Real Madrid star Gareth Bale sidelined for Wales' crucial World Cup qualifiers

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Gareth Bale has been ruled out of Wales’ final two World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and the Republic of Ireland, Press Association Sport understands.

Bale’s fitness has been a source of concern for Wales since he suffered a calf muscle strain against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last week.

The 28-year-old missed Real Madrid’s LaLiga clash with Espanyol on Sunday night but reported to the Wales camp the following morning.

Bale attended the FAW Awards on Monday night but will not be fit enough to play in the two qualifiers which will determine Wales’ World Cup ambitions.

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Ronaldo, Isco, Asensio Real Madrid's new trio and other talking points from win over Espanyol

Andy West 2/10/2017
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Isco scored twice as Real Madrid reduced the gap on La Liga leaders Barcelona to seven points courtesy of a 2-0 win over Espanyol.

Here’s a look at what we learned from the encounter.

IS THE CIA REPLACING THE BBC?

With Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale both injured, there was a new look to the Real Madrid attack as Marco Asensio partnered Cristiano Ronaldo up front while Isco pushed forward from midfield.

The much changed strike force bore fruit as the opening goal came when Ronaldo played a lovely through ball for Isco to beat the offside trap and convert a low finish after half an hour, before the points were wrapped up when Asensio teed up Isco for his second goal of the night with a smart finish.

Over the coming months manager Zinedine Zidane will have to endure an ongoing debate over whether the ‘CIA’ should be preferred to the ‘BBC’ when big games roll around, and at the moment there’s certainly no disputing the places of Ronaldo or Isco in the team’s strongest eleven.

That means Asensio, Benzema and Bale are competing for the remaining spot in the team, and with Asensio contributing amply to the team’s first home league win of the season he’s certainly mounting a strong case.

ACHRAF SHOWS STYLE ON DEBUT

Bale and Benzema weren’t the only absentees for Los Blancos, with full-backs Dani Carvajal, Marcelo and Theo Hernandez all missing as well.

That forced Zidane to field a debutant at right-back, and Achraf Hakimi did not disappoint. The 18 year-old, who is known primarily by his first name, is already a full Morocco international but he was born in Madrid and has been with the club since the age of eight.

SCOUTING REPORT OF ACHRAF HAKIMI, FIRST ARAB IN REAL MADRID’S FIRST TEAM

Having come through the youth system he should feel at home inside the Bernabeu, and in the opening stages of his debut he showed an abundance of confidence by producing a cheeky dribble down the right for create space for a dangerous cross.

Overall Achraf was sensible and measured rather than risk-taking, but that will have pleased his manager and Zidane will be content with the teenager’s solid contribution, knowing that he has unearthed another option for the full-back positions when the need arises.

Achraf Hakimi

Achraf Hakimi

MADRID STILL LACKING HOME COMFORTS

Although the two-goal cushion suggests a comfortable enough victory, this was by no means a completely convincing display from the hosts as they finally gained their first home league win of the season following two draws and a defeat.

Zidane’s men played well enough in the first half, and were only denied a bigger half-time lead than Isco’s opener by some good saves from visiting keeper Pau Lopez.

Espanyol had barely been in the game until the stroke of half-time when Gerard Moreno hit the post following a mistake by Casemiro, and that appeared to give the visitors a boost in confidence as they started the second half by far the stronger team.

There were several near misses in and around the Madrid penalty area, and at that stage an equaliser would have been no surprise at all as the home team defence was regularly caught out by its high line.

Isco’s second goal killed off Espanyol’s growing momentum and settled the game, but Zidane will send off his players into the international break knowing there is still an awful lot of room for improvement.

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Player ratings as Isco stars and Ronaldo blanks in Real Madrid's 2-0 win over Espanyol

Andy West 2/10/2017
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Isco struck twice as champions Real Madrid beat Espanyol 2-0 to claim their first home win of the season in LaLiga on Sunday.

The Spaniard found the net in each half as Zinedine Zidane’s men stayed within seven points of early leaders Barcelona.

Here, we rate the best and worst performers on the night.

REAL MADRID

Navas 6 – Wasn’t given much to do, but did what was necessary to preserve his clean sheet.

Achraf 6 – Very confident and composed on his debut, without offering the same attacking thrust as absent Dani Carvajal.

Varane 7 – Always looked in control of Moreno, using his pace and strength to win his personal battle with the visiting striker.

Ramos 6 – Made a terrible clumsy mistake which nearly gifted Espanyol an equaliser midway through the second half.

Nacho 6 – Same as every week: safe, solid and unspectacular. A fundamental member of Zidane’s squad.

Modric 7 – Kept everything going for his team with a typically smooth display. Makes controlling the midfield look easy.

Casemiro 6 – Conceded possession cheaply before Moreno hit the post and was rightly booked for his standard weekly reckless challenge.

Kroos 6 – Played well in the first half but looks to be struggling for fitness and was replaced midway through the second.

Isco 9 – Easily the best player on the pitch. At the heart of all Madrid’s most dangerous attacking play and scored both goals to secure the points.

Ronaldo 6 – Not his day in front of goal, but provided a great assist for Isco’s opener with a slide rule through ball.

Asensio 7 – Heavily involved in the build-up play from his floating forward position, and did well to tee up Isco for the second goal.

SUBS

Vazquez 6 – Some bright attacking moments after coming on for Kroos, nearly scoring after running onto a cross from Ronaldo.

Ceballos and Mayoral – N/A

Isco

Isco

ESPANYOL

P Lopez 7 – Made some good saves in the first half to keep his team in contention.

S Sanchez 6 – Former Malaga man battled hard on his return to La Liga, before limping off midway through the second half.

J Lopez 7 – Solid performance from the skipper, with some well-timed challenges and clearances.

Hermoso 6 – Lost the run of Isco for the opening goal but otherwise impressed with a strong display in the heart of defence.

Martin 6 – Looks a classy player at left-back and tried to play a constructive role going forward.

Baptistao 5 – Flitted frustratingly in and out of the game and failed to make the most of his chances to damage the hosts.

Darder 6 – Some smooth touches and shone in Espanyol’s strong spell in the early stages of the second half.

Fuega 5 – Huffed and puffed but lacked the class to compete on an even footing with Kroos and Modric.

Roca 5 – Failed to make an impact on the game and was replaced at half-time.

Jurado 5 – Another man dragged off at the break, he was outplayed in midfield and looked well off the pace.

Moreno 5 – Hit the post with a smart snapshot just before half-time and robbed Ramos to create another golden chance, but a weak overall display despite plenty of service.

SUBS

Navarro 6 – Showed attacking intent down the right but missed a good chance to level by shooting too close to Navas.

Garcia 6 – Initially added some much-needed punch to the visiting team’s attack when he came on for the second half, but then faded.

Granero 5 – Former Madrid player was applauded onto the pitch but one of his first actions was to give the ball away for the home team’s second goal.

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