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Real Madrid draw Villarreal; Bale makes case to start UCL final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid showed Liverpool its strengths and weaknesses a week before their Champions League final.

Madrid squandered first-half goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in drawing at Villarreal 2-2 on Saturday in its last match before attempting to win Europe’s most coveted trophy for a third year in a row.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane aligned what could be his starting 11 for the final against Liverpool, except for giving 20-year-old son Luca Zidane his competitive debut in goal.

Zidane left striker Karim Benzema on his bench in favor of starting Ronaldo and Bale alone up front and playing Francisco “Isco” Alarcon along with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos as playmakers in front of holding midfielder Casemiro.

Madrid showed the same dominant form that has taken it to another Champions League final in the first half at Villarreal.

But after Ronaldo and Modric were replaced by Benzema and Lucas Vazquez with half an hour remaining, Zidane’s bunch displayed the same complacency and faulty defending that scuttled its Liga title defense months ago.

The draw in the final round meant Madrid finished the Spanish league in third place behind Atletico Madrid and champion Barcelona.

Bale opened the scoring with a solo effort in the 11th minute, and Ronaldo headed in a superb cross by Marcelo just after the half-hour mark.

Fifth-place Villarreal outplayed the visitors in the second half and leveled through goals by substitutes Roger Martinez in the 70th and Samuel Castillejo in the 85th.

“We played a very, very good first half, with determination, scoring goals, but the second half was the exact opposite,” Zidane said. “The important thing is that we didn’t have any injuries and can now rest well for next weekend. We are only thinking about winning the final.”

Bale, who struggled for most of the season to make Zidane’s first-choice 11, has finished the season strong and appears to have earned a spot in the Champions League final.

His opener against Villarreal, created when he let Modric’s pass run through as he spun around his marker, was his 14th goal in the last 10 rounds.

“Gareth has never given up,” Zidane said. “He has trained well. Nothing has changed. The only difference is that now he is scoring.”

Ronaldo’s goal was his 26th in the league. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi leads the competition with 34.

Castillejo snatched the draw after he raced behind Marcelo to receive a lobbed pass from Rodrigo Hernandez. Luca Zidane, who normally plays for Madrid’s reserve team in the third divison, stopped his initial chipped shot but Castillejo slotted the rebound into the open net.

Saudi Arabia midfielder Salem Al Dawsari made his Liga debut as a second-half substitute for Villarreal.

10-man Barca keep unbeaten season going with El Clasico draw

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Barcelona cleared the final major hurdle in their quest to become the first La Liga side to finish the league campaign in unbeaten fashion, drawing UEFA Champions League finalists Real Madrid, 2-2, in the final El Clasico of the 2017-18 season on Sunday… barely.

[ MORE: Wenger speaks, bids farewell to Emirates after final home game ]

It was a dream start for Ernesto Valverde’s side, which entered Sunday’s showdown unbeaten through the first 35 games of the league season (42 straight dating back to last season), courtesy of Luis Suarez’s 10th-minute opener. Sergi Roberto — more on him in a moment — delivered the perfect cross to the back post and Suarez hammered his first-time finish past Keylor Navas (WATCH HERE).

The lead lasted just five minutes, though, as Cristian Ronaldo started — and finished — a free-flowing piece of play into Barca’s penalty area (WATCH HERE). Ronaldo would be forced off at halftime, due to what the club called a minor ankle sprain. He is expected to be fully fit and available for the May 26 UCL final against Liverpool.

Back to Roberto, though, who was goaded, by Marcelo — who else? — into a moment of madness seconds before halftime. After an instance of innocuous shoulder-to-shoulder contact, it was Roberto who gave Marcelo a slap to the face — or, at the very least, appeared to intend to do so — on the edge of the penalty area. Even without the benefit of video review (VAR will arrive in La Liga next season), it was spotted by the referee and Roberto was off.

[ MORE: Guardiola jovial after Man City lift PL trophy ]

Down a man, Lionel Messi scored a typically brilliant goal seven minutes into the second half, weaving past three defenders atop the penalty area before uncorking a pinpoint curler through traffic and just inside Navas’s right-hand post.

The lead lasted 20 minutes, until Gareth Bale drew Los Blancos level once again with a stunning, curling, first-time streak from just outside the box. The ball forward from Marco Asensio hit the Welshman in stride, and Bale put it where no goalkeeper in the world could get it.

[ MORE: Klopp admits Champions League run taking toll on Liverpool ]

Barca’s remaining schedule reads as follows: vs. Villarreal (6th place), at Levante (17th), and vs. Real Sociedad (11th).

La Liga: Ronaldo rested for UCL, but Real Madrid keep winning

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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid rested Cristiano Ronaldo and other regulars for the Champions League and still got the win it needed to stay in contention for second place in the Spanish league.

[ PREMIER LEAGUE: Saints go marching up; Chelsea close in on 4th ]

Gareth Bale and Borja Mayoral scored first-half goals as Madrid defeated Leganes 2-1 on Saturday to move within a point of second-place Atletico Madrid, which plays at Alaves on Sunday.

Ronaldo and captain Sergio Ramos weren’t included for the match at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, while Marcelo, Luka Modric and Lucas Vazquez stayed on the bench.

Madrid defeated Bayern Munich 2-1 in Germany last week to take the edge going into Tuesday’s second leg of the Champions League semifinals at the Bernabeu.

Madrid is trying to return to the European final for the fourth time in five seasons.

[ PREMIER LEAGUE: Wenger visits Old Trafford, Mourinho one more time ]

Bale and Karim Benzema, who didn’t start in the first leg against Bayern, were in the lineup against Leganes. Casemiro was the only player to start in both matches.

“I’m happy with the attitude of my players, it was exemplary,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “The first half was phenomenal.”

Darko Brasanac scored midway through the second half for Leganes, which earlier this season eliminated Madrid in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals.

The southern Madrid club dropped to 16th in the 20-team standings and is not fully clear of relegation with three matches left.

Leganes midfielder Gabriel Pires was sent off in injury time.

[ MORE: Southampton a point from safety | Chelsea two points back of 4th ]

Barcelona needs a draw at relegation-threatened Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday to win its third La Liga in four seasons.

“We can’t be happy with how things unfolded in La Liga,” Zidane said. “We lost too many points in the beginning.”

Madrid has a game in hand, at Sevilla.

Sevilla coach Vincenzo Montella was fired on Saturday because of poor results, and replaced by Joaquin Caparros, who coached the team in the early 2000s.

Ronaldo, Griezmann trade goals in Madrid Derby draw (video)

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The stars were on show at the Madrid Derby on Sunday.

Real Madrid had a wealth of chances but were again stymied by a Diego Simeone defense, with Atletico Madrid maintaining its hold on second place with a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu.

Atleti is 11 points back of unbeaten leaders Barcelona, while Real remains four points back of Sunday’s visitors.

[ MORE: Arsenal edges Southampton ]

The two sides drew 0-0 earlier this season, and Real is winless in three although the first was the second leg of last season’s UEFA Champions League semifinals (Real advanced).

Atleti’s Antoine Griezemann answered the combination of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, with Ronaldo scoring for the 10th straight match.

Ronaldo’s marker came in the 53rd minute when he showed trademark poise in belting Gareth Bale’s cross past Jan Oblak.

Yet the lead would only last a few minutes.

Griezmann returned from a yellow card accumulation suspension to bury a chance inside the 18, scoring his 25th goal of the season in all competitions while remaining a thorn in the side of his cross city rivals.

Oblak tipped a stoppage time free kick from Sergio Ramos over the bar to preserve the draw, as Real out-attempted Atleti 29-9 (only 8-5 on target).

Here’s the equalizer:

Gareth Bale “unhappy” as Man United circle

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Gareth Bale‘s future at Real Madrid appears to be in the balance as reports about him being unhappy have surfaced once again.

Reports from Sky Sports claim that Bale is particularly unhappy about his lack of minutes in recent games, with Bale on the bench in two of Real’s last four games.

Bale, 28, was left out of the starting lineup in both of Real’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 games against Paris Saint-Germain and given Cristiano Ronaldo’s untouchable status at the Santiago Bernabeu, Isco scoring a hat trick during the international break and Karim Benzema a firm favorite of manager Zinedine Zidane, it appears he could miss out against Juventus in a huge week for the reigning European champions.

Bale scored twice for Real Madrid in their win at Las Palmas on Saturday but Zidane refused to confirm if the Welsh international would start in their key UEFA Champions League quarterfinal first leg at Juventus on Tuesday.

“I’m very pleased with his performance. You’ll have to wait and see if he plays on Tuesday,” Zidane said.

Hot on the heels of these reports of unhappiness from Bale is a claim from the Daily Mirror that Manchester United is ready and willing to offload Anthony Martial to Juventus in order to sign the former Tottenham star.

Martial has dazzled in spells at United but Mourinho doesn’t appear to trust him in big games and the French international, still just 22 years old, may see a move to Juve better for his long-term development given Alexis Sanchez’s arrival at United and Marcus Rashford often preferred to him on the left.

Given Jose Mourinho’s previous comments that he would drive to the airport himself to pick Bale up if there was a chance of Man United signing the Welsh forward, it appears there could be some movement for Mourinho to make an airport run.

Bale has often been targeted by some of Real’s fans amid plenty of rumblings that he hasn’t taken to life in Spain, despite winning three UCL titles in five seasons at the Spanish giants.

Where would Bale slot in at United?

Well, if Martial leaves then a front three of Romelu Lukaku, Sanchez and Bale wouldn’t be bad, would it? Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard would be in reserve and with Juan Mata perhaps moving on this summer, Mourinho seems keen to add more pace to his forward line.

Bale fits the bill and it appears his relationship with Zidane is strained and his five-year sojourn in Spain is coming towards an end. From a selfish point of view, wouldn’t it be great to see Bale back in the Premier League again?