Manchester City’s finest European campaign in almost 50 years was brought to an end by a Real Madrid side oozing class in the semi-final second leg, with Zinedine Zidane’s men Ladbrokes’ 8/11 favourites to lift the trophy against neighbours Atletico Madrid (11/10), as they did in 2014.
Impressive defensive displays from Joe Hart, Nicolas Otamendi and Bacary Sagna kept City within a goal of winning the tie right to the final whistle, but there was no doubting the hosts’ supremacy – Madrid managed five shots on target to their opponent’s one, and exuded control in midfield throughout the match.
Los Blancos’ midfield three of Luka Modric, Isco and Toni Kroos may have run the show, but Gareth Bale stole it with his seemingly-irrepressible forward runs.
The former Spurs winger was robbed of the winner after his 20th-minute strike went in off Fernando, meaning he doesn’t quite add to the hugely significant goals he bagged en route to Madrid’s ‘La Decima’ Champions League and Copa del Rey victories in 2014, but Bale is clearly the man making things happen.
Bale is just two years younger than Lionel Messi, yet his chances of a first world player of the year ‘Ballon d’Or’ award next January seem slight, despite the opportunities in store for the Welshman between now and then.
A second Champions League final in three seasons awaits before Wales head to France for the European Championships, having largely been dragged there by Bale, for Group B dates with Slovakia, England and Russia.
With WhoScored.com’s fourth-highest league rating this season and 19 goals in the Spanish top flight despite starting only 20 games, Bale is clearly the form player going into the second half of 2016.
Were he to keep up this form Bale’s case for serious consideration when the top gongs are handed out could be emphatic, especially with no Messi, Neymar or Luis Suarez at the Euros, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal hard to fancy after patchy showings in recent years.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.