Gareth Bale fit for Madrid derby, Real Madrid need him to deliver

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Reports from Madrid on Friday suggest that Gareth Bale will return from a thigh strain to play in his first Madrid derby against Real’s noisy neighbors Atletico on Saturday night.

And Los Galacticos certainly need their most expensive signing to shine on the big stage, on his home debut at the Santiago Bernabeu.

On Wednesday night, Real narrowly beat newly promoted Elche 2-1, after a hugely contentious penalty kick in the 94th minute of play was converted by Cristiano Ronaldo. But throughout that contest they lacked a cutting edge and change of pace that Bale will deliver, if fully fit and raring to go.

However, it will be hard to not be fired up for this game, as many Madristas will have already told him all about the history and ferocity of this rivalry.

The intensity of these derby games is burgeoning, as Atletico have turned into a real European superpower in recent seasons. Yes, they’ve lost star striker Radamel Falcao to money bags Monaco, but they’ve got a new star emerging in attack as Brazil’s Diego Costa is banging in the goals (scoring seven in six games already this season) and proving his worth in La Liga.

source: Reuters
Diego Costa is Atletico’s key man, in what will be a fiery encounter in Madrid.

What makes Saturday night’s clash even better, is that Atletico are slightly ahead of Real after winning all six of their opening games to sit joint-top with Barcelona on 18 points, while Real have 16 points so far. With managerial changes and new philosophies coming into play at both Real Madrid and Barcelona this campaign, many believe Atletico Madrid are ready to challenge the two perennial giants of Spanish soccer for the the La Liga title.

There’s not two ways about it, if Real play like they did at Elche in midweek they will get heavily beaten by their city rivals at the Bernabeu. Diego Simeone has assembled an aggressive squad that isn’t afraid to attack and will penetrate Madrid’s weaknesses. One of which, could be Bale.

For all his talent, which is undisputed, it will be the 24-year-old Welshman’s first taste of a frenetic and rambunctious Madrid derby. And that may take some getting used to. No doubt Simeone will instruct his players to harass and tackle Bale forcefully in the opening stages, and then it’s all about how Bale reacts to the inevitable provocations.

Of course, Real also have the likes of Ronaldo, Karem Benzema, Angel Di Maria and many other to lean on for attacking creativity, but in Bale they hold the key to not only winning this Madrid derby… but putting their capital city rivals firmly in their place in the league pecking order.

Bale needs to be fit, fired up and ready to deliver a spectacular display on Saturday night. Real Madrid’s fans will be watching on keenly, to see if he’s up for the battle.

You can watch the game live on BeIN Sport in the USA, at 4pm ET.

AT THE HALF: Manchester derby scoreless after 45 minutes

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After 45 minutes, the final Manchester derby of the 2016-17 Premier League season — the one that’ll go a long, long way toward deciding which of the city’s sides will finish in the top-four — is scoreless, but not without incident.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

The game’s best chances thus far fell Manchester City’s way, as Sergio Aguero missed a clear-cut chance after 10 minutes — Kevin De Bruyne whipped in the perfect ball to the back post, and Aguero put it wrong side of David De Gea‘s post.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Ander Herrera has, once again, be Manchester United’s danger man, combining well with Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but Claudio Bravo made the one save he was forced into during the first half. One thing to keep an eye on during the final 45 minutes: Rashford picked up a knock very early on, and struggled to move around the field after that.

STREAM LIVE: The Manchester Derby

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The third Manchester Derby of the season is the first away from Old Trafford, as Manchester United visits Manchester City (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

There’s much on the line, as the sides sit just two points apart in the race for the Top Four. Man City would leapfrog third-place Liverpool with a win, while United could join the Reds on 66 points with a match-in-hand.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Sergio Aguero starts for Man City, with Gabriel Jesus on the bench.

On the other side, it’ll be a physical middle-third guarded by Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick, and Marouane Fellaini. Wayne Rooney and Jesse Lingard start on the bench.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Bravo, Zabaleta, Kompany (C), Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Sterling, De Bruyne, Sane, Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Sagna, Fernando, Navas, Clichy, Gabriel Jesus, A. Garcia

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Darmian; Herrera, Carrick, Fellaini, Mkhitaryan; Rashford, Martial. Subs: Romero, Shaw, Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe, Young, Lingard, Rooney.

Ex-Liverpool CEO shares biting story of Suarez transfer

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Ian Ayre’s got jokes.

The former Liverpool CEO lifted the lid on some transfer stories during a Merseyside lecture this week.

Of note, Ayre admitted that the club thought Dele Alli demanded too much given what he had produced when the Reds has the chance to sign him as a 16-year-old, and said that Liverpool could’ve landed Alexis Sanchez but the player wanted to live in London (“We couldn’t move the football club to London, unfortunately,” he quipped).

The best part relayed by Sky Sports had to do with Luis Suarez, and shows the relentless nature of the transfer market. Clearly Barcelona had interest in Suarez before the fiery striker bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, because, well…

“I remember the sporting director of Barcelona calling me during that game, immediately as Suarez bit the player, and he said to me ‘my friend, he’s bitten somebody, how can this be the price?’ I said ‘he’d already bitten somebody when you first bid!'”

We’re sure there’s a certain amount of storytelling in there, but undoubtedly some truth.

Given Barca paid a reported $84 million for the striker, the asking price couldn’t have started that much higher.

Men in Blazers podcast: Chelsea tops Spurs, Top Four predictions

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Rog and Davo return to discuss Chelsea’s FA Cup semifinal victory over Spurs, update their Top Four predictions (again), and dive into the depths of the relegation zone. Plus, the very important movement to change “Hudson Street” to “Ray Hudson Street.”

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