Gareth Bale made a surprising appearance in Carlo Ancelotti's starting lineup when Real Madrid faced Villarreal on Saturday afternoon. While the goalless draw was a disappointment, Bale did show flashes of his quality, which may open up more opportunities for him in the remaining months of his contract with Los Blancos.

Ancelotti proved at the start of the campaign that he was still willing to give Bale a chance after the latter returned to the Santiago Bernabeu after a loan spell back at Tottenham Hotspur. He played a string of good games at the start of the current campaign before being struck by a series of injuries yet again.

Many thought that he had pretty much been written off until the end of the season, but on Saturday, not only did he start, he was given a straightforward striker's position in place of the injured Karim Benzema.

The Welshman was fairly invisible in the first half, making it seem like it was a bad idea to have him start in the first place. He was unable to connect well with the rest of the squad, giving clear evidence that he has been away for far too long. Crosses were misjudged and there was a clear disconnect between him and his teammates.

However, after the break, Bale kicked it up a gear and while the Villarreal defence was busy trying to neutralise Vinicius, he was able to create some massive opportunities. Villarreal keeper Geronimo Rulli was put to work in the later stages of the match, and he was fortunate to have kept a clean sheet after a barrage of late attempts from Los Blancos.

Bale produced three clear chances, but Rulli was on top of his game at the Ceramica stadium. Nevertheless, Real Madrid fans were excited to see some moments of the old Gareth Bale on the pitch last night.

It was a very intense and physical match, but Bale appeared to have bene in good shape. It remains to be seen if he will be given a starting position on Tuesday, when Real Madrid face Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 match. Benzema has not played a competitive match in three weeks, and would normally have to be eased into competitive action. Ancelotti has some big decisions to make, and they could make or break the rest of the season.

Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale scored in two Champions League finals for Real Madrid and won the competition four times AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE