Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale is battling for fitness ahead of tomorrow’s Champions League match at Liverpool after the club announced he is suffering from a buttock muscle injury.
The 25-year-old Wales star was an unused substitute in Saturday’s Primera Division win over Levante on his return from international duty, while reports in Spain said he also sat out training yesterday.
That raised doubts over Bale’s availability for the trip to Anfield, as well as this weekend’s El Clasico with Barcelona, although Madrid have said for now they will keep an eye on the player.
A statement on the club’s website read: “After tests carried out on by the Real Madrid Sanitas medical services, he has been diagnosed with a muscular injury in the right pyramidalis muscle. His progress will be monitored.”
Bale played the full 90 minutes in both of Wales’ Euro 2016 qualifiers against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Cyprus.
Madrid will be defending their 100 per cent record in Champions League Group B at Liverpool, who have won one and lost one so far.
Bale’s absence will not lessen Real’s attacking potency with the free-scoring Cristiano Ronaldo set to take centre stage.
“There’s no doubt that Cristiano is the best player in the world at the moment,” said defender Alvaro Arbeloa. “He is a great professional and a player who improves every day. No-one can imagine what he does. Training and playing with him helps you to grow and improve.”
The Portugal international arrives on the back of breaking at 71-year La Liga record by scoring 15 goals in the first eight matches of the season and while his talent cannot be under-estimated, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers stressed it would be foolish to focus solely on him.
“He’s a player off the charts. His evolution in recent years, the way how he has become a goalscorer has been amazing,” Rodgers said. “We need to know to stop him but there is danger in other parts of the field. You have (Luka) Modric, (Toni) Kroos – wonderful technicians who can play short, long. I’m also a big admirer of Sergio Ramos since his young days at Sevilla.
“They have amazing talents all over the field and they have the technique to play in small spaces and when the space opens up there is no one better on the counter-attack in Ronaldo and Bale because, they are two players that could be in the Olympic 100 metres final.”
Neymar has admitted he is now happier with life at Barcelona as the Catalan club prepare for tonight’s must-win Champions League meeting with Ajax.
The Brazilian has scored eight league goals in just seven appearances so far this season, including a smartly-taken volley in Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Eibar at the Nou Camp. He also scored in Barca’s 3-2 defeat at Paris Saint-Germain in their last European outing, and has added five more for his country to take his overall season tally to an impressive 14.
The early signs are that the 22 year-old will enjoy a far more productive campaign that his first season in Spain, which was interrupted by injuries and eventually yielded just 15 goals at club level as Barca failed to win a major trophy for the first time since 2008.
“I don’t know what’s changed, but I feel better now,” Neymar said. “I have adapted to the team more and now I feel more at home. I’m very happy at this club.”
One notable aspect of Neymar’s form has been a much improved connection with Lionel Messi, who has provided a number of assists for his fellow South American star after a distinct lack of on-pitch understanding last year.
Neymar added: “It’s incredible to play with him. I think he’s the best player I have ever seen.”
Hype is already growing for Barca’s weekend trip to Madrid, but the Catalan outfit are attempting to maintain focus on tonight’s meeting with Ajax following their loss at PSG, which has left the French club in control of Group F.
Manager Luis Enrique, meanwhile, has played down reports of a rift with Messi after the Argentine appeared to refuse to be substituted during the latter stages of Saturday’s win over Eibar.
Enrique eventually substituted Neymar following Messi’s rejection of the offer to be replaced, and the Barca boss was pictured on the sidelines looking unhappy after Messi twice told the manager he would not come off.
But Enrique said: “What happened can be interpreted many ways, depending on who it serves.”
Ajax have drawn both of their fixtures – against APOEL and PSG, and coach Frank de Boer said: “I want to see us having fun.
“With these kind of games you have an opportunity to show what you can do.”
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard discusses the Reds' return to the Champions League over a game of golf, while Gareth Bale discusses reigning champions Real Madrid's hopes of retaining the trophy and Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinsteiger offers some free-kick advice.
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