Real Madrid went two points clear at the top of La Liga thanks to an unconvincing 1-0 win over Real Sociedad at the Estadio Municipal de Anoeta on Saturday afternoon.
Madrid wasted countless chances, but Bale eventually headed home the winner with ten minutes remaining.
Real Madrid made five changes from the 0-0 draw with Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday. James Rodriguez and Borja Mayoral both came into the eleven, but Cristiano Ronaldo was still unavailable.
Real Sociedad had to make do without the suspended Mexican striker Carlos Vela, while Asier Illarramendi started against his old club.
Predictably, Madrid dominated the early exchanges. Gareth Bale fired just wide in the fifth minute after a smart pass from Rodriguez, and Rodriguez himself forced Geronimo Rulli into a top save moments later.
The chances kept coming; an unmarked Sergio Ramos headed a corner wide of the post, Bale did the same thing a few minutes later, and Casemiro fizzed a long-range effort the wrong side of the post.
Sociedad’s first effort didn’t arrive until the half hour mark. Bruma brought the ball forward and picked out Xabi Prieto, but he could only poke the ball into Keylor Navas’ grateful hands.
Bale missed his fourth chance of the game not long after the break when he was presented with an easy opportunity from eight yards out, but he shot straight at Rulli.
As time ticked down, Zidane introduced Jese and Isco. He knew they realistically had 20 minutes to save their La Liga title hopes – but without Ronaldo and Benzema they looked a shadow of the team that we’d seen in recent weeks.
They finally got a breakthrough in the 80th minute, and it was fifth-time lucky for Bale. Lucas Vazquez crossed from the right, and the Welshman powerfully headed into the top corner.
The result sends Madrid to the top of the table for at least a couple of hours. Barcelona and Atletico Madrid both play later. Sociedad stay 12th with 42 points.
Next up for Sociedad is a home game against Rayo Vallecano. They end their season with a trip to Valencia.
Real Madrid welcome Man City to the Spanish capital on Wednesday, before ending their league season with games against Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna.