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.

Hazard, Lukaku help Belgium to rout

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Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard each scored a pair of goals and Michy Batshuayi also scored as Belgium clobbered Tunisia 5-2 in Moscow on Saturday.

Dylan Bronn and Wahbi Khazri scored for Tunisia.

Belgium leads the group ahead of England’s Sunday match against Panama.

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Romelu Lukaku led an early break that led to a Thomas Meunier shot collected by Tunisian keeper Farouk Ben Mustapha.

Eden Hazard won a penalty in the fifth minute, just inside the 18. He converted the chance low and to the right of Ben Mustapha.

Ben Mustapha was fortunate when Hazard’s 12th minute shot of a terrific Lukaku pass was substandard.

Lukaku then scored a beauty in the 16th minute, sent into the 18 by Dries Mertens, when he clinically slid a shot inside the far post.

Tunisia got a surprise answer a minute later, with three goals gracing the games first 18 minutes. Bronn turned a free kick past Thibaut Courtois and into the back of the net.

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https://twitter.com/TelemundoSports/status/1010498221116801024

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Belgium was knocking on the door for most of the half, and a wobbly Kevin De Bruyne missed Lukaku with a stoppage time cross which should’ve led to a third.

Lukaku got his third courtesy of Meunier a moment later.

Hazard scored his second after the break, and Youri Tielemans assisted Batshuayi’s marker to round out the scoring for Belgium. Ex-Sunderland man Khazri scored late for Tunisia.

VIDEO: Wild first half in Moscow sees Lukaku, Hazard on board

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Romelu Lukaku (2) and Eden Hazard scored for Belgium before Dylan Bronn answered for Tunisia, as dominant Belgium holds a 3-1 lead with three goals gracing the games first 18 minutes on Saturday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Lukaku led an early break that led to a Thomas Meunier shot collected by Tunisian keeper Farouk Ben Mustapha.

Hazard won a penalty in the fifth minute, just inside the 18. He converted the chance low and to the right of Ben Mustapha.

Ben Mustapha was fortunate when Hazard’s 12th minute shot of a terrific Lukaku pass was substandard.

Lukaku then scored a beauty in the 16th minute, sent into the 18 by Dries Mertens, when he clinically slid a shot inside the far post.

Tunisia got a surprise answer a minute later when Bronn turned a free kick past Thibaut Courtois and into the back of the net.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Lukaku would chip the keeper after Meunier played his perfect run to feet.

https://twitter.com/TelemundoSports/status/1010498221116801024

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Enrique has rare brain tumor removed, faces battle

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Former Newcastle and Liverpool defender Jose Enrique is now an agent, but the headache that came with a manager meeting had nothing to do with the conversation.

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Enrique had a “brutal” headache following a meeting with Brighton and Hove Albion boss Chris Hughton, his former manager, and tests revealed a rare brain tumor (Spanish language link).

Enrique underwent brain surgery to remove the tumor and now faces 35 sessions of radiotherapy, only available in two European cities.

He lost more than a dozen pounds in a single week, calling it “the toughest time of my life.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 10 — All eyes on Germany

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Many of the favorites in the 2018 World Cup have disappointed, but until Argentina fell 3-0 to Croatia on Thursday, Germany was the only one to suffer a defeat.

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Die Mannschaft fell to Mexico in their opening match, with El Tri carving up the German midfield on the counter. Now, Joachim Low has had ample time to make the adjustments needed to go for victory as the Germans take on Sweden as they chase a spot in the knockout stages among Group F.

Meanwhile, Mexico looks to prove they’re not a one-hit wonder as they take on South Korea in Rostov. Juan Carlos Osorio has received plenty of praise – and rightly so – for his tactics in the upset victory, and that leaves El Tri with a chance to clinch a spot in the knockout stage with a win.

Before all that Group F craziness, Belgium takes the field in the morning against Tunisia as they look to follow up its comprehensive 3-0 victory over Panama in the opening round. A victory for the Red Devils would not only book a place in the knockout round, but also eliminate Tunisia from contention.

Below is Saturday’s schedule in full.

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2018 World Cup schedule – Saturday, June 23

Group F
South Korea vs. Mexico: Rostov-on-Don, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Germany vs. Sweden: Sochi, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Tunisia: Moscow, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE