Gareth Bale reminded Tottenham what they’ve been missing with a long-range strike to secure Real Madrid a 2-0 victory over his former club in the opening match of the Audi Cup. With 11 minutes remaining, the man who became the world’s most expensive player when leaving White Hart Lane for the Bernabeu two years ago picked up the ball and drive forward before catching out Michel Vorm with a dipping strike that bounced just in front of the Tottenham goalkeeper. Together with James Rodríguez’s first-half header from Isco’s fine cross Bale’s memorable moment livened up a contest that had begun frenetically, but was played for most parts with precious little intensity.
The lack of spark in the opening match of the biennial four-team exhibition event in Munich was little surprise given that Tottenham were competing despite beginning its Premier League season against Manchester United in just four days’ time. Madrid, with new coach Rafa Benitez striving to put his imprint on the squad, still have close to three weeks before their serious business gets underway. Despite missing the injured Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, Madrid still fielded a strong lineup featuring Bale and Luka Modric taking on their former club. And it was they that had the better of the openings en route to a fourth win in five preseason outings. Real Madrid now go onto meet the winner of Bayern Munich and AC Milan in Wednesday’s final, while Spurs will bring their preseason to a late close against the losers earlier in the day.
Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino selected a new-look center-back partnership of Toby Alderweireld and Kevin Wimmer, as well as Eric Dier playing in an unfamiliar central midfield role. But he also opted to start with last season’s star man Harry Kane up front ahead of Christian Eriksen, while regular full-backs Danny Rose and Kyle Walker had long shifts just days ahead of Spurs’ testing season opener.
It was Walker heavily involved early on at the Allianz Arena as Tottenham came close to taking an early lead. Unfortunately for the England international, Erik Lamela could only direct his pull-back over the bar inside two minutes with what was to prove Spurs’ best moment.
Within five minutes Real Madrid had twice come desperately close to getting the opening goal through Jesé Rodríguez. The young forward, looking for more opportunities to make his mark in the coming campaign, first hit a superb shot from a tight angle on the right of the penalty area that crashed back off the crossbar with Tottenham goalkeeper Michel Vorm well beaten. But Vorm was to come up with a big save moments later when diving low to keep out a curling Jesé shot that was destined for the far corner of the net.
The pace of the match dropped sharply thereafter, with Tottenham’s only other real moment of threat coming when Eriksen’s dipping shot had to be dealt with by new Real Madrid goalkeeper Kiko Casilla. His counterpart then had to again be alert to deny a deflected effort from Modric, but was left stranded as Madrid took the lead nine minutes before halftime. Isco did the hard work when turning onto his right foot and delivering a pin-pint in-swinging cross that allowed James to escape the attentions of Rose and find the corner of the net.
Five substitutions arrived at the interval and eight more followed in a forgettable second half. It was left to Bale, whose individual brilliance has been sorely missed at White Hart Lane since his departure, to lift the contest from its slumber. Intercepting a sloppy pass from substitute Nabil Bentaleb, Bale broke past two challenges surging through the middle before hitting a fine shot, but admittedly one that Vorm will surely feel he should have kept out. Still, how Tottenham must wish they could still call upon the Welshman’s talent for the trip to Old Trafford on Saturday.