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Expect to hear more about Gareth Bale and Real Madrid

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In something that’s becoming a more regular occurrence, Gareth Bale put himself front-and-center on Thursday, scoring twice in his team’s Europe League Round of 32 match, giving Spurs at 2-1 lead on Olympique Lyonnais. While that result amounted to little more than holding serve at home, few people cared about Spurs’ state after seeing Bale’s display. With two direct kick goals overshadowing a seemingly trademark point blank miss, the 23-year-old Welsh winger has started to transcend discussion of where he sits among England’s stars. With comparisons to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo flooding Friday’s papers in England, Bale is starting to carve out a place in the wider, global conversation.

Highlights of the game (courtesy of FOX Soccer) are below, with Bale’s first half goal creating a lot of buzz. From over 30 yards out, Bale hits a knuckler at Remy Vercoutre, a shot that dives down and to the keeper’s right as it reaches its apex. At first blush, the ball doesn’t seem to be struck that hard, floating toward goal in a way that makes you wonder how anybody could score from that far out against a top-level goalkeeper. But from the side angle, you can see Vercoutre freeze, his weight shifted to far onto his left foot as his dive comes up well short.

A winger with that dead ball skill is going to be compared to Ronaldo, but after today’s reports from Madrid-based outlet Marca, those comparisons may become more common. Notoriously cozy with Real Madrid, Marca is reporting Bale could be part of “a new project” Real will undertake this summer. That project will likely be refactoring the squad after a disappointing league season, with head coach José Mourinho probably gone.

For the most part, Marca’s report amounts to thin speculation, but there’s one tidbit that makes you think Bale’s future may really lie at the Santiago Bernabeu:

As revealed by MARCA on 28th December, Real Madrid will have preference over clubs looking to snap up Bale, after an agreement between the two clubs when Real signed Luka Modric in the summer.

If true, what this amounts to is a right of first refusal. If Real Madrid’s willing to match another club’s accepted bid, they can have Bale. And that’s if Real don’t make a offer of their own. Clubs like Anzhi Makhachkala or Paris Saint-Germain could conceivably proffer a fee Real Madrid’s unwilling to match, but this arrangement gives Real a huge advantage.

But the veracity of this news isn’t the scenario’s only if:

If Spurs Chairman David Levy accepts Bale’s request to leave the London club at the end of the season, ‘Los Blancos’ will have first choice, heading a long list of admirers of the player.

So let’s walk through the ifs, both implicit and explicit:

    • If Gareth Bale wants to move, which may be linked to,
    • If Tottenham fails to qualify for next year’s Champions League, and
    • If Real Madrid are (a) interested,
    • (b) willing to meet an acceptably high fee,
    • (c) can convince Gareth Bale to sign, and
    • aren’t outbid, …

… then Florentino Perez will have his 10th Galactico.

As improbable as it seems that all those factors will lineup, that’s the nature of transfers at that level of the game. Some happen. Most don’t. Because of the relationship between Tottenham and Real Madrid, this scenario seems more likely than most, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually likely.

For discussion’s sake, let’s fast forward six months and imagine what Real Madrid would look like with Bale in the squad. Although he’s capable of playing other places, Bale is a left wing, the same position Critiano Ronaldo plays with Real. One of them could go to the right side, they could spend some time in the middle, but ultimately there’s going to have to be some compromise. And that compromise, one which entails having spend time in a non-preferred position, might lead to a drop off in production.

The hypothetical move may also push another quality player, Angel Di Maria, out of the team, though Marca seemed to focus on Bale as a potential through-the-middle solution, talking about Bale’s ability to play centrally and comparing his goal rate to those of Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín. That positioning seems unlike. Tottenham manger briefly tried Bale in the middle of a 4-3-3 and ultimately decided to keep him left. As long as Real Madrid stays 4-3-3, Bale won’t be a good fit in the middle. But no matter who he’d replace – Di Maria or the Benzema/Higuaín duo – Bale would represent a very expensive means of marginal improvement.

Still, that’s the reality of acquiring players like Bale. The only teams that can afford him already have great players. In order to improve on them, you have to make some seemingly inefficient purchases. That’s often the only way the world’s haves and keep up with their peers. Barcelona, Manchester United, and Bayern Munich aren’t going to stop buying players just because the talent difference between Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gomez/Mario Mandzukic isn’t worth the $50-plus million Bayern’s likely to pay for the Polish international. They’re willing to be inefficient to be more competitive.

For some, this is the maddening world into which international soccer’s devolved. For others, it’s the inevitability of any competitive pursuit that operates at the extremes.

Regardless, at its core, this business involves players who can do things like this. Here are the highlights from Thursday’s game, where Bale and Lyon defender Samuel Umtiti engaged in a little game of golazo one-upmanship.

Serie A: Roma triumph in Rome derby, still level with AC Milan in 2nd

ROME, ITALY - DECEMBER 04:  Daniele De Rossi (C) with his teammates of AS Roma celebrates the victory after the Serie A match between SS Lazio and AS Roma at Stadio Olimpico on December 4, 2016 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Lazio 0-2 Roma

A win would have put Lazio two points clear of their capital rivals and right into the thick of the race for second. Instead, they suffered a 2-0 defeat at the Olympic Stadium. Kevin Strootman put the “visitors” ahead in the 64th minute with a simple finish following Wallace‘s disastrous giveaway atop Lazio’s 18-yard box. The Dutch midfielder then proceeded to pathetically writhe around in pain after Danilo Cataldi tugged on the back of his jersey, which was allegedly instigated by Strootman spraying water on the substitute as he made his way back to midfield for the restart.

Radja Nainggolan finished off the Biancocelesti with Roma’s second goal of the game in the 77th minute, a pinpoint, bouncing effort from 30 yards out with which Federico Marchetti couldn’t cope. The Belgian broke free in the middle of the field, dribbled past a defender, and fired from distance to make it 2-0. The victory sees the Giallorossi remain just four points back of Juventus in the league table, level on points with AC Milan in the race for second.

AC Milan 2-1 Crotone

Speaking of the Rossoneri, Vincenzo Montella’s side came back from a goal down in the first half to defeat bottom-of-the-league Cronto at the San Siro Stadium. The victory keeps Milan level with Roma for that second and final automatic UEFA Champions League spot.

Crotone went 1-0 up in the 26th minute, but 21-year-old Mario Pasalic equalized four minutes before halftime with a tap-in from three yards out, followed by Gianluca Lapadula’s winner in the 86th minute, a scrappy finish following a failed clearance of a free kick, which prevented one of the most embarrassing results of the still-young season thus far.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Fiorentina 2-1 Palermo
Pescara 1-1 Cagliari
Sampdoria 2-0 Torino
Sassuolo 3-0 Empoli

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Juventus 15 12 0 3 32 13 19 8-0-0 4-0-3 36
 Roma 15 10 2 3 35 16 19 7-0-0 3-2-3 32
 AC Milan 15 10 2 3 27 19 8 6-1-1 4-1-2 32
 Napoli 15 8 4 3 27 15 12 5-2-1 3-2-2 28
 Lazio 15 8 4 3 27 16 11 5-1-2 3-3-1 28

La Liga scoreboard

Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Eibar
Real Betis 3-3 Celta Vigo
Alaves 3-1 Las Palmas
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Osasuna
Valencia 2-2 Malaga

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Real Madrid 14 10 4 0 37 12 25 5-2-0 5-2-0 34
 Barcelona 14 8 4 2 34 15 19 3-3-1 5-1-1 28
 Sevilla 14 8 3 3 25 20 5 6-0-1 2-3-2 27
 Atlético Madrid 14 7 4 3 28 11 17 4-2-1 3-2-2 25
 Villarreal 14 6 5 3 19 10 9 5-1-1 1-4-2 23
 Real Sociedad 13 7 2 4 22 14 8 4-2-1 3-0-3 23
 Athletic 14 7 2 5 20 17 3 5-1-1 2-1-4 23

Amid leaked docs, Ronaldo’s agent publishes tax document in Spain

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 15:  Crsitiano Ronaldo (R) speaks with his agent Jorge Mendes (R) after his signing contract renewal For Real Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 15, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo’s agent has released a document that allegedly shows the player is in compliance with Spain’s tax authority.

The document published by company Gestifute, ran by Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes, allegedly shows that Spanish fiscal authorities certify that the player is “up to date on his obligations.”

The document’s release comes a day after European media outlets released what it claimed were details of apparent tax arrangements made by top soccer players and coaches, including Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho and Mesut Ozil.

Gestifute said Saturday, “Ronaldo has always acted in good faith in this matter, as the fact that he has never been involved in any conflict with tax authorities from any country where he has lived clearly shows.”

Gestifute also published a similar document in Mourinho’s name on Friday.

VIDEO: Mourinho again harps on Manchester United performance despite result

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The third straight 1-1 draw for Manchester United has left Jose Mourinho little more than a broken record.

Everton scored on a late penalty to even things up, and it gave the Portuguese manager even more fodder for his tiresome narrative.

“We were the best team by far,” Mourinho said. “But we didn’t win. We had chances for 2-0, we had the ball off the post, and then we concede a goal in the last minute.”

[ RECAP: Everton grabs a point against Manchester United on a late penalty ]

When asked if his team dropped off at the end, he rejected that notion, and instead decided to lament a perceived double standard among fans and the media. Mourinho feels the focus is always on a negative, whether that is the result or the performance. “When my team wins matches playing a different [less entertaining] style of football, then what matters is the style of football, not the results. You have in these moment teams in the Premier League playing defensive and counter-attack football and getting results. That is phenomenal, in your words. When my team is playing extremely well, the results are more important.”

“I am happy that my team is playing really well, even in difficult matches like today, and it’s a problem for us that we are not getting what we deserve and it’s a problem for us that we have a position in the table that has no relation with the quality of the football we are showing.”

[ RELATED: Should Marcus Rojo have been sent off? ]

He would not comment on either of the major refereeing decisions, those being the Marcos Rojo yellow card in the 16th minute and the late penalty whistled on Marouane Fellaini.

VIDEO: Howe says Bournemouth hero Fraser “deserved his opportunity”

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Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe had time to collect himself after the Cherries stunned Liverpool, coming back from 3-1 down to win 4-3 in injury time.

He was very praiseworthy of the opponents, who appeared to have an easy day after scoring twice early on before Bournemouth stormed back later.

“It was a great game, obviously from our perspective because we won, but I thought Liverpool showed their quality in the first half,” Howe said. “I thought they were excellent, but we showed a great attitude and never gave up.”

After falling behind 2-0 thanks to a pair of errors by goalkeeper Artur Boruc, it was a tough road to halftime, and although they got one back, Liverpool responded quickly to again restore the two-goal lead at 3-1. It looked bleak for the Cherries at home.

“It was a tough afternoon,” Howe said. “We knew the quality of Liverpool, we knew how they played. They did it very well, and we didn’t, we were flat, and it really took our substitutes to have a big impact in the game and liven us up.”

Finally, the Cherries boss said that he had his eye on the hero Ryan Fraser for some time, and that he knew he was ready to take his chance. “He’s been training like that for a few weeks now, I think he’s deserved his opportunity. He came on the pitch and gave us that belief.” The 22-year-old came on and scored his first Premier League goal as well as assisted two others in the comeback.