MADRID -- Gareth Bale and Jese Rodriguez showed that Real Madrid are unlikely to miss the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo by starring in Saturday evening's 4-2 La Liga win over Villarreal at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Madrid club officials are reportedly still considering appealing to Spain's government-run Sports Council to free Ronaldo for the upcoming La Liga games at Getafe next Sunday and at home to Elche the following weekend.
However, the evidence from the Bernabeu was that it might be best just to give the Portugal captain a couple more games off as Bale and Jese are more than capable of stepping in against two of La Liga's lesser lights.
With Ronaldo watching, Bale remained in his usual Madrid spot on the right wing, with Karim Benzema through the middle and Jese on the left. There was a huge roar for the youngster's first involvement -- as he sprinted 50 yards down the left wing with the ball -- even if the end product was a simple pass back into midfield.
- Real Madrid see off Villarreal challenge
The noise was even louder for Bale's opening intervention which came in the seventh minute when he robbed dallying defender Chechu Dorado and nervelessly lifted the ball cleanly over visiting keeper Sergio Asenjo to open the scoring.
It could not have been a better start for the former Tottenham man, who looked unworried by the speculation over his overall fitness and readiness to play.
18 minutes later, it was 2-0 and there was no surprise that the buzzing Bale was involved. Villarreal left-back Jaume Costa appeared to show him the outside and dare him to cross with his lesser foot. The Welshman took the invitation and clipped a ball with his right to the near post, where Karim Benzema got away from his marker to knock home.
Bale's performance was beginning to recall the only other Liga game he has played with Ronaldo absent, the 4-0 win over Valladolid in late November, when he scored a hat-trick and assisted Madrid's other goal.
A lack of real match fitness put paid to hopes of a repeat performance and he did understandably fade slightly after the break, but there was evidence that "GB11" has got Ronaldo's patented "stand still in disgust when you get pulled back so the ref can book the defender" move down perfectly, and Costa saw yellow in the second period for another tug on the Welshman's shirt.
It is now 11 goals and eight assists for Bale in a Madrid shirt, even though he has completed just 11 of the team's 36 games in all competitions so far this season.
There have been false dawns before but there was no sign of any worries about his troublesome left thigh here. Carlo Ancelotti said afterwards -- without going into too much detail -- that he was happy with the 100 million euro man's performance.
“Bale played a good game, like them all,” the Madrid coach said. “He scored the first goal and gave an assist.”
Before the game, Ancelotti had also been playing down the hype over Jese, whose three goals in three games while filling in for Bale over the last fortnight - each of which was taken with aplomb -- had the excitable local sports papers salivating: both AS and Marca went with cover stories on Friday morning saying the 20-year-old could go with Spain to the World Cup.
The youngster was mostly subdued in the first half -- the media glare possibly not helping him -- as Bale enjoyed himself on the other wing and two incidents summed up Jese's opening 45 minutes.
The first came when he tried to sprint past marker Mario Gaspar only for a heavy touch to see the ball run straight out of play. The second occurred when the Villarreal right-back got forward to whack in his side's opening goal from 20 yards just before half-time, with Jese not having tracked the run at all.
After being very quiet during the opening stages of the second period too, Jese burst into life just after the hour mark when he made the game safe with what we can say [already] was a characteristically confident finish.
Angel Di Maria's pass was beautifully weighted behind the full-back and the Canary Islander did not allow visiting Asenjo to get set before he pushed the ball impudently into the net.
The finish -- as Jorge Valdano said on Spanish radio -- really was Romario-like. However, the former Brazilian attacker possibly would not have given the unselfish sideways ball which set up Benzema to pass Madrid's fourth into the net from the edge of the box. Jese had not been regularly involved in the action but these two interventions made the game safe for this side.
"Jese is in a good moment, he helped the team a lot, he worked hard," Ancelotti said after the game. "Everyone loves him, he is playing really well. For his age, this is a really good thing for everyone."
The local lad is the favourite of the pundits and fans to be in the team ahead of Bale in the long-term but Ancelotti [and club president Florentino Perez] clearly favour the world record signing for the spot when fit.
Only one is likely to start Tuesday's Copa del Rey semi-final second leg at Atletico Madrid, as Ronaldo's ban just covers Liga games. "CR7" is also available for Madrid's Champions League last 16 first leg at Schalke on February 26.
Letting Bale and Jese loose aover the next two weekends should mean the Ballon D'Or holder will be nice and fresh for the La Liga clash with current leaders Atletico on March 2.