Whether he is transferred out or not this window, the sun is setting on Gareth Bales time as a first choice, top draw Real Madrid player. The standing, history and culture of the club means that just about every player not named Cristiano is expendable. With the financial resources at their disposal, finding a new player with the Galáctico level hype is none too difficult either.

So many factors have combined to produce the situation of today. His spotty recent injury history (136 days out in 2016/17 alone), the emergence of Isco and Marco Asensio, his age and the market’s current willingness to pay above the odds as English teams in particular jostle for supremacy and European relevance are prime factors. His production has also taken a noticeable hit for the first time as his goal contributions coming every 158 minutes and created chances at one every 64.5 minutes are the worst during his time at the Santiago Bernabéu. In contrast, Isco’s goals and assists came every 86 minutes last season, less than half of the 182 minutes it took in 2015/16.

Better for Madrid

Unfortunately for Bale, Isco starting in the hole makes Real Madrid better. This is not to say Bale is useless in a Madrid shirt. He’s class, but for them to take even another step forward and maintain their stranglehold on Europe, the future must be now. The future is Isco and Marco Asensio ascending to being more regular starters.

The strategy may be to afford him one more year as a change of tactic option while Isco grows into his role even more and Asensio, for example, gets more playing time.

Recent history has shown that once the gloss has faded, world stars can be quickly relegated in the Madrid set up. Mesut Özil, Ángel Di María and James Rodríguez have all had their time cut short. Coincidentally, they are all left-footed and very good. In this instance, it’s clear that the 4-4-2 diamond serves to give Madrid more midfield control and allow Ronaldo to rack up goals at an alarming rate.

Already boasting arguably the two best central midfielders in the world, Casemiro just behind does the dirty work, allowing them to push forward and link with the supremely talented Isco. His technical ability and knack for opening up defenses with deft touches causes headaches for defenses who would be more focused on stopping the more predictable, albeit dangerous threat of Bale wide and on the counter. Now the threat from wide is still very real. The difference is that it mainly comes from the world class talents of Dani Carvajal and Marcelo. The extra freedom afforded to them is ascribed from the space vacated by the inside or wide forward, the midfield control, and the defensive work done by Casemiro.

The result, quite literally, is a thing of beauty.