MADRID • Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane labelled Gareth Bale's display as "phenomenal" as the Welshman struck twice to inspire a Madrid fightback from two goals down to win 3-2 at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.
With top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo missing his first league game of the season with a muscle strain, Bale took responsibility for keeping Real's title hopes alive, but not before Rayo went 2-0 up inside 15 minutes thanks to goals from Adrian Embarba and Miku.
A towering header from Bale brought Madrid back into the game and he fittingly struck the winner nine minutes from time after Lucas Vazquez equalised after the break.
"He is very happy to make the difference," Zidane said of Bale. "When we needed him he was phenomenal.
"He scored two, but even without speaking about the goals, he played very well."
Bale's double took his tally to 18 in just 21 La Liga appearances despite an injury-disrupted campaign. Zidane is hopeful of more Bale magic on his first return to England since joining Madrid from Tottenham when Real travel to face Manchester City in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tomorrow.
"I'm happy because he needed a bit of time and now he's in good shape," said the Frenchman. "Now he must rest up and start thinking about Tuesday. We needed him today and he performed really well."
Madrid will need him again against City, even if Zidane is hopeful of having both Karim Benzema and Ronaldo fit. Striker Benzema limped off just before half-time with a knee problem and will have his fitness assessed.
Should Ronaldo feature, he will be looking to add to add to his tournament-leading 16 goals in just 10 Champions League appearances. But Manchester City Manuel Pellegrini knows how to keep the Portuguese quiet, and will be looking to mastermind another shutout.
Pellegrini worked with Ronaldo at the Bernabeu in the 2009-10 season, and also came up against the former Manchester United star when he was in charge of Villarreal.
"We know it's difficult, because Cristiano is a very complete player. He's fast, he's strong. I hope that we are going to defend well against him, and we'll see during the game," the Chilean told various British media.
"I played against Cristiano three times in two group stages of the Champions League when I was at Villarreal and he was at Manchester United, and we drew every game 0-0. So my team must not have defended too badly.
"United had Cristiano, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, so it wasn't only him we had to keep quiet."