio are thriving without Ronaldo
Alex Wrigley
Alex Wrigley
September 12, 2018
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Content Editor at Free Super Tips, Alex was born in the shadow of Old Trafford and is an avid Man Utd fan. After graduating from university he combined his love of football, writing and betting to join FST and now closely follows goings-on in all of the top European leagues.

Julen Lopetegui is currently dealing with the somewhat unenviable task of trying to make Real Madrid better despite relatively few summer arrivals and the departure of their undisputed superstar. However the opening few weeks of the season in La Liga have clearly demonstrated that there are actually quite a few silver linings to the exit of Cristiano Ronaldo and just maybe the club’s decision to cash in on their star asset for a huge fee at the age of 33 was the right one.

Zinedine Zidane’s team, certainly towards the end of his reign became increasingly one that was built to serve Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese international’s evolution from the best winger in world football into arguably the best number nine was one that Zidane was happy to ride with and one that in Europe at least was ultimately proved right even though it did force Real’s other attacking players to adapt their game and even play out of position to accommodate it.

However with Ronaldo now plying his trade in Italy, the other attacking stars that Los Blancos have at their disposal have so far risen to the plate and appear to be relishing the increased responsibility that is now on their shoulders. While it is still early days in the season, the initial signs are that Real Madrid are in for a very strong campaign and still boast more than enough firepower to tear apart the majority of sides in La Liga.

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Benzema enjoying life back as a ‘number 9’

Karim Benzema, Real’s long-serving main-stay up front was forced into an increasingly selfless, team role under Zidane that was as much focused on creating space and openings for Ronaldo as it was getting himself into a position to score goals. That goes a long way to explaining why Benzema finished last season with twice as many assists as goals in La Liga.

His goal return of just 5 was widely criticised and his relationship with the ever demanding Bernabeu public hit new lows at times last season. He has always been the kind of player that divides opinion though and his admirers will point to his ability to totally transform his game and play as more of a support striker as a sign of his true class and intelligence as a footballer.

However unquestionably he is more familiar and comfortable playing as a traditional number nine and Ronaldo’s departure has allowed him to return to that slot. The results are already clear with Benzema having chalked up four league goals this season only three games in. Many thought Benzema’s days in the Spanish capital might have been numbered but Real’s failure to land a top striker this summer now gives him the chance to reclaim his status as Los Blancos’ go-to man for goals and we might just be witnessing the start of Benzema’s most prolific season certainly since 2015-16 when he scored 28 times in all competitions.

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Bale’s Patience pays off

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While he may never publicly admit it, Gareth Bale would have been delighted to see Zinedine Zidane leave the Bernabeu. Despite flashes of brilliance, Bale couldn’t even get in Real Madrid’s starting eleven during the latter days of the Frenchman’s reign but despite the constant speculation linking him with a move back to England, his determination to stay put has finally paid off and he is by far the biggest beneficiary of Ronaldo’s move to Turin.

The move to a 4-3-3 makes Bale the natural first-choice pick on either flank and suddenly Bale is no longer a fringe player but the man most likely to make something happen when Real need it. Released from Ronaldo’s shadow, the shackles are now finally off and if Bale can remain injury-free, there is no reason why he can’t elevate himself to a status where he is the star of this team and a genuine Ballon D’Or contender.

There was always a sense that he was signed with a view to being the heir to Ronaldo’s throne. Injuries combined with the Portuguese international’s ability to stay at the very peak of his game several years into his 30’s has delayed that process considerably but finally now the opportunity has arisen for Bale to put a couple of frustrating years behind him. He has now scored in 7 consecutive league appearances and looks well capable of surpassing 20 goals in La Liga for the first time.

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Asensio Starring for Club and Country

With one fewer world class player to compete with and a system that better accommodates wingers, Marco Asensio is another man who is now finally likely to see regular action at the Bernabeu. Julen Lopetegui knows him well from his days with the Spanish set-up and Asensio is another key piece of the post-Ronaldo Real Madrid jigsaw. He brings many things to the table and as the baton passes on to the next generation, he is set to have a huge role to play for both club and country over the coming years.

He will still have to fight for his place. There is a debate over whether Lopetegui will start both Isco and Marco Asensio or whether they will ultimately end up battling for one place as the likes of Luka Modric get up to full fitness following on from the World Cup. However there is now at least a window of opportunity for the likes of Asensio under this new regime and there’s now a real sense that if his performances are good enough, he can play himself into Real Madrid’s preferred first XI.

If he can perform like he did on Tuesday night for Spain on a regular basis, then he will be almost impossible to leave out. Asensio had a hand to play in an incredible 5 of Spain’s 6 goals at they routed Croatia in Elche. He added to his First Half goal with a passing masterclass after the break, with assists from the 22 year old leading to Spain’s 4th, 5th and 6th goals. His emergence is timely as Spain deal with the retirements of the likes of Andres Iniesta and David Silva and a greater level of consistency is perhaps all he is lacking.

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