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.

Injury update as Premier League returns

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With the international break over and 10 Premier League games coming your way this weekend, there is plenty of injury news to catch up on.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

Below we take a look at some of the key injury updates from across the PL.


Arsenal
Petr Cech is out with calf injury he suffered against West Brom but could return next weekend
Lucas Perez is out with a thigh injury
Santi Cazorla is out for the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his injured Achilles

Burnley
Steven Defour is available and could start against Tottenham Hotspur

Chelsea
Eden Hazard was seen taken part in full training session after missing the win at Stoke, plus Belgium’s games on international duty, with a thigh injury

Everton
Seamus Coleman is having surgery on two broken bones in his right leg as the Toffees’ right back will be out until next season
Ramiro Funes Muri is also out for the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury with Argentina on international duty
James McCarthy has once again been injured while on international duty with Ireland, reportedly leaving Ronald Koeman fuming

Liverpool
Adam Lallana is out for the next four weeks with a thigh injury he picked up on England duty
Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino will be checked up on after the duo flew back to Liverpool on a private jet on Wednesday following their displays for Brazil in World Cup qualifiers

Manchester City
Bacary Sagna suffered a tear in his adductor while on international duty with France
Kevin De Bruyne did not feature for Belgium after suffering a groin injury and is doubtful

Manchester United
Paul Pogba is out with a hamstring injury
Chris Smalling is missing with a knee injury he picked up when playing for England
Phil Jones is out with a toe injury suffered on international duty
Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo have both returned late from international duty and will be assessed

Southampton
Manolo Gabbiadini will not play against Bournemouth after picking up a groin injury against Tottenham two weeks ago
Virgil Van Dijk may well be out for the season as he continues to recover from an ankle injury he picked up in January

Tottenham Hotspur
Harry Kane is back working on the training pitch after his ankle injury and is ahead of schedule. Reports state he may be back on April 22
Danny Rose will see a specialist about his knee ligament injury but he is not expected to return until late April at the earliest
Erik Lamela is out for the season

Sanchez: “I’d like to stay in London… but with a team that wins”

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Alexis Sanchez may have some explaining to do when he arrives back at Arsenal…

[ MORE: Sanchez, Ozil to stay?

The Chilean forward starred for Chile on international duty, scoring and grabbing an assist in their 3-1 win over Venezuela to get their World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.

He also spoke to Chilean media outlet Publimetro and is quoted as saying the following about his future as he has just 15 months left on his current contract at Arsenal.

“I am happy in London and hope to finish my contract there,” Sanchez said. “I’d like to stay in the city but with a team that is winning things, that has a winning mentality. I’m 28 years old, I still have a lot of years ahead of me. I am a player who looks after himself.”

With Chelsea linked heavily with a move for Sanchez this week, those comments will fuel the fire further that Arsenal’s leading scorer could cross England’s capital this summer and the Gunners could lose yet another top talent to a direct Premier League rival (see: Van Persie, Robin. Cole, Ashley and Nasri, Samir).

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

Arsene Wenger responded to Sanchez’s reported comments in a light-hearted manner as he revealed that he believes both Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, who also has just 15 months to run on his current deal too, want to stay at Arsenal.

“In a positive way, there’s only one team in London, so he’s happy,” Wenger smiled. “He wants to win the championship, that’s what everybody wants. You have to be cautious when they give interviews in their home country. The interpretation is not always correct.”

“I have not a lot to add. I think he’s happy here. We have not extended his contract, I hope he will stay at the club. It happened before when we had to sell our best players. But that’s not the case any more. He has one and half years contract. I don’t think it is an immediate concern for Arsenal.”

So, Sanchez’s comments may have been lost in translation a little but it is intriguing to decipher what he’s saying as this whole game of cat and mouse plays out. Wenger has said that contract talks regarding Ozil and Sanchez will not happen until the season is over and that means the duo will have just one year left on their deals when they sit down to discuss a huge raise.

With Arsenal also having another eight players out of contract in 2018 there could be a huge rebuild on the way at the Emirates with or without Wenger. There’s no doubting Sanchez is the best player Arsenal have with Inter Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Juventus all linked with him and the fact he’s won one FA Cup in his three previous seasons with the Gunners obviously isn’t enough success for a player who seems to have an insatiable hunger for success.

If Sanchez does leave then that could be the signal for several other stars to move on too.

Mourinho gives update on Ibrahimovic, Neymar

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Jose Mourinho cut to the chase when asked about two superstars.

[ MORE: Ozil, Sanchez to stay at Arsenal? ]

Ahead of Manchester United’s clash with West Bromwich Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com) Mourinho has been talking about a potential $217 million move for Barcelona’s Neymar this summer, plus the future of Zlatan Ibrahimovic as United’s top goalscorer revealed on Wednesday he’s in talks about extending his contract for another season. 

First up, speaking to ESPN Brazil Mourinho responded to reports claiming he had been in touch with Barcelona and Neymar’s representatives about a move for the Brazil superstar.

“It’s speculation. I always try to be objective and pragmatic with clubs and to ask them what they can give me. To ask for Neymar is absurd. A club like Barcelona cannot and will not lose Neymar,” Mourinho said. “Although Lionel Messi is still a young player with years ahead of him, he’s almost 30, and Neymar will be the great player of Barcelona post-Messi. So much that I think it is like trying to break into a safe – impossible.”

In a separate interview with Sky Sports, Mourinho revealed he will put no pressure on Ibrahimovic to stay at United for another season and will support him no matter what.

“I am just calm and waiting for the decision,” Mourinho said. “If the decision is for him to stay and he is happy with that, we are delighted with that. If his decision is to leave and try to find a different challenge, I will be also happy for him. He is [a big part of our success this season] but the human being is more important than the player and the team. If his decision is to leave and try to be happy with his family and have a different reality, so be it.”

What should we make of all this? It’s just Mourinho being Mourinho.

He’s not getting people’s hopes up about Neymar arriving at Old Trafford but if there’s a slither of a chance that could happen, you can bet your bottom dollar Mourinho will try to push it through. Neymar’s incredible release clause of $217 million would have to be met with the biggest wages on the planet (he only signed a new five-year deal at Barca in October) and although United could afford that will Barca really let him leave the Nou Camp after grooming him to be Messi’s successor?

As for Ibrahimovic, the 35-year-old Swedish striker has scored 26 goals in 41 appearances for United this season and although his deal runs out this summer he has a clause which can trigger an extra year. Reports suggest he has an offer from the LA Galaxy waiting for him but if Ibra leads United to the UEFA Champions League next season can you really see him not having one last crack at winning major titles in the Premier League and Europe? Probs not.

Wenger says Ozil, Sanchez want to stay at Arsenal

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Arsene Wenger has being discussing the situation regarding Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Sanchez to Chelsea? ]

Speaking to the media ahead of Arsenal’s clash with Manchester City on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Emirates Stadium, Wenger is hopeful his star duo will both remain with the Gunners beyond this summer.

Both Sanchez and Ozil are contracted to Arsenal until the summer of 2018 but are yet to agree a new deal and talks will not begin until the end of the current season.

Wenger isn’t too concerned despite Sanchez being linked with plenty of the biggest clubs on the planet.

“I personally believe both of them want to stay. I hope the club will find an agreement with them,” Wenger said.

Asked about his own future, Wenger had no update about reports suggesting he was about to sign a new two-year contract extension. That was despite saying before the international break that he would reveal his decision soon.

“It’s a subject that at the moment it is not sorted completely out,” Wenger said. “I’m very clear in my mind. Do I stay two months or two years? My commitment will be exactly the same all the time. It does not influence my attitude.”

So, Wenger is standing firm and did not want to get into any details regarding his own future as his current deal runs out in the summer.

However, the fact he said it is “not sorted completely out” suggests that talks are ongoing and that would also seem to point towards Wenger staying on after 20 years in charge.

There’s no doubt that this situation rumbling on has impacted Wenger’s team in recent weeks as Arsenal crashed out of the UEFA Champions League 10-2 on aggregate to Bayern Munich and have also lost four of their last five Premier League games.

Bagging a big win this weekend against City would significantly boost Arsenal’s hopes of finishing in the top four but perhaps everyone connected with Arsenal is more eager to have Wenger’s future sorted and then everything else will slot into place.