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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.

source: Getty Images
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.

Klopp hopes for speedy solution in club, fans’ ticket-price dispute

Liverpool's fans wave flags during the English League Cup semifinal second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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From his time at Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp is used to a much more positive, family-like, everyone-pulling-in-the-same-direction atmosphere at his club of employment, so the present goings-on at Liverpool understandably have the Reds’ first-year manager feeling more than a little uneasy.

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Saturday’s late 2-2 draw with Sunderland wasn’t the first time Liverpool fans have headed for the exit before the final whistle, leaving Klopp feeling all alone, but it was the first time the fans have departed from Anfield early in a pre-planned, organized manner (Klopp missed the game himself with appendicitis). The Anfield faithful didn’t walk out on 77 minutes due to their team’s poor performance — Liverpool were 2-0 ahead at the time — but in protest of steadily rising ticket prices, which were unveiled at $111 per game to sit in the 132-year-old stadium’s new main stand next season.

Klopp, coming from the Bundesliga, where a season ticket at clubs the size of Bayern Munich and Dortmund doesn’t cost much more than a single-game ticket at many Premier League grounds, understands the fans’ frustration. At the end of the day, though, he works for the club, which is why he just wants the whole thing settled quickly, for the sake of his squad — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s not what we want. What I know is everyone in the club has a big interest in finding a solution for this. We don’t want people to leave the stadium before the game is finished.”

An LFC TV appearance by Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre, in which he was expected to answer fan-submitted questions, was consequently canceled on Monday due to the ongoing dispute.

West Ham want Payet to sign new contract for fear of losing him this summer

Dimitri Payet, West Ham United FC (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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Dimitri Payet is going to be a red-hot commodity during this summer’s transfer window, there’s no doubt about it.

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Given he’s currently contracted to one of the Premier League’s “smaller” clubs — in comparison to some of the giants which are bound to be interested — West Ham United, there’s a decent-to-good chance he could be wearing a different club’s shirt come August. Especially if the 28-year-old attacker shows up and shows out at this summer’s European Championship in his native France.

If I can foresee the interest in Payet, then so too can the executives at West Ham, which is why manager Slaven Bilic took to the press on Monday to convey his desire for Payet to consider signing a new, increased contract at his earliest convenience — quotes from the Guardian:

“We are moving, the club is moving, with the new stadium, with the revenue and everything. We have to move and the most important move is to keep your best players and to add some new players who are needed and Dimitri Payet is our best player — I have no problem whatsoever to say that. Of course, I would love to have him happy, long term, at the club.”

Of course West Ham want Payet to sign a new deal immediately — doing so would accomplish two things in the club’s eyes: 1) increase the likelihood he remains at the club next season, or 2) insure the club receives a higher transfer fee for the player if he leaves in the summer anyway. The more total money remaining on his West Ham contract, the more they can demand of a prospective buyer.

[ MORE: Ronaldo commits himself to Real Madrid through 2018 ]

From Payet’s side — unless he has absolutely zero desire to move to a club like Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United, where he’d likely be paid close to $200,000 per week — he’d be crazy to sign a new contract at this point. Not only would it make a move this summer more difficult, but a strong showing at EURO 2016 could be worth another $15,000 or $20,000 per week on a new contract with West Ham (his current contract is rumored to be close to $100,000 per week).

With as many as five seasons still remaining on his current contract (a one-year club option can be exercised at any point), and his stock perhaps at an all-time high, the next six months could hold Payet’s last chance to get really, really paid before he hits the downside of his career.

USWNT players’ union responds in USSF lawsuit

FILE - In this Sunday, July 5, 2015 file photo, the United States Women's National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. Soccer Federation’s original lawsuit against the union for its champion women’s national team has been sealed after the governing body realized it had disclosed the home addresses and email accounts of many players, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
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(AP) — The union that represents the Women’s World Cup-winning American national team opposed an expedited schedule in the lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Soccer Federation last week, insisting no collective bargaining agreement exists.

The federation sued in an attempt to establish it has a contract with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association that runs through this year’s Olympics until Dec. 31. The union maintains the memorandum of understanding agreed to in March 2013 can be terminated at any time.

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The USSF filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago asking for an expedited schedule, and the submitted opposition papers Monday that claim “facts asserted in the motion are nowhere near accurate and are hotly disputed.”

The union also maintains the USSF knew about the disagreement since July but did nothing about it.

An initial status conference is set for April 4.

Lionel Messi to undergo tests for lingering kidney problems

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds the ball during a quarterfinal, second leg, Copa del Rey soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi is to undergo medical tests to assess a recurrence of kidney problems.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup | Barca win on Sunday

Messi missed the Club World Cup semifinal in December due to a renal colic, an abdominal ailment often related to the presence of kidney stones within renal ducts.

Barcelona says in a statement Monday that the tests to be conducted by Tuesday at the latest, are “to assess the evolution of the kidney problem he suffered last December.”

[ MORE: Champions League returns next week — KO round matchups ]

The statement says Messi will resume training with the squad on Wednesday, when Barcelona travels to Valencia for the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals in which it carries a 7-0 lead.