Bale improved from difficult second season in Madrid

MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 20: Gareth Bale of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring his team's 2nd goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Rayo Vallecano at estadio Santiago Bernabeu on December 20, 2015 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Real Madrid star Gareth Bale believes he is a better player now, having been on the end of fierce criticism for his poor displays last season.

The Welshman has scored 15 times in 18 league appearances during an injury-disrupted campaign, but his presence has been missed as Madrid have slipped 10 points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona ahead of their trip to the Camp Nou on Saturday.

“Last season I didn’t play to anywhere near to my potential,” Bale said on Wednesday.

“It was important for me to keep working hard, to keep fighting. It is difficult playing in a foreign country.

“I’ve felt more settled, more involved in the team this year and I think that has shown in performances on the pitch.

“It’s good to have a bad season, you really do learn a lot about yourself and I feel this season I took (what happened) last season on board.

“I understand the game a lot more over here and hopefully there is a lot still more to come in the future.”

Saturday’s clash between the Spanish giants will be marked by tributes to legendary former Barca player and coach Johan Cruyff, who died at the age of 68 last week after a short battle with cancer.

“Cruyff is a legend of the game, obviously he was at Barcelona but everybody in football respects him as a footballer and as a man,” added Bale.

With just eight games remaining, a first league title looks beyond Bale, but he is hopeful that a win on enemy territory can inspire the confidence needed to propel Madrid to an 11th European Cup.

“If we can play well in La Liga, we can improve and take that confidence into the Champions League.

“Hopefully we can have a great run of form between now and the end of the season and take home some trophies.”

Another Brit’s time in Spain came to an end on Wednesday as England coach Gary Neville was sacked by Valencia just four months into his first senior managerial role.

Bale is uniquely placed to judge the difficulties in transitioning from the Premier League to La Liga, but believes the former Manchester United captain will still go on to have a successful managerial career.

“It is obviously difficult coming to Spain anyway and being a manager where you really do have to be vocal and speak the language,” said the Welshman.

“It is obviously a difficult situation, but I felt given time he’s shown how much he knows about football and it is obviously a shame he’s been sacked.

“I’m sure he’ll bounce back from the experience and it will stand him in good stead for the future.”