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Gareth Bale clues stack up, as Real Madrid edge closer to world record transfer

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Today in the Spanish capital one part of Madrid is under particular scrutiny as the weekend approaches.

The Santiago Bernabeu is on lock down.

Stadium tours are taking different routes and are being restricted, special deliveries have been arriving along Avenida de Concha Espina all morning and every exit of the Bernabeu has been closely guarded.

NBC’s Premier League Insider and reporter for the Daily Mail, Neil Ashton, confirmed on Wednesday that the deal for Bale had been sealed.

But still reporters in Madrid continue to dig for any indicator whatsoever that Gareth Bale may become the world’s most expensive soccer player by the end of the day with a $135 million transfer fee reported. Most will have been left disappointed as there’s been no sign of Bale in the Spanish capital…

Yet several clues can lead to a reasonable assumption that the 23-year-old Welshman isn’t too far away from a grand arrival in Madrid.

source:
Bale’s shirt appeared as an option to buy on Real Madrid’s website.

Exhibit A: Last night Real Madrid’s website accidentally posted an option to buy Bale’s Real Madrid shirt (pictured, left) on their club store.

Of course the error was picked up within a few seconds, people took screenshoots and pictures of the mishap were plastered all across the internet.

Real or fake? You decide.

But the option to buy Bale’s Madrid jersey soon disappeared and we are still none the wiser as to his whereabouts.

Put it this way, I don’t think he was in Tbilisi, Georgia, cheering on his Tottenham teammates as they defeated Dinamo Tbilisi 5-0 in a Europa League playoff game on Thursday afternoon.

Yet that little nugget of hope for Madrid fans wasn’t the most significant clue to come out of Northern Madrid on Friday.

Oh no.

Just take a look at the picture on the right, and you can see a rather large stage and grand curtain has been assembled close to the directors box at the Santiago Bernabeu.

source:
Courtesy of AS.

As you will probably guess, this isn’t usually around because, well, it would block the view of the game for all of Real’s directors and dignitaries.

It must have been hastily erected this morning for a reason? And it had nothing to do with the game played to celebrate the career of legendary Real Madrid striker Raul last night.

All this has been reported by members of the media waiting anxiously outside the Bernabeu for Bale to pop out of turnstile B as if nothing is going on.

Not going to happen. But A for effort.

This transfer is shrouded in secrecy and is likely to be finalized in the next 24 hours.

Many sources are suggesting that Bale will be unveiled officially as a Real Madrid player by the end of the weekend, with either Saturday or Sunday a possibility as Madrid conveniently don’t play their next La Liga game until Monday at Granada.

Bale to Real should be sewn up by then. Although there has been one snag holding all this up.

Tottenham’s direct replacement for Bale, Brazilian winger Willian, has thrown a spanner in the works. The 25-year-old had passed a medical and Spurs had agreed a $45 million fee with Anzhi Makhachkala.

But Chelsea have swooped in overnight to change Willian’s mind and now Tottenham have no immediate replacement for Bale. This has caused a holdup and we may have to wait until Sunday evening until we see Bale wearing a gleaming white Real Madrid shirt.

The clues were pretty easy to find and piece together, an investigator of Sherlock Holmes’ ilk wasn’t required.

However the next guessing game continues, as nobody knows when that velvet curtain with Real Madrid’s badge emblazoned on it will actually open to unveil the most expensive soccer play in history.

Odds are Bale is a Madridista before Monday. But who knows?

FOLLOW LIVE: Three PL sides face FA Cup replays

Burnley's Andre Gray, right, and Sunderland's Lamine Kone battle for the ball as Burnley's mascot Bertie Bee looks on during their English Premier League match at Turf Moor, Burnley England Saturday Dec. 31, 2016. (Richard Sellers/PA via AP)
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Five Premier League sides face FA Cup third-round replays this week, with three of them in action on Tuesday.

Most in-focus will be Sunderland’s visit to Burnley. Usually a match like this would be considered an unnecessary obstacle, but the Black Cats need to find some semblance of form.

If David Moyes‘ group could nab a win, just their second in 10 outings, maybe they could drag those good vibes into the Hawthorns for a weekend PL match against West Brom.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: FA Cup third round replays ]

Burnley has surged into the top half of the Premier League table, 10 points above the drop, and can consider the idea of a Cup run.

The other PL match sees Sam Allardyce and Crystal Palace hosting Bolton.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Full FA Cup third-round replay schedule

Burnley vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET
AFC Wimbledon vs. Sutton United — 2:45 p.m. ET
Barnsley vs. Blackpool — 2:45 p.m. ET
Fleetwood Town vs. Bristol City — 2:45 p.m. ET
Crystal Palace vs. Bolton — 3 p.m. ET
Lincoln City vs. Ipswich Town — 3:05 p.m. ET

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Premier League Power Rankings: Tight at the top… and bottom

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01:  Diego Costa of Chelsea pulls on the shirt of Harry Kane of Spurs during the Capital One Cup Final match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium on March 1, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Chelsea’s 7-point lead atop the Premier League table still feels relatively safe, even if Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United continue their table-surging form.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

That makes a set of Power Rankings, designed to combine table situation with form, even tighter, and Spurs have really made life difficult for our rankers.

[ ARCHIVE: All of PST’s Power Rankings ]

The bottom of the table is even closer, with four teams within a single point of the final spot of safety in the Premier League.

Here are this week’s rankings.

TEAM RANKING
source: 20 (19) Sunderland: “Hello darkness, my old friend.
I’ve come to talk with you again.”
source: 19 (18) Crystal Palace: Big Sam Allardyce has famously “never been relegated”, but at this point it looks like he may go down with a better squad than he’s had at a lot of other stops. We’ll see.
source: 18 (17) Swansea City: Reinforcements are coming, but the back line is still wobbly.
Hull City logo 17 (20) Hull City: Tigers looking a lot better under Marco Silva, even in a 2-0 EFL Cup semi loss to Manchester United.
source: 16 (15) Watford: The Hornets have not won a league game since Dec. 10, its only PL win since mid-November.
200px-Middlesbrough_crest 15 (16) Middlesbrough: Aitor Karanka‘s side looks like a group that can beat the drop, but Boro needs to turn a draw into a win at some point soon.
source: 14 (11) Southampton: Claude Puel‘s unit is struggling, losers of four-straight in Premier League play. Saints are, however, a result away from the EFL Cup final.
Leicester City logo 13 (14) Leicester City: The Foxes’ 3-0 loss to Chelsea feels worse than it is, as Leicester has looked better in recent weeks.
source: 12 (9) Bournemouth: The 3-0 lead against Arsenal turned into a draw, and the Cherries backed it up with a 3-1 loss to Hull City. Down they go.
source: 11 (10) West Ham United: The Dimitri Payet saga keeps the Irons from rising even higher in the Power Rankings. Michail Antonio is fantastic.
source: 10 (12) Stoke City: The Potters haven’t made the leap to a top-end club, but continue to win most games they should.
source: 9 (8) West Bromwich Albion: No shame in getting crushed by red-hot Spurs, though it may serve as a reality check for Tony Pulis and Co.
burnley fc crest 8 (13) Burnley: Three wins in four, with the outlier being a close loss to Man City. Enjoy the high life, Clarets!
Logo_Manchester_City 7 (6) Manchester City: The mighty have indeed fallen, and how bad might it look after another match against Spurs?
Source: Everton FC 6 (7) Everton: That win over Man City is going to linger for a while, and don’t forget the Toffees took care of Arsenal not too long ago. Six with a bullet?
source: 5 (4) Arsenal: It remains hard to get a read on the Gunners, who are still aching for a statement win since back-to-back losses against Man City and Everton.
source: 4 (3) Liverpool: The EFL Cup setback doesn’t push them in our rankings, but the Reds were second-best — not by a ton — to United on Sunday. That’s enough for a flip-flop.
source: 3 (4) Manchester United: The better team in the draw against Liverpool, and remain unbeaten since a December loss to Spurs.
source: 2 (2) Tottenham Hotspur: Took everything in our power not to boost them, but a 7-point gap is a lot. Beat Man City this week and we’ll revisit the issue.
source: 1 (1) Chelsea: Costa situation is a problem, but you wouldn’t know it from the steadied ship that ushered hosts Leicester to a 3-0 defeat.

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Report: USWNT star O’Reilly off to Arsenal

BIRMINGHAM, AL - SEPTEMBER 20:  Heather O'Reilly #9 of the United States of America reacts after scoring a goal against Haiti during the US Women's 2015 World Cup victory tour match at Legion Field on September 20, 2015 in Birmingham, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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HAO is going abroad.

United States women’s national team star Heather O’Reilly is reportedly off to Arsenal, where she’ll join fellow U.S. stars Alex Morgan and Crystal Dunn as new European stars.

Morgan made her debut with Lyon this week, notching a pair of assists, while Dunn joined Chelsea.

[ MORE: Who to watch as MLS SuperDraft continues ]

O’Reilly, 32, could return to FC Kansas City after the FAWSL Spring Season. Arsenal holds English internationals Alex Scott and Kelly Smith, as well as former WNY Flash assistant coach Pedro Martinez Losa in the manager’s chair.

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Robben extends contract with Bayern Munich through June 2018

(L-R) Thomas Muller of Bayern Munchen, Philipp Lahm of Bayern Munchen, Arjen Robben of Bayern Munchen during the German Bundesliga match between Borussia Mönchengladbach and FC Bayern München at Borussia Park on January 24, 2014 in Mönchengladbach, Germany.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
Photo by VI Images via Getty Images
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BERLIN (AP) Arjen Robben has extended his contract with Bayern Munich for another year.

Bayern says the Netherlands winger’s contract will run until the end of June 2018.

[ MORE: Names to watch in Tuesday’s SuperDraft ]

Robben has been with the club for almost eight years, joining from Real Madrid in 2009.

He has scored 82 goals in 152 Bundesliga matches, 14 goals in 23 German Cup games and 21 goals in 53 Champions League matches, including the winning goal against Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final.