Gareth Bale’s Ultimate Rivals XI includes five Barcelona icons – but Lionel Messi misses out

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Throughout his trophy-laden career, Gareth Bale has faced off against a whole host of world-class players.

Having won 13 trophies since he signed for Spanish giants Real Madrid for a then world record fee of £85m in 2013, the Welshman has become a British sporting icon.

But to get his hands on said silverware, he's had to battle with the best, and the 31-year-old is approaching the twilight of his acclaimed career.

Having returned to Madrid following a fairly decent loan spell back at Tottenham Hotspur, the man who brought him to the Santiago Bernabeu, Carlo Ancelotti, says the no. 11 can still have a future at the club after struggling to make himself a staple during the Zinedine Zidane era.

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However, that will come after a EURO 2020 campaign with Wales, who'll compete against Italy, Turkey, and Switzerland in Group A.

So, before a campaign that could see Bale either rise again in La Liga or start a new chapter, let's take a look back at who his most frequent opponents down the years have been in a star-studded XI.

Note: we're including footballers only, not any of his golf opponents.

Ultimate Rivals XI – The Rules

  • Our Ultimate Rivals XIs are made up of players who have faced our subject player most often during their careers, both for club and country.
  • They have to have been on the pitch at the same time as our subject player, and stats are taken from all competitions.
  • The team isn't necessarily the 11 players who've faced our subject player the most, just an eleven that would fit into a team.
  • All appearance stats are taken from transfermarkt.com.
  • Let us know your thoughts on the teams in the comments.

Goalkeeper: Jan Oblak

Appearances against Bale: 12

The Slovenian stopper has played a big part in Bale's dismal Madrid derby record
(Image: Ruben Albarran/REX Shutterstock)

Not the goalkeeper Bale famously beat to help Los Blancos win their 10th Champions League/European Cup in his debut season, Oblak has still managed to make a mark on the winger's career.

Bale has won just five of his 20 meetings with Real's Madrid rivals (five more fixtures than against any other club), although got the better of Atletico in the 2016 UCL final, too.

Only once beating arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, the Welshman has work to do on derby day if he returns to the Spanish capital.

Right-back: Juanfran

Appearances against Bale: 17

Bale and Juanfran have had some fascinating battles down the flanks in years gone by
(Image: Angel Martinez)

Continuing with Los Colchoneros (The Mattress Makers) and to someone else who often frustrated Bale, full-back Juanfran left Atletico in 2019 after doing relatively well against the Wales international.

Sadly, the Spaniard missed the crucial penalty in the 2016 final to give Bale his second of four Champions League winners medals after Cristiano Ronaldo slammed home the winner.

Centre-back: Gerard Pique

Appearances against Bale: 14

Bale and Pique have been involved in their fair share of Clasico bouts
(Image: David Ramos)

To Real's other rivals now and long-serving Barcelona defender Pique.

The 102-time capped Spain international is one of the Blancos wide man's least-favourite frequent opponents when it comes points-per-game, averaging just 0.64 across 14 Clasico clashes.

What's more is that Bale has bagged just one goal while Pique was on the pitch, with the World Cup and two-time European Champions winner injured for the winger's iconic Copa del Rey strike in 2014.

Instead, it was back-up Marc Bartra who had to deal with the wrath of the Welshman.

Centre-back: Diego Godin

Appearances against Bale: 19

Bale has spent more time facing Godin than any other opponent
(Image: AFP/Getty)

Bale must be sick of the sight of Godin, who, like fellow legend Juanfran, also departed the Wanda Metropolitano two years ago and commanded Diego Simeone's defence for much of the former Spurs man's time in Madrid.

The one positive – along with those two European triumphs – Bale can take from vying with Atletico is that he's assisted more times against them (seven) than any other opponent.

Although, he has six against Sevilla in 11 fewer outings.

Left-back: Jordi Alba

Appearances against Bale: 14

With Bale predominately playing on the right wing in La Liga, his most frequent direct opponent has been the Spanish left-back.

Having won one more and lost one less of his fixtures against Alba than those versus Pique, his PPG is significantly better (0.86).

Coincidentally, Bale named his first child Alba Violet in October 2012 – maybe he was impressed with the then youngster's performances during that summer's European Championships.

Midfield: Koke

Appearances against Bale: 18

Sorry Gareth, the Madrid derby memories aren't over yet.

One-club man and current Colchoneros captain Koke may not have the medals Bale has to his name but he never gave him an easy time in their 18 meetings, elegantly grafting in the midfield.

Draws have dominated the 31-year-old's total cross-city tussles, additionally losing more than he's won.

Midfield: Ivan Rakitic

Appearances against Bale: 16

Rakitic and Bale haven't just met with their clubs
(Image: Alex Caparros)

Speaking of losses, no man has beaten Bale more times for club and country than the Croatian (10).

The Wales talisman endured two defeats against Rakitic before he'd even got to Spanish shores, losing two World Cup 2014 qualifying affairs.

It didn't get much better when the pair did meet on opposite sides of El Clasico, with three wins and as many draws for Bale.

Rakitic left Barcelona last summer for a fresh challenge – should Bale do the same? Let us know in the comments section.

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Midfield: Gabi

Appearances against Bale: 16

A former Atletico captain now and Simeone's ex-midfield general.

Although fewer games against Gabi meant fewer Atletico losses for Bale, no more wins came against the holding midfielder than the four he racked up against the other Atletico-only players in this XI.

Having announced his retirement at 37 last November, the Welshman will have to make do with Gabi getting the better of him.

Midfield: Raul Garcia

Appearances against Bale: 17

Having moved to Athletic Bilbao in 2015, Garcia joined the opposition Bale has gone the second-most amount of games facing without scoring a single goal.

Everton (nine goalless appearances) are the only side Bale has failed to strike against more times than the Basque outfit (eight).

The Welsh superstar has been a provider, though, teeing up teammates five times in those encounters, three of which were while Garcia was on the opposite side.

Centre-forward: Antoine Griezmann

Appearances against Bale: 19

Griezmann has battled with Bale for both Atletico and Barcelona as well as internationally
(Image: Eric Alonso)

Matching Godin for most appearances and playing a reserved striking role in our XI, Griezmann is part of a front line filled with faces who've met Bale with multiple clubs.

Now of Barcelona, former Atletico forward Griezmann last met Bale on the international stage last week for a friendly.

The Frenchman netted one of Les Blues' three goals, as 10-man Wales slumped to defeat against the world champions and joint-favourites for EURO 2020.

They could meet again during the tournament as the Dragons aim to replicate their 2016 run.

How would this team fare in a real match? Have your say in the comments section.

Centre-forward: Luis Suarez

Appearances against Bale: 17

Now of Atletico, Bale faced Suarez when the Uruguayan was employed by Barcelona and Liverpool.

Although the pair often shared the El Clasico stage, it was a meeting between Tottenham and the Merseysiders that comes to mind in the Welshman's case.

Bale brilliantly crossed for Aaron Lennon as Spurs took an early lead, before blasting in a free-kick to double his team's advantage in the first half.

Late in the game, as Liverpool looked to mount a comeback, Lennon and Bale combined again as Lennon booted the ball into Bale's face and inadvertently reduced the deficit.

It didn't matter, though, as the Wales winger recorded one of his four victories against Suarez.

Substitutes:

Mark Schwarzer (11), Sergio Busquets (14), Saul Niguez (14), Lionel Messi (14), Mario Mandzukic (13), Carlos Tevez (13) Fernando Torres (16)

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