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Bale’s introverted personality beginning to spill over at Real Madrid

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Gareth Bale has been a lightning rod for Real Madrid fans over the last few years, constantly sparking debate on whether his play on the pitch is good, bad, or somewhere in between. It seems nobody can agree on the degree of contribution he provides to the club since he joined in 2013.

On one hand, Bale has scored a plethora of goals in all competitions, many of them critical. Most notably, he scored a stunning bicycle kick goal to win the Champions League last season, downing Liverpool in one jaw-dropping swoop. Just this past weekend, Bale bagged the penalty that gave Real Madrid a comeback win at Levante to avoid what would have been an embarrassing La Liga result.

Conversely, Bale is constantly a scapegoat for the lows the club faces throughout the year, with fans complaining that he has never truly meshed with the rest of the Spanish squad. To this point, those wishing to disparage his play on the field as a bigger issue Bale has with the squad had little proof to back up their argument. Now, some of those perceived character issues are beginning to spill out both on the field and in the dressing room.

On Sunday, after coming off the bench to score the winner from the spot, Bale did not celebrate his goal, actively shrugging off Lucas Vazquez to return the ball to the midway line for a restart of play. He acknowledged Nacho, Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane as they came to celebrate, but nothing more than a slap of hands.

That was the first real time Bale’s rumored introverted personality has spilled onto the pitch. Recently, players have begun to joke in the media about Bale’s poor relationship with the rest of the squad. Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, in an interview with Belgian publication HLN in early February, joked about Bale failing to join the rest of the squad for a late team dinner, saying it was past his bedtime. “The other night we had a dinner with the entire squad,” Courtois said. “But Bale and [Toni] Kroos did not turn up. They considered the dinner was too late at night. We had met up at 9:30 and started eating at 10:15. But Bale didn’t come. He told us he goes to bed at 11:00.”

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a professional athlete who adheres to a strict bedtime, that was a slight window into how the rest of the squad views Bale’s personality. More damaging has been Bale’s love for golf, which has given media critics plenty of ammo in recent months. Local tabloids jumped all over Bale when he arrived at Levante’s stadium watching golf on his phone, and there are rumblings that Bale has earned the dressing room nickname “the Golfer” which Courtois seemed to confirm in his interview.

“It’s very hard to describe Bale in one word,” Courtois said in his chat with HLN. That’s honestly the best way to describe the Welsh international, and the best way to describe the descriptions of him as well. The criticisms of the 29-year-old all seem to be wildly excessive in a vacuum, but put together, it’s easier to see why his lack of togetherness with the rest of the squad may contribute to his early exit from the Bernabeu despite his numerous on-field contributions during his stay in Spain.

Bundesliga wrap: RB Leipzig, Dortmund keep pace with Bayern

Bundesliga
(Photo by Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images)
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There were plenty of young American players on show Saturday as the Bundesliga title race continues with at least three contestants.

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RB Leipzig smashed Schalke and BVB took care of business at Werder Bremen to stay close to Bayern Munich.

Borussia Monchengladbach slipped a bit off the pace with a draw, but still has a match-in-hand on the three teams ahead of it.

Werder Bremen 0-2 Borussia Dortmund

Erling Haaland scored his 40th goal of a season spread between BVB and Red Bull Salzburg to salt away a two-goal win a relegation-threatened Bremen.

Dan-Axel Zagadou scored BVB’s other goal, with Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hazimi getting assists. Dortmund is four points back of leaders Bayern and three back of Leipzig. They face Bayern on April 4 and Leipzig on May 9.

American teen Giovanni Reyna followed up his first UCL assist at midweek by making another substitute appearance. He completed all 12 of his passes, making one key pass and winning 2-of-3 duels in 13 minutes.

Fellow USMNT man Josh Sargent played 11 minutes for the hosts, converting his only dribble attempt and winning his only 50-50 while registering an interception.

Schalke 0-5 RB Leipzig

Five different players scored for the visitors in a humbling of David Wagner‘s top four hopefuls in Gelsenkirchen.

Marcel Sabitzer’s last name sounds like a weapon, and he put Schalke on notice with a bullet after 55 seconds before Timo Werner, Marcel Halstenberg, Angelino, and Emil Forsberg joined in on the fun.

USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie was subbed off in the 55th minute with the score 1-0, so he was spared a bit.

Elsewhere
Bayern Munich 3-2 Paderborn — Friday
Hertha Berlin 0-5 Koln
Freiburg 0-2 Fortuna Dusseldorf
Borussia Monchengladbach 1-1 Hoffenheim
Bayer Leverkusen v. Augsburg — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Wolfsburg v. Mainz — Noon ET Sunday
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Union Berlin — 2:30 p.m. ET Monday

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 23 15 4 4 65 26 39 8-2-2 7-2-2 49
 RB Leipzig 23 14 6 3 61 25 36 7-3-1 7-3-2 48
 Borussia Dortmund 23 13 6 4 65 32 33 8-3-0 5-3-4 45
 Mönchengladbach 22 13 4 5 43 25 18 8-2-1 5-2-4 43
 Bayer Leverkusen 22 12 4 6 38 29 9 5-4-2 7-0-4 40
 FC Schalke 04 23 9 9 5 32 32 0 5-5-2 4-4-3 36
 1899 Hoffenheim 23 10 4 9 34 36 -2 5-1-6 5-3-3 34
 SC Freiburg 23 9 6 8 31 33 -2 5-2-4 4-4-4 33
 VfL Wolfsburg 22 8 7 7 28 28 0 3-5-3 5-2-4 31
 Eintracht Frankfurt 22 8 4 10 37 35 2 6-3-2 2-1-8 28
 FC Augsburg 22 7 6 9 34 45 -11 5-3-3 2-3-6 27
 1. FC Union Berlin 22 8 2 12 27 35 -8 6-0-5 2-2-7 26
 1. FC Köln 22 8 2 12 33 42 -9 5-1-5 3-1-7 26
 Hertha BSC Berlin 23 7 5 11 27 43 -16 3-2-7 4-3-4 26
 FSV Mainz 05 22 7 1 14 31 48 -17 3-1-7 4-0-7 22
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 23 5 5 13 23 46 -23 3-2-6 2-3-7 20
 Werder Bremen 23 4 5 14 25 53 -28 1-2-8 3-3-6 17
 SC Paderborn 23 4 4 15 29 50 -21 2-1-9 2-3-6 16

What we learned in the Premier League

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What did we learn in the Premier League on Saturday?

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There were six Premier League games across three time slots and plenty had huge implications in the top four battle, European battle and relegation scrap.

Here’s a look at the big talking points from around the Premier League as the drama really never stops.


VAR steals the show

In both Chelsea’s win against Tottenham and Bournemouth’s hammering at Burnley, VAR stole the show. And not in a good way. Spurs’ Giovani Lo Celso somehow stayed on the pitch but Stockley Park later said he should have been sent off. Bournemouth were hard done by as two goals were chalked out at Burnley and the second one was in such a cruel manner as they had a goal taken away and a penalty awarded against them which put the game to bed.


Giroud now the main man

Chelsea have been missing a target man and Olivier Giroud stepped up against Spurs to put them in the driving seat in the Premier League’s top four race.. Big time This is just what he does. For some reason Giroud has been the third-choice striker all season at Chelsea and he looked likely to leave in January. Chelsea will be glad he didn’t. Tammy Abraham is young and has cooled down after a red-hot start to the season and Michy Batshuayi doesn’t have Giroud’s composure or experience in key moments. Giroud jumped off the bench on Monday against Man United and scored but was just offside and he has the knack of being in the right place at the right time. We spoke with Giroud after his display against United and he said he was fired up and ready to start, especially with a place in France’s EURO 2020 squad on the line. With Bayern Munich coming up in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday, surely he has to lead the Chelsea line. With his clever runs and flicks, Giroud linked up defense and attack perfectly. This is just what he does and it is a mystery as to why he hasn’t played more this season.


Man City’s tough week ends well

It has been a rough seven or so days for Man City off the pitch but on it they have pretty much wrapped up second place in the Premier League. After their two-season European ban their fans have been revolting against UEFA and Pep Guardiola has insisted he will stay at the club. Winning away at Leicester City with another clean sheet showed plenty of character after a win against West Ham on Wednesday. After Sergio Aguero had a late penalty kick saved it would have been easy for City to sulk. Even if VAR, or a lack of it, may have helped them on a Kevin De Bruyne possible handball, they dug deep to get a late win which they deserved. They now sit seven points above third-place Leicester and Man City will finish second this season. Liverpool’s title party should start soon if it hasn’t already as they can go 22 points clear once again with a win on Monday against West Ham. Man City are hanging in there and ahead of their game against Real Madrid on Wednesday they are showing plenty of grit to put the UEFA troubles to one side.


Villa, Bournemouth in big trouble

Aston Villa and Bournemouth are in real trouble and their final 11 games are horrendous. Where are Villa and the Cherries going to get their points from? Villa were awful as their seething manager Dean Smith saw his side totally outplayed by Saints. Bournemouth were unlucky due to VAR but with Chelsea and Liverpool in their next two and Spurs, Everton, Man City, Leicester and Man United still to come, where are Bournemouth’s points going to come from? Villa are in a similar predicament and also have the distraction of the League Cup final against Man City at Wembley next weekend.

Man City grabs late winner at Leicester City

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Gabriel Jesus‘ 80th-minute goal gave Manchester City a 1-0 victory over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

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The three points give Man City 57 on the season, seven more than third-place Leicester City. Liverpool leads the league with 76 points and a match-in-hand.


Three things we learned

1. Ederson flashpoint: James Maddison swept a cross over the Man City back line and Iheanacho raced into the 18 to head it on goal. Iheanacho didn’t get much of it and Ederson did before his parry landed flush with Iheanacho’s chin. Social media was a buzz with cries for a red card, but it’s difficult to see what Ederson could’ve done other than allow Iheanacho to head home.

2. Moral victory for Leicester in loss: Brendan Rodgers‘ men were absolutely clobbered in three previous matches with their perceived top three rivals, but Leicester was good money for a point on Saturday. The Foxes should be encouraged despite the death of their top two hopes. Still holding a 10-point lead on fifth and sixth, Leicester may well focus a bit more on the FA Cup.

3. Striker swap pays off: Aguero had one goal ruled out for offside and saw his penalty saved by Ederson, and Guardiola’s decision to give Gabriel Jesus a run paid off within minutes. The soon-to-be 23-year-old Brazilian striker got his 10th goal of the PL season to go with five assists when he swept a low shot past Schmeichel. His 17 goals in all competitions have him four goals from equalling his best Man City campaign.

Man of the Match: Leicester fans won’t like it, but ex-Foxes star Riyad Mahrez was everywhere. He edges six-save Kasper Schmeichel, as well as Ricardo Pereira and Rodri.


Vardy let Man City off the hook for a giveaway that sent him 1v1 with Ederson, pushing a shot past the keeper but off the post.

Former Leicester star Riyad Mahrez forced Kasper Schmeichel into a parry at the other end.

Man City was all over the Foxes, and Rodri claimed a loose ball to set up a bounding Benjamin Mendy shot that led to a corner.

Mahrez set up De Bruyne for a shot near the top of the 18, but the Belgian struck wide of the near post.

The Foxes earned a dangerous free kick against the run of play, but James Maddison’s 29th-minute shot turned off the wall and into the hands of Ederson.

There was a 39th-minute flashpoint went Ederson went fists first into Kelechi Iheanacho‘s head in a bid to parry a Maddison cross. The Brazilian got the ball first, but Iheanacho spent a lot of time on the turf with a clear injury.

Aguero had the ball in the goal off a De Bruyne-led counter-attack but was a yard offside and the match soon met halftime.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Leicester came out of the team room with vigor, and Ederson had to stymy a 46th-minute cross from newly-introduced Harvey Barnes.

Aguero’s rough day continued when he saw his penalty saved by Schmeichel, but Jesus gave City all three points on a rough-and-tumble day in Leicester.

Aston Villa fuming after Saints defeat

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SOUTHAMPTON — Saints battered Aston Villa on Saturday and to make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.

[ MORE: In the Mixed Zone ] 

The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world. We will tell you what they are saying and the kind of antics going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Here’s the scene from St Mary’s Stadium as Saints were relieved that they finally sealed the win in stoppage time, while Aston Villa were downbeat after another defeat and this time their manager Dean Smith was far from happy.


WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Southampton midfielder Will Smallbone, who turned 20 on Friday, made his Premier League debut and excelled in midfield with plenty of composed passes and he almost scored with a deflected shot which hit the post.

“Good celebration for my 20th birthday and then to get a start and a win today in the Premier League, yeah, it was good,” Smallbone said. “It was different. To play in the Premier League, it was a lot harder. I thought I handled it okay and did alright.”

Smallbone joins the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Luke Shaw in coming through their academy and being graduated to the first team.

“We’ve had quite a lot of players come through the ranks and you look up to them when you’re younger. To come through myself and hopefully do the best I can, it is very special.”

Smallbone is a special player and slotted in seamlessly to Saints’ midfield on his debut and sprayed the ball around nicely.

Dean Smith, Aston Villa’s manager, was absolutely fuming..


MIXEDZONEOLOGY

Jack Grealish was downbeat as he got onto the Aston Villa team bus and his mood reflected that of every Villa player.

What was most surprising was that Grealish got off the team bus and went away in a private taxi after the game instead of going back with the rest of the players and coaching staff. John Terry appeared to do the same.

For most away games that happens and players make their own way home or visit other places for promotional events etc.

But given Smith’s strong words about Villa’s display, it was surprising to see Grealish leave his teammates for the trip home. Grealish and Pepe Reina looked very downbeat and those two are Villa’s only hopes of staying in the Premier League.


IN AND AROUND

Michal Obafemi and Nathan Redmond were hanging around the mixed zone and the likes of Conor Hourihane and Alex McCarthy were on their cell phones loitering around.

Southampton’s players were all very happy as this win all but secures their Premier League status for another season. Villa’s team bus was a pretty miserable place as Dean Smith got on with a look of despair. Next stop: League Cup final against Man City.