Gareth Bale vs. Neymar: New boys highlight El Clasico between Real Madrid, Barcelona

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On Saturday evening in Barcelona, arguably the greatest rivalry in world soccer kicks off for yet another season.

This year, there are plenty of new faces involved in the game known across the globe as ‘El Clasico’ but two new names in particular are set to get the crowds going at the Nou Camp: Neymar and Gareth Bale.

Signing for Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively over the summer, both attackers will get their first taste of El Clasico in a stadium packed with almost 100,000 spectators in a fiery and rambunctious derby. The old rivalry is deep-rooted with political agendas, as Catalonia and the rest of Spain, especially Madrid, ‘don’t get along’ to put in nicely.

Brazilian born Neymar and Welshman Bale will be be thrown into the intimidating atmosphere, and it’s sink or swim times for these boys. Both have the faith and trust of their managers, as Madrid’s new boss Carlo Ancelotti confirmed Bale is ready to start, while Barca’s new manager Gerardo Martino has praised Neymar for his performances and wants the winger protected against heavy tackles from Real.

(MORE: Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo – Battle for Ballon D’Or in El Clasico)

Both Ancelloti and Martino will be tasting El Clasico for the first-time in their managerial careers, and both managers will hope their superstar wingers can provide that extra spark to get them the win.

source: AP
Neymar has had a solid start to his Barca career.

World record signing Bale, who signed for Real from Tottenham Hotspur for $132 million, is expected to start for the first time since his Real debut back in September as he continues to recover from a thigh injury. The 24-year-old winger has made a slow start to his Madrid career, and has the chance to become an instant Madrid hero if he can produce the goods in El Clasico on a steamy Saturday evening on the Mediterranean.

Bale has so far played five times for Madrid, amassing just 172 minutes in the glistening white uniform of Real and scoring just once on his debut against Villarreal. The Welshman hasn’t added any assists, and with injuries and lack of fitness hampering his career at Madrid so far, Bale will be hoping he can come out firing on all cylinders when he ascends from the dressing room below to the pitch above and into the thunderous atmosphere that’s sure to await.

As for Neymar, Barca’s 21-year-old Brazilian wonder-boy has dazzled on occasions so far and has looked worth every penny of the $72 million Barcelona paid Santos to bring him to Europe. After 13 games for his new club, Neymar has logged 928 minutes of playing time, scored three goals and added six assists. I’d say that’s a pretty satisfactory start to his Barca career.

However, average doesn’t cut at the Camp Nou, and whoever turns into the match-winner, Bale or Neymar, on Saturday can surely hold the mantle of being the best summer-signing. This game is crucial as Barca sit top of the table with 25 points from nine games, while Real are just three points behind in third.

Early season impetus is on the line as these arch nemesis’ square off for the 167th time, with Madrid holding a slender advantage with 70 wins to Barca’s 62.

These are the games that count.

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If the youngsters fail to deliver, Messi and Ronaldo will show them how it’s done.

If Bale returns from injury and does the business, Madrid fans will forget all about his first few months on the treatment table, while Neymar can elevate his status ahead of Bale further if he puts in a dominant display.

Let’s not forget, these two youngsters are playing second-fiddle to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi will play after returning from injury, as he scored the equalizer in Barca’s 1-1 Champions League draw away at AC Milan in midweek. As for Ronaldo, he just keeps scoring and may threaten Messi’s attempts to win the FIFA World Player of the Year award for the fifth time running.

So, if Neymar and Bale don’t get the job done, it’s likely the senior dream team of Messi and Ronaldo will step in to show them how it’s done.

You can watch El Clasico live on BeIN Sport at 12pm ET on Saturday.

Herrera: Ibrahimovic competitive drive insatiable in everything

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Ander Herrera is dishing the goods on his Manchester United teammates while on Spain duty this week, and was asked about Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swede is a fierce competitor on and off the pitch, which Herrera jokes is an ever-present challenge to personal patience.

[ MORE: Deulofeu laments early Messi talk ]

It almost seems like there’s a bit of envy that Ibrahimovic can charge into public comments the way Herrera goes into tackles.

From Marca:

“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.

“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”

There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).

We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.

Gerard Deulofeu calls early Messi comparisons “detrimental”

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Players often like to brush off speculation or criticism in the moment by claiming they don’t read stories written about themselves, but we all know better.

Former Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu confirmed that sentiment by citing specific comparisons he remembers as a youth with Barcelona, citing stories that compared him to Lionel Messi. Now 23 years old, Deulofeu reflects on those early comparisons and wishes the media wasn’t so quick to jump to conclusions about his career.

“In the end, [the comparisons] were more detrimental than beneficial,” he told weekly magazine Forza Milan. “Normally I don’t read newspapers, but that headline I remember well. It created too much expectation among Barcelona fans. There’s only one Messi.”

With expectations high, Deulofeu made just six senior team appearances without a goal or assist before loan spells at Sevilla and Everton saw him out of the club permanently. His time at Goodison Park was up and down as well, with his ability to dazzle a crowd punctuated by long spells of invisibility, failing to earn himself a consistent starting role.

Deulofeu is now on loan from Everton at AC Milan, looking to revitalize his career. He has started every league game since arriving, and has picked up a goal and three assists in 11 matches. There is speculation he could end up in Milan on a permanent basis this summer, but he’s not focused on that right now.

“My future? It’ll be seen to,” Deulofeu said. “My sights are in the present, from experience I know it’s best to leave the past behind and focus on the present. We’ll see what happens in the future. For now, I just want to enjoy the good time that I‘m having at Milan.”

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)