In the latest episode of Gareth Bale Watch, the Wales winger was spotted on the bench during Monday night’s clash with Granada fashioning a makeshift pair of binoculars as he continues to find novel ways to entertain himself amid infrequent game time.
Though Madrid are on the verge of a first La Liga title since 2017, Bale hasn’t exactly played a massive role in the club’s success this season.
The 30-year-old has featured just twice since the restart and 16 times in total this season, with the former Tottenham star pretty much unloved by Zinedine Zidane and caught in a cold war with the Spanish press.
Nevertheless, Bale is apparently not letting the situation get to him too much.
Last week, he was pictured putting his face mask over his eyes as he stretched out on the touchline, as Los Blancos beat Alaves 2-0, an image which launched a thousand furious headlines.
Bale’s bench antics have become quite the post-lockdown feature with the Welshman’s latest move to play a little game of I spy to pass the time.
Last summer, ‘the Golfer’ looked set to join Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning only for the plug to be pulled on the deal at the eleventh hour at the behest of Florentino Perez.
While he may not be wanted by Zidane (or the Madrid press), Bale is happy to see out his mega contract in Spain, which runs until 2022, while the economic impact of the pandemic makes a summer transfer even more difficult.
His agent Jonathan Barnett has repeatedly rubbished transfer links, most recently telling BBC Radio 4 that a shock move to Newcastle this summer is unlikely.
“He’s happy playing for Real Madrid,” said Barnett, as quoted by Managing Madrid.
“It’s his life he wants to lead, not a new project. From a financial standpoint, he won’t be needing more money for the rest of his life and even the life of his children and grandchildren.”
Sometimes one or two decisions can define a career.
After Dominic Solanke fired in his first and then second Premier League goals in 39 games for Bournemouth on Sunday to hand the Cherries a lifeline in their relegation battle, he may have taken a moment to reflect on what has gone before. Once touted as the crown jewel in England’s talented youngsters, the boy from Reading had been treading water for some time.
Some miles north-east in London, great friend and former youth teammate Tammy Abraham is living the dream Solanke once held; leading the line at boyhood club Chelsea, where Solanke too, began his career.
Born a month apart in 1997, the pair both joined the Blues at under-eight level, rapidly progressing and spurring each other onto a staggering 41 goals apiece, during an incredible campaign for the age group sides in 2014. The Chelsea Under-18s, led by the pair, collected both the FA Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League titles.
Solanke went on to become the youngest Champions League Chelsea debutant, when Jose Mourinho introduced him – as a second half substitute- to first team action later that season. Abraham wouldn’t get his first team bow until the arrival of temporary coach Guus Hiddink the following year, while Solanke headed to Chelsea’s European development centre of Vitesse.
Abraham spent two largely successful loan spells at Bristol City and Swansea and was subsequently called up to England’s Under-21 side. In perhaps fatal decision number one, Solanke turned down similar loan offers and instead played an almost unnoticed third choice to Diego Costa and Michy Batshuayi, for the title winning season of 2016/17, before being told he wasn’t in Antonio Conte’s plans at Stamford Bridge.
The frozen-out Solanke responded by smashing four goals and grabbing the ‘Golden Ball’ for player of the tournament as England won the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in South Korea, in the summer of 2017. But despite his international successes, you can’t help but wonder how his club career had turned out had he taken the option of a loan deal the summer before and settled at a side where he was given those precious minutes.
Solanke instead stood his ground and in another decisive move, held out for a switch to Liverpool; which, at the age of 19, proved to be one risky move too many.
Ultimately, it never happened at Anfield for Solanke, where he scored once in 27 appearances but was still sold for huge profit to Bournemouth.
Abraham was hammering in goals for Aston Villa and securing his place in Frank Lampard’s plans for this season, now seasons ahead in development of his friend at senior level.
Abraham speaking to the Chelsea website last year, spoke of his admiration for the talent of his old teammate and reminisced fondly on their glory days in blue together.
“He was the first player I ever met when I came in to Chelsea and we clicked straight away. He was always skilful in the younger age groups and he had the quickest feet you’ve ever seen. When I saw him doing a certain skill, I wanted to do it as well and we were just like that, always driving each other on. It was nice to have that friendship and bond to play alongside him.”
As well as differing transfer switches, it is perhaps also Abraham’s self-assurance and strength of character in the years since the pair’s dual success, that has determined their differing returns in the top flight.
“Dominic was quite a shy boy,” former Blue’s academy coach Adi Viveash told the Athletic. “Tammy was what you see now: confident, bubbly, quite an extrovert. He was a lot louder than Dominic in an outward way, although on the pitch they both had the same steely determination.”
Abraham also agreed with that assessment of their contrasting personalities, although he remains confident that the boy he met at the age of seven all those years ago can still deliver on his undoubted potential.
“In front of people he’s not comfortable with, he’s quiet but once he gets going he’s a good lad.” added Abraham. “I think he can really develop into a top striker, he’s so versatile so he really can go to the top.”
Abraham commenting on Solanke’s potential may feel strange considering they are the same age, but the markedly different paths they have taken thus far, largely facilitate it. Perhaps a relegation may be good for Solanke, providing a chance to experience the Championship and learn his craft, or rather re-learn it.
Despite a welcome return to the scoresheet – one that Chelsea fans will be grateful for, with it preventing Leicester from going third – there is still plenty of work to do for the former wonderkid to rediscover the form that first thrust him into the spotlight.
Sadly those decisions made three years ago, and perhaps a loss of belief, have ensured that he has been playing catch up with his pal Tammy since they lifted those youth trophies aloft together. Let’s hope he now finds the fight to stay in the race.
Manchester City can return their full focus to playing football after their two-year European ban was overturned on Monday.
Guardiola’s men have already secured a second-placed finish in the Premier League ensuring they’ll be playing Champions League football again next season.
The Citizens blew Brighton away at the Amex Stadium on Sunday. Back to back 5-0 victories coupled with Leicester City’s recent fall in fortunes means City now have the luxury of prioritising the FA Cup and Champions League starting with Saturday’s trip to Wembley where they face Arsenal.
Victory in those two competitions would complete an impressive treble adding to the Carabao Cup collected in March pre-lockdown.
Ederson (GK) – The Brazilian keeper is just as renowned for his ability with the ball at his feet as he is for stopping it with his hands. He’s kept five clean sheets since football’s resumption.
Joao Cancelo (RB) – The summer signing from Juventus has been largely impressive when he’s played but has found opportunities at a premium. The Portuguese full-back missed the Brighton game with a knock but should have recovered in time for Wednesday’s encounter.
John Stones (CB) – TheEngland international is 26 but we’re still waiting for Stones to fulfil his potential. He started against Newcastle recently and came on as a sub at Brighton and could be used in order to give Aymeric Laporte a rest.
Nicolas Otamendi (CB) – The Argentine has been a divisive figure during his spell in England. Guardiola is currently blooding 19-year-old Eric Garcia at the heart of his defence and with the young Spaniard convincing so far, he is expected to be given a break ahead of a Wembley run out on Saturday.
Oleksandr Zinchenko (LB) – The Ukrainian was originally bought as an attacking midfielder but has been moulded into a modern-day full-back at the Etihad. With Benjamin Mendy proving more effective but still unable to play multiple times a week, Zinchenko should start against Bournemouth.
Fernandinho (DM) – The 35-year-old has been a fan favourite at City for some time now. The Brazilian has proven to be a consistent performer and his cameo appearance off the bench at the weekend may point towards a starting role in mid-week.
David Silva (CM) – A fellow veteran midfielder alongside Fernandinho could start against the Cherries. The former Valencia man is into his final months at City and will want to go out with another piece of silverware or two to add to his brimming collection. The Spaniard tends to play a slightly lesser role these days and could be brought in to allow Kevin de Bruyne time off during this congested fixture list.
Bernardo Silva (CM) – The Portuguese playmaker appears to have endless amounts of energy. Despite not hitting the heights of last season, the 2019 Manchester City player of the year is still a constant threat.
Phil Foden (RW) – The Manchester City academy graduate has been impressive since football’s return and he’ll be desperate for more minutes on the pitch against Eddie Howe’s struggling side. He’s often been deployed on the right-wing to good effect, most notably in the 4-0 thrashing of Liverpool.
Gabriel Jesus (ST) – With Sergio Aguero ruled out with injury for the rest of the Premier League campaign, 23-year-old Gabriel Jesus is currently performing an open audition to stake his claim as City’s number one striker.
Raheem Sterling (LW) – Following his hat-trick against Brighton it would come as a shock to see the England international on the bench against Bournemouth. Sterling will want to add more goals to his tally in a late bid for this season’s Golden Boot.
Juventus can inch closer to their ninth consecutive Serie A title as they head to Sassuolo on Wednesday night.
With eight points separating them from second-placed Lazio, the Bianconeri are within touching distance of another Scudetto. The Old Lady were fortunate to come away with a draw against Atalanta on Saturday and the midweek clash with Sassuolo offers them the opportunity to return to winning ways.
However, the Neroverdi could prove to be a tricky adversary. Roberto De Zerbi’s side are enjoying late burst of form in the league, defeating Lazio 1-2 in their most recent outing, as they continue on their hunt for Europa League qualification.
When is Kick Off? Wednesday 11 July What Time is Kick Off? 20:45 (BST) Where it it Played? Allianz Stadium TV Channel/Live Stream? Premier Sports 1 (UK), LiveScore
The hosts will be without striker Gregoire Defrel who sidelined with a facial injury. Defender Filippo Romagna is a long-term absentee having picked up a knee injury. Former West Ham man Pedro Obiang has is recovering from a muscular injury and is unlikely to feature.
For the visitors, Matteo De Sciglio and Sami Khedira are both out with thigh injuries. Turkish centre back Merih Demiral has returned to first team training after seven months on the sidelines, but it is unlikely he will feature on Wednesday night. Juan Cuadrado will miss out through suspension meaning Alex Sandro will likely start the match at left back, with Danilo moving back to his familiar right side.
They’ve left it late but eighth-placed Sassuolo are flying at the moment. The Neroverdi are unbeaten in their previous six Serie A outings. De Zerbi’s side have won four games on the bounce and are chasing down fellow high-flyers Milan who lie four points ahead in seventh.
Uncharacteristically, Juve have gone two Serie A matches without a win. Their recent dip in form has went unpunished thanks to the capitulation of fellow title contenders Lazio.
The Bianconeri’s usually stellar defence has been pummelled of recent, a resurgent Milan side hit a whopping four past them, whilst Atalanta struck twice at the weekend. Sarri’s side have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last four outings, a worrying prospect as they head to Sassuolo – a side that has scored 18 goals since the return.
Here’s a look at how both teams have fared in their last five outings.
Juventus 2-2 Atalanta (11/7) AC Milan 4-2 Juventus (7/7) Juventus 4-1 Torino (4/7) Genoa 1-3 Juventus (30/6) Juventus 4-0 Lecce (26/6)
Juventus have lost just once to Sassuolo in their history, though this Neroverdi side is a different animal of late. De Zerbi has his players looking motivated and determined to finish the season as strongly as possible.
The Bianconeri looked flat against Milan and Atalanta, complacency is looking to have sunk in to some extent, don’t be surprised to see Sassuolo capitalise.
Tomas Soucek is aiming to help guide West Ham to Premier League survival in order to extend his stay in east London beyond his loan spell.
The midfielder joined the Hammers from Slavia Prague in January 2020, and his move will become permanent should West Ham remain in the Premier League.
David Moyes’ side secured a vital victory over Norwich in their most recent outing to leave them three points above the drop zone with three games left to play.
Speaking to the Evening Standard, Soucek said: “I am enjoying the Premier League because we play against big teams and I’m enjoying every day on the training ground.
“I’m playing with guys that I’ve played with for four or five months but I’m really enjoying it and, hopefully, we’ll be safe and I will be able to enjoy more years here.”
The 25-year-old will join West Ham in a £16.5m deal this summer if the Hammers are still playing Premier League football next season.
Soucek has caught the eye during his short spell at the London Stadium, making 10 Premier League appearances and chipping in with two goals.
He turned in a particularly impressive display during West Ham’s Michael Antonio-inspired 4-0 victory over Norwich on Saturday, as the Hammers took a huge step towards safety.
Victory for fellow strugglers Watford, Bournemouth and Aston Villa means West Ham are still very much in danger of suffering the drop, but their destiny is in their hands heading into the final three games of the season.
West Ham’s remaining fixture’s are particularly intriguing. The Hammers face Watford on Friday, the side sitting one place below them in the table.
Only goal difference currently separates the pair after the Hornet’s 2-1 victory over Newcastle on Saturday.
West Ham then face in form Manchester United, before hosting fellow relegation candidates Aston Villa on the final day of the season.