Real Madrid's Gareth Bale still 'not at his best' after goal - Zinedine Zidane
Real Madrid striker Gareth Bale admitted to "ups and downs" but said it the "most important was how you bounce back" after scoring an excellent solo goal to wrap up Sunday evening's 3-1 La Liga win at Real Sociedad.
And his manager Zinedine Zidane acknowledged the important goal for the Wales international, while adding that there are still better days ahead for Bale.
The €101 million galactico Bale has been whistled by his own team's fans during a start to 2017-18 in which he scored just one goal in seven club and country games, with local pundits calling this the worst moment since he arrived in summer 2013.
With Cristiano Ronaldo suspended and Karim Benzema injured, surprise starter Borja Mayoral scored the opening goal and then provided the cross from which La Real defender Kevin Rodrigues' own-goal made it 2-1 to Madrid at half-time.
On the hour the previously quiet Bale raced clear onto Isco's ball over the top, finishing smartly to ensure the three points. Speaking on BeIn Sports after the game, the Wales international was asked if he had answered Bernabeu fans who had targeted him recently.
"It is normal, it happens in football," Bale replied. "I just keep my head down, keep working hard, that is all I can do. I cannot control what goes on, I can just control my own game on the pitch. You go through ups and downs in your career, it is about how you bounce back."
Bale has now scored on each of his five visits to Anoeta, meaning no visiting player has found the net more often during the stadium's 24 year history.
"It is great to always score [here]," he said. "But the most important was the three points, to get back on track, and back to winning ways."
Asked if his goal had shown that he preferred to play on the counter-attack, rather than face the massed defences Madrid often encounter at the Bernabeu, Bale was himself on the back foot.
"It is the way I like to play, but I can play other ways too," he said. "It was a great goal, but the most important thing was to get the win."
Pregame Blancos coach Zinedine Zidane had called on Bale to "give more" to the team, and speaking afterwards the Frenchman said he had shown what he was capable of, however there was still better to come.
"I am happy for him, as there was a lot of talk recently about Gareth," he said. "He has shown the player he is. He needed a goal too. Of course he is better with space, as he is very fast. But he is also very good technically when there is less space.
"With the goal we saw his pace over 60 metres, then he had the clear head to do that technical finish. It was not easy. For me he is still not at his best, I know he can do much better, but we must have patience and go bit by bit."
Zidane also had praise for home-grown youth product Mayoral, 20, who scored his first senior goal for the club in an impressive all-round performance.
"Borja is young but I knew he could come in," he said. "Today he had a chance to play and he showed what he could do, and I am happy for him. He did well today, not just his goal, but his movement in attack and workrate in defence."
Following their recent home draws against Levante and Valencia, and Barca's 100 percent start to the season, Zidane admitted it had been important not to drop any more points against a La Real team who had won their own first three La Liga games.
"Before the game when you see Madrid in that position [bottom half] it looks strange," he said. "So we knew how important it was today. We played a very good first half, and when we put in that intensity it is difficult for the opponent. We interpreted very well the game from the start, pressed their defence so they could not connect with their players up front.
"We knew if we let them play they could damage us. We played 90 minutes at a very high level. So we are happy with this game, with all their work."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan