Gareth Bale-to-Real Madrid: Where will he play?

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There’s a symbiosis to Isco scoring twice on the day Gareth Bale’s move was confirmed. The 21-year-old Spanish international, bought from Málaga this summer, has been Real Madrid’s best player through three rounds, posting a double today against Athletic Bilbao. His three goals are not only tied for Spain’s lead but also assuage any doubts he’ll be a regular for Carlo Ancelotti. Although it looked like he would battle for time when purchased in June, he’s successfully pushed Argentine international Ángel Di María out of the XI, perhaps a more impressive feat than his fast start.

Bale’s arrival doesn’t change that, and you can be sure Cristiano Ronaldo’s time won’t be compromised by the arrival of another Premier League import. Instead, it’s striker Karim Benzema who might lose time if Real Madrid embrace the much-speculated false nine that’s been rumored all summer. Or, and perhaps most remarkably, Mesut Özil – a player so important to how the team’s played since he arrived from Werder Bremen – could either lose time or, if you believe the more sensational rumors, find himself in London, Milan, or Paris.

Each option leaves us was a drastically different Real Madrid.

STATUS QUO IF ÖZIL GOES

The idea of Özil moving is confounding. You just don’t sell great players merely because you acquire other talent. Adding Bale at the expense of the German international  would change the team but not necessarily improve it. Potentially, Real could end up worse.

An attacking line of Ronaldo, Bale, and Isco behind Benzema could be seen as more powerful than last year’s three (Özil, Di María joining Ronaldo), but Madrid’s sacrificing creativity, versatility, and potentially balance. Against most of their opposition, that sacrifice won’t matter, but against elites, gambling Isco can replace Özil while sacrificing Di Maria’s more all-around game puts all of Real’s eggs in one basket. Either Ronaldo and Bale can power through the opposition, or Real’s stuck.

Di Maria is still in Madrid, though, as is Luka Modric, who offers some of the creativity of Özil (if in different ways and places). Real Madrid will have more than one dimension. But incorporating Bale in a way that sacrifices one of Isco or Özil means Real Madrid will change how they play. Perhaps that’s the point, but if Bale’s acquisition paved the road for Özil’s departure, that’s a significant drawback to acquiring the Welch international.

FALSE NINES, 4-2-4-0s, AND MEMORIES OF MANCHESTER UNITED

If, however, Bale’s acquisition means Karim Benzema becomes a Di Maria, Modric-esque change-up off the bench, Bale’s acquisition is a lot more intriguing.

Ever since the former Spur’s link to Madrid really heated up 726 months ago (perhaps fewer), many have speculated Madrid would start employing a false nine – a system some thought would help them match up with Barcelona. With two goal scorers (Ronaldo, Bale) matched with two creators (Isco, Özil), Real would have a versatile foursome to play above Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso. Each of them could conceivably play across the width of the pitch, while Ronaldo and Bale would also be able to play higher or through the middle, should in-game adjustments be necessary. Özil could also drop back into a three-man midfield, should a 4-3-3 become desirable.

Given Benzema has never truly held down the number nine’s role, the theory made some sense, especially if being able to add another player to midfield (crowding opponents) is deemed a necessity. At least, all the pieces fit.

But in the wake of Real confirming Bale’s move, more-and-more speculation hints at Özil’s departure, which is a shame. For Real Madrid fans, the loss of one of the world’s best number 10s will take the luster off their new signing. For the rest of us, we’ll miss out on a chance to see what would have been one of the most interesting tactics in recent time, one that perhaps eclipses Manchester United’s attempts to get Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, and Dimitar Berbatov clicking together four years ago.

Let’s just hope, after signing Bale, Real Madrid elects to hold on to the rest of their core talent.

STREAM LIVE: Palace v. Spurs; Arsenal v. Leicester, relegation scrap

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Three Premier League games are coming your way on Wednesday as things continue to get very, very serious at both ends of the table.

Tottenham Hotspur head to in-form London rivals Crystal Palace looking to cut Chelsea’s lead atop the table to four points, while Arsenal host Leicester City as Arsene Wenger‘s side try to stay in the top four race.

At the opposite end of the table Middlesbrough host Sunderland in a battle between north east clubs and the bottom two teams. If either team manages a win then they’ll give themselves a slither of hope of avoiding relegation.

Stream all three games by clicking on the links below, while you can see every goal as it goes in on Premier League Goal Rush by clicking on the link below.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being very similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window.

The feature game this Wednesday on “Goal Rush” will be Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur and as goals and incidents occur around the league, you will be transported to the action as it happens.

More info is available here, plus the schedule for all three games is below. You can stream each game live by clicking on the links below or above.


3 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Leicester City – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Middlesbrough vs. Sudnerland – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]

Neil Taylor banned two games for Coleman tackle

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ZURICH (AP) Wales defender Neil Taylor has been banned for two World Cup qualifying games for a red-card tackle that broke the leg of an Ireland opponent.

The Welsh soccer federation said Wednesday that the FIFA disciplinary panel imposed the ban. Taylor, who plays for Swansea, will miss matches at Serbia on June 11 and against Austria on Sept. 2.

FIFA rules require a ban of at least one match for serious foul play.

Ireland captain Seamus Coleman‘s right leg was broken by Taylor’s challenge during the teams’ 0-0 draw in Dublin on March 24. The Everton defender’s leg was visibly damaged before he was carried off on a stretcher.

Ireland is second in Group D, level with Serbia. Third-place Wales trails by four points with five games left.

Video refs to be used at 2018 World Cup in Russia

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has confirmed that video referees will be used at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Video assistant referees (VARs) were trialed in recent international games and the FIFA Club World Cup and have proved hugely successful with decisions made quickly and correctly.

VARs can only interfere in big decisions such as goals, red cards, mistaken identities and penalties.

Via the BBC, here’s what Infantino had to say.

“We will use video refereeing at the 2018 World Cup because we’ve had nothing but positive feedback so far. If the referee made a mistake, we can’t have a situation where the only one who can’t see it is the referee.”

Infantino has long called for the introduction of video technology in soccer and now it is set to come to the biggest stage of all, with the International Football Association Board (IFAB) expected to formally vote it in.

The hope is that big decisions in huge games will no longer be called incorrectly due to human error and surely it is only a matter of time before VARs are used in the top leagues across the world. Australia’s A-League is the first top-flight league to trial the system.

Three key battles in Man City vs. Man United

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Ahead of the massive Manchester derby on Thursday at the Etihad Stadium (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) both Manchester City and Manchester United have some massive absentees through injury with Paul Pogba and Zlaan

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

That being said, there are still plenty of stars who will be out on the pitch and both Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho will be sure to surprise many with their team selections. With City in fourth place but just one point and one place ahead of United, this game will be crucial in the race for UEFA Champions League qualification.

[ MORE: Manchester derby, team news ]

Below is a look at three key battles on the pitch which will determine the outcome of the game.


Vincent Kompany vs. Marcus Rashford

This will perhaps be the most pivotal individual battle on the pitch. With Vincent Kompany back fit, Man City’s defense has looked incredibly solid. The Belgian star will have his hands full with a fired up Marcus Rashford though. The local lad scored the winner at the Eithad last season and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic out injured the 19-year-old has stepped up big in recent weeks. Kompany will look to step high and intercept balls into Rashford early but we all now have deceptively strong Rashford is and if he can turn Kompany early then there’s no way City’s skipper will catch him in a straight race.

Kevin De Bruyne vs. Ander Herrera

In the 2-1 win for City at United back in September (man, that seems like a long time ago) Kevin de Bruyne tore United’s midfield apart. In the first half of that game he scored the opener and his shot off the post fell to Kelechi Iheanacho for City’s second as Guardiola deployed KDB in a slightly unfamiliar central role. He was much more attacking at Old Trafford and kept winning the ball back in key area in front of United’s defense. Ander Herrera started that game on the bench that day and Mourinho brought him on at half time to quell the threat of KDB, which he did. Guardiola may play De Bruyne deeper, as he did against Arsenal recently, but the Belgian will have to get by Herrera. The Spaniard has been a terrier in Mourinho’s midfield and is having a fine season. Herrera did a wonderful man-marking job on Eden Hazard last weekend and after shaking off an injury, don’t be surprised if Mourinho puts him up against De Bruyne.

Sergio Aguero vs. Eric Bailly

Guardiola had an injury concern about Aguero but the Argentine is fit and ready and that’s bad news for United. He took his goal superbly well in the FA Cup semifinal to Arsenal at the weekend and Aguero is now second all-time in City’s goalscorers, scoring in his last five PL games on the troy. Eric Bailly has been been forced to play a lot of games this season and he went the full 120 minutes against Anderlecht last Thursday and then the full 90 against Burnley on Sunday. With Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo out through injury, Bailly will have to play again (Daley Blind will likely partner him) and his battle with Aguero will be crucial. Not to mention Aguero has eight goals in 10 appearances against United