MADRID (AFP) - Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti has backed Gareth Bale to come good despite another insipid performance from the Welshman in the 2-1 defeat by Barcelona on Saturday night.
Bale was handed just his second start since joining Los Blancos for 91 million euros (S$155.3 million) last month, but failed to make an impact on the game before being replaced by Karim Benzema after an hour.
The 24-year-old occupied a variety of positions across the frontline during his time on the field, but Ancelotti explained that his starting position in the centre of the pitch was merely a defensive tactic to pressure Sergio Busquets before moving into wide areas when Madrid had the ball.
"They are his first games and he needs to learn the combinations with the other players.
"He played a good game, he worked hard for the team."
"He didn't change positions from the wing to the centre a lot. He just looked to pressure Busquets when they had the ball and then play on the wing where there was more space."
Goals either side of half-time from Neymar and Alexis Sanchez were enough to hand Barca victory as Jese Rodriguez's reply for Madrid in stoppage time was merely a late consolation.
However, Ancelotti was convinced his side should have been awarded a penalty with the score at 1-0 when Cristiano Ronaldo appeared to have been caught by Javier Mascherano inside the area.
"Naturally the penalty seems very clear to me. Everyone has seen it apart from the referee who didn't," he said.
"The second-half was very good. We pressured more and played more. We controlled the game and had good opportunities to score." Ancelotti did, though, play down suggestions that Madrid could also have been awarded a penalty in the first-half for a handball against Adriano, who was already on a yellow card at the time.
"That decision is much more difficult. It was very fast and at that stage of the game it is a difficult decision to make as if he gives the penalty there may be a card as well." Barca boss Gerardo Martino refused to get involved in the debate over the performance of the referee, but hailed his side's display in the first half as a throwback to the wonderful football they produced at times under Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova.
"I think generally the whole team produced a great performance in the first half.
"That was the Barca we are used to seeing, but afterwards it wasn't the same and we had to make changes.
"During 20 minutes in the second half I could see that we were too deep and giving the initiative to Madrid. We made changes to modify this and after that we counter-attacked better and had more control in the final 15 minutes." Even in the first period. however, Lionel Messi wasn't able to dictate his usual influence on the game as he started wide on the right.
"His performance was like the rest of the team, he started very well and then dipped a bit. Apart from the defence and the great game that (Victor) Valdes played, I would evaluate everyone else as a collective.
"Messi has played many times where he played today. He worked very hard and I would give him great credit. If he, like the other big players, is able to do this then things will go well." Victory moves Barca six points ahead of Madrid, but Martino is wary of talking up his side's advantage with just 10 games of the season gone.
"It counts more for our confidence than mathematically. There is still 70 per cent of the league to go, both Madrid and Atletico are still close and they can make up that gap."