Sergio Ramos is in line to make his return from injury after being included in the Real Madrid squad to face Real Valladolid on Sunday.

Madrid captain Ramos has been out of action since injuring his ankle in the penalty shoot-out victory over Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana final two weeks ago.

The 33-year-old was back in training on Thursday and completed a full session on Friday to earn a spot in Zinedine Zidane's 19-man group for Sunday's LaLiga outing.

Gareth Bale was not included due to an ankle problem, while Brahim Diaz – who impressed in the 3-1 win over Unionistas de Salamanca in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday – Vinicius Junior and Mariano Diaz were left out.

Following Barcelona's 2-0 loss at Valencia on Saturday, Madrid will go top of LaLiga if they get a point at Estadio Jose Zorilla.

Zinedine Zidane insists Gareth Bale is not a trouble-causer at Real Madrid, with the coach adamant he will always back his players.

Bale has become a target of vitriol from Madrid's fans and sections of the Spanish media in recent seasons, with the Wales forward – who has also struggled with injuries – having often fallen down the pecking order.

The 30-year-old also incurred the wrath of the local press and Los Blancos support when he celebrated with a flag bearing the message "WALES. GOLF. MADRID... IN THAT ORDER" following Wales' qualification for Euro 2020.

Having scored in Madrid's 3-1 Copa del Rey win over Unionistas de Salamanca on Wednesday, Bale will not be available for Sunday's LaLiga encounter with Real Vallodolid due to an ankle injury.

But, when asked why he has defended the player in the past, Zidane stated he has no issues with Bale, who has scored just three goals this season.

"I always defend my players. It's not that I need to. They train every day, they work hard and want to defend the Real Madrid badge," Zidane told a news conference.

"So I don't share the same opinion. It's true he's had a few injuries but you can't do anything when a player is injured.

"Hopefully he can string together more games, a few training sessions, get minutes under his belt and get back into playing and training at the same pace as his team-mates.

"When he is fit we want him to come back and be in good shape. It is a shame. He is not happy because he wants to be training with the side."

Zidane also refuted the suggestion Bale had exaggerated his injury as to not play against Vallodolid.

"I am always worried when a player is injured, it's something I don't like to see," Zidane said.

"I have 25 players here and it is tough to me because I have to pick a side, but I don't want players injured. Gareth's injury isn't serious, a slight sprain and he'll be back soon.

"You're entitled to think what you want, but when I am with the player, I have spoken to him and he wants to be with the team and wants to play, but the other day he suffered a slight injury."

Another Madrid player who is recovering from injury is Eden Hazard, who has returned to individual training. However, Zidane was unable to confirm if the Belgium international would be fit to feature against Atletico Madrid on February 1.

"I can't confirm a comeback date as he has just started training with the ball. There is very little or no pain there now," Zidane said.

"He will no doubt improve and hopefully be back with the team soon. It is excellent for the player to be able to train with the team, it's good for his morale and confidence, but I can't confirm a date."

Gareth Bale will be monitored after suffering a minor ankle twist on his impressive return to Real Madrid's starting side, head coach Zidane Zidane confirmed on Wednesday.

Bale scored the opener in a 3-1 Copa del Rey win over Unionistas de Salamanca but was unable to continue beyond the 53rd minute midweek.

Wales star Bale, who has battled injury and illness this season, was making his first appearance since the LaLiga victory against Getafe on January 4.

"He's twisted his ankle a bit," Zidane said. "I don't think it's much but, as always, we'll see tomorrow. He couldn't go on."

Bale's forced withdrawal appeared to unsettle Madrid, who conceded a stunning equaliser four minutes later as Alvaro Romero surged forward and fired past goalkeeper Alphonse Areola.

Juan Gongora's own goal after the hour and a late Brahim Diaz strike saved Zidane's men from an upset and extended their winning streak to five games in all competitions.

The Los Blancos boss insisted he was satisfied despite flirting with a premature exit against the third-tier minnows.

"It was a tough night at a tough place to come and play," he said.

"We struggled with moving the ball and we didn't see much great football, but that was down to the pitch, not more than that.

"We're pleased because in the end we're going through to the last-16 and that's what we came to achieve."

Madrid - level on points with leaders and defending champions Barcelona - visit Real Valladolid in LaLiga on Sunday.

Gareth Bale's agent described suggestions he is to leave Real Madrid on loan as "ridiculous" and assured he will see out the remainder of his contract at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Having made just nine LaLiga starts for Madrid this season, Bale has been the subject of speculation linking him with a move back to the Premier League with Tottenham or Manchester United.

Barnett did not rule out the possibility of the Wales international leaving Madrid but emphatically dismissed the suggestion of a loan exit.

"At the moment he is going to be playing football this evening for Real Madrid and he has got two and a half years left on his contract," Barnett told Sky Sports ahead of Zinedine Zidane's side taking on Unionistas de Salamanca in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

"He is fine, he will be there and everything will be fine.

"He is one of the best players on earth. Why would one of the best players on earth go on loan? That's ridiculous.

"That's what I have always said. I have never deviated. Things can change but loans are ridiculous and there are not many clubs that can afford him anyway."

Bale was on the verge of a move to Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning before the start of this season, but a reportedly difficult relationship with Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane seems to have settled down.

Since he joined Madrid from Tottenham for €100million in 2013, Bale has won one LaLiga title and one Copa del Rey to go with his four Champions League winners' medals.

Barnett backed him to add to his collection of silverware before his time at the club comes to an end.

"He is happy and hopefully he will win a couple of more things with Real Madrid," he said.

Manchester United have lined up another exciting midfield transfer target amid their ongoing pursuit of Bruno Fernandes.

As the wrangling over figures with Sporting CP continues, the Red Devils have reportedly submitted a sizeable offer to Birmingham City for teenage talent Jude Bellingham.

But making the first move might only spark a European bidding war.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED SUBMIT BELLINGHAM BID

Birmingham youngster Bellingham's clear potential has convinced United to launch an offer worth more than £30million, reports the Sun and Sky Sports.

The 16-year-old midfielder has burst onto the scene this season and the Old Trafford outfit are understood to be keen to test him in the Premier League.

However, they could face stiff competition from Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool and other heavyweight clubs across the continent.

The Mirror, meanwhile, claims United have made a "breakthrough" in negotiations for Portugal international Fernandes, having reached a "compromise" transfer fee in the region of £55m.

 

ROUND-UP

- David Beckham's Inter Miami have contacted Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero to assess his interest in a switch to MLS, adds the Sun.

- Tottenham have enquired about Real Madrid winger and former Spurs star Gareth Bale, according to Spanish television programme El Chiringuito.

- Barcelona, still searching for a new striker, have ruled out RB Leipzig's Timo Werner and Lille's Victor Osimhen, suggests Mundo Deportivo, with Valencia's Rodrigo Moreno a more likely target.

- Serie A side Roma are set to discuss personal terms with Matteo Politano after agreeing a €25million fee with Inter, according to Sky Sport Italia.

- Inter, meanwhile, are said to be in discussions with United youngster Tahith Chong, who is also on Chinese outfit Jiangsu Suning's radar as his contract runs close to expiring, says Sky Sport Italia.

- Brescia midfielder Sandro Tonali is interesting Premier League champions City and Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain, reports SportMediaset.

Gareth Bale has returned to the Real Madrid squad for the Copa del Rey trip to Unionistas de Salamanca on Wednesday.

The Wales forward has not featured since the 3-0 LaLiga victory at Getafe on January 4, missing Madrid's Supercopa de Espana triumph in Jeddah and the 2-1 league win over Sevilla last week.

Bale has been brought back for the cup clash, along with James Rodriguez, while Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Rodrygo Goes have been given a rest and captain Sergio Ramos is still missing following an ankle problem.

Head coach Zinedine Zidane has also left out Alvaro Odriozola and Mariano Diaz, who are expected to leave during the transfer window.

Odriozola has emerged as a loan target for Bayern Munich and is reportedly travelling to Germany to finalise a deal.

Mariano, meanwhile, has been linked with Benfica and former club Lyon.

Massimiliano Allegri is without a club since leaving Serie A champions Juventus at the end of 2018-19.

However, Allegri could be nearing a return to management sooner rather than later.

The Italian is believed to be interested in taking charge of Manchester United.

 

TOP STORY – ALLEGRI WANTS UNITED JOB

Massimiliano Allegri is interested in becoming Manchester United manager as pressure mounts on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, according to the Daily Mail.

Allegri has been rumoured to be of interest to Bayern Munich after leaving Serie A champions Juve at the end of last season, while the Italian was also linked to Arsenal prior to Mikel Arteta's appointment.

However, he is reportedly holding out for the United job should Solskjaer be sacked. Ex-Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino is also believed to be monitoring the situation.

 

ROUND-UP

- ElDesmarque claims MLS duo Inter Miami and LA Galaxy are ready to vie for the signature of Real Madrid's Gareth BaleChelsea, though, have also been linked with the former Tottenham star.

- The race is heating up for Milan striker Krzysztof Piatek. Struggling for goals and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic back at San Siro, the Poland international is wanted by Tottenham, reports The Guardian and Calciomercato. Spurs want to boost their attacking options following Harry Kane's injury. Aston Villa have also tabled a bid for Piatek, but Calciomercato claims he is holding out for a bigger club.

- While Piatek could prove a difficult signing, Villa are closing in on Milan goalkeeper Pepe Reina. Calciomercato, Gazzetta dello Sport and Tuttomercatoweb say former Liverpool keeper Reina has agreed a contract with the Premier League side until the end of the season.

- The Mirror reports United are in the market to sign a defender on loan after Harry Maguire's injury. Maguire – the world's most expensive defender – is facing a spell on the sidelines due to a muscle tear.

United are also weighing up a move for Ajax and Netherlands star Donny van de Beek, reports The Telegraph. With Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba injured, the Red Devils are in need of midfield reinforcements. Van de Beek has previously been linked to Real Madrid.

- AS claims Atletico Madrid are looking at Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik as an alternative to Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani. Out of contract at season's end, Cavani is reportedly poised to make the move to Atletico, however, United and Arsenal are also interested.

- Gianluca Di Marzio says Inter winger Matteo Politano has agreed to join city rivals Milan. Struggling for game time with the Nerazzurri, Politano's agent met with Milan's management on Wednesday as a shock switch nears.

Chelsea are preparing a £40million bid for West Ham defender Issa Diop, according to the Express. London rivals Tottenham are also reportedly interested.

Real Madrid are set to be without Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale for the Supercopa de Espana.

The club on Monday announced Benzema had been diagnosed with a hamstring injury, while Bale has an infection in his upper respiratory tract.

No timescale for the recovery of either player was provided by Madrid.

Zinedine Zidane's squad were due to travel to Saudi Arabia on Monday ahead of their semi-final against Valencia in Jeddah on Wednesday.

With Eden Hazard, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez already sidelined, Zidane is set to give prominent roles to Luka Jovic, Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo Goes.

Valencia confirmed on Sunday Rodrigo Moreno had sustained a sprained knee but he was included in their 26-man squad to face Madrid.

Gareth Bale is named in Real Madrid's starting XI for the clash with Getafe, along with Isco, as they return to LaLiga duty.

Bale - who has been linked with a move away from Madrid in the January window - has made 11 league appearances in total in 2019-20, including starting the rearranged Clasico against Barcelona on December 18.

The Wales forward also came on as a substitute in late December matches against Valencia and Athletic Bilbao prior to the mid-season break.

However, Zinedine Zidane has handed the 30-year-old a chance to impress from the off against Getafe in Madrid's first outing in 2020.

Bale starts up top alongside Karim Benzema and Isco, who has been restricted to just 10 league appearances this season, having been hampered by a hamstring injury and inconsistent form.

Meanwhile, Eder Militao - who has struggled to establish himself as a regular since moving to Madrid from Porto - starts at the back in place of Sergio Ramos, who is suspended.

There is no place for Marcelo, who has been battling a calf injury, while Eden Hazard is still out with an ankle problem.

Could Gareth Bale's time in Madrid be coming to an end?

Linked to the Chinese Super League previously, former club Tottenham have emerged as a possible destination for Real Madrid's Bale.

A Spurs star could move in the opposite direction as part of the deal…

 

TOP STORY – SPURS WANT BALE BACK IN EXCHANGE FOR ERIKSEN

Tottenham want to bring Gareth Bale back to North London in a swap deal that would see want-away midfielder Christian Eriksen join Real Madrid, claims The Sun.

It is said that LaLiga giants Madrid would receive £25.7million (€30m) as well as Eriksen in a deal that could reunite Bale with the club he left in 2013.

Eriksen has been linked to Manchester United, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter and other clubs in Europe as his contract runs out at the end of the season.

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea have pulled out of the race to sign Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund, paving the way for the England winger to join Liverpool, according to the Daily Express. United and Madrid have also been linked to the 19-year-old.

United and Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain are in the race to sign Leicester City's in-form right-back Ricardo Pereira in January, according to the Daily Mail.

- Wolves' push for a top-five Premier League finish this season could be bolstered by the addition of South Korean forward Hwang Hee-chan, should the Molineux club persuade Salzburg to part with the £23m (€26.9m)-rated forward in a deal mooted by Sky Sports News.

- Sky in Germany reports that Werder Bremen are keen on re-signing Southampton defender Jannik Vestergaard in January.

- Le10sport claims PSG sounded out Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp as a possible replacement for Thomas Tuchel. The report says PSG sporting director Leonardo spoke to Klopp but the German made it clear he is happy at Anfield.

- Sky Sports News claims David Moyes is poised for a return to West Ham to replace Manuel Pellegrini following his sacking. Moyes spent a brief period in charge of West Ham in 2018.

Arsenal have set their sights on RB Leipzig centre-back Dayot Upamecano. A move for the 21-year-old depends on whether Leipzig can sign Tanguy Kouassi from PSG, according to Le Parisien.

Wales manager Ryan Giggs says Gareth Bale remains in love with football and is more than capable of handling the criticism he has received in recent months.

Bale has been through a somewhat tumultuous time at Real Madrid, with questions over his commitment to the club arising amid form and fitness issues.

He courted controversy last month when he posed with a flag that read: "Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order," following his country's victory over Hungary that sealed a place at Euro 2020.

However, Giggs believes Bale's vast experience means he can easily deal with any negativity.

"It's all noise that you can't control and it's about blocking out that noise. If you don't hear it then it's not going to affect you," Giggs told Sky Sports News.

"Gareth is at one of the biggest clubs in the world, he's won four Champions Leagues, he's been through everything so he can handle it [the criticism].

"A lot of people have sort of questioned his love for the game. He still loves the game and he loves playing it.

"He loves winning, he loves scoring goals, he loves making goals. It's not a problem to Gareth with the experience he's got."

Zinedine Zidane said Wednesday's 0-0 Clasico draw between Barcelona and Real Madrid was "not good enough", even though he was impressed with his players.

Gareth Bale saw a goal correctly disallowed for offside in the second half of the stalemate at Camp Nou, which leaves Barca and Madrid level on points atop LaLiga.

Madrid managed 12 shots in the first half, the most they have managed in the opening 45 minutes of an away game against Barca since at least 2003-04, but they could not find a breakthrough to avoid a first league goalless draw with their fierce rivals since 2002.

Zidane was frustrated with the result given the chances his side created early on, but the head coach was not displeased with his players' efforts.

"The result isn't good enough for me," Zidane said to reporters. "We could've done something more, but that's football.

"If you have chances, you have to score them, and this is what we were missing in certain instances.

"We played a serious match, we were focused for the 90 minutes. It was a good Clasico, a good football match. It only lacked goals.

"We have to be happy with the match because it's against a very good opponent."

Bale was something of a surprise inclusion in the first XI and Zidane was very happy with the Wales star's performance given it was only the eighth league game this season in which he has started.

"Everyone played well," he said. "Bale hadn't played much and he had a great game.

"[Toni] Kroos and Fede [Valerde] in his position, Raphael [Varane], Sergio [Ramos]... everyone [played well].

"The team put in a great shift. When you play a game like that in this stadium... we deserved a bit more."

Gareth Bale will start for Real Madrid against Barcelona on Wednesday, while Luka Modric drops to the bench.

Wales star Bale will join Karim Benzema in attack for his first LaLiga start in December, with Isco retaining his place from the 1-1 draw with Valencia on Sunday.

Casemiro, Federico Valverde and Toni Kroos line up in midfield, meaning 2018 Ballon d'Or winner Modric is among the substitutes, along with Rodrygo Goes, Vinicius Junior and Luka Jovic.

Ferland Mendy is back at left-back after being suspended for the Valencia match.

Barcelona line up with Antoine Griezmann alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi in attack, while Ivan Rakitic and Frenkie de Jong look set to be joined by Sergi Roberto in midfield.

Sergio Busquets was initially named in the line-up, with Rakitic on the bench, but Barca announced a late change that saw the Spain international drop to the bench.

Messi will equal Xavi on a record 42 Clasico appearances for Barca, as the Catalans go in search of a 73rd LaLiga win over their fierce rivals, with each side currently on 72 victories each from 178 previous meetings.

Nelson Semedo is at right-back for the champions, with Arturo Vidal, who was reportedly angry at being told he would not start the match, among the substitutes.

Barca and Madrid are level on 35 points at the top of LaLiga ahead of the match at Camp Nou.

Zinedine Zidane vowed to respect Paris Saint-Germain's relationship with Kylian Mbappe amid rumours of disharmony at Parc des Princes.

Mbappe, 20, was publicly told by Thomas Tuchel to respect coaching decisions after seemingly ignoring the PSG boss when substituted late in last weekend's Ligue 1 win at Montpellier.

French newspaper L'Equipe then claimed the World Cup winner has at times questioned his importance and treatment in comparison to team-mate Neymar.

The report fuelled speculation Mbappe could seek a move to Real Madrid in future but Zidane, who recently admitted to being "in love" with the talented France forward, tried to avoid driving a wedge between player and coach.

"Mbappe plays for PSG. I can't comment on what goes on there behind the scenes," the Madrid boss said on Saturday ahead of his side's LaLiga game against Valencia.

"That would be a lack of respect on my part. You know that I know him very well, but I have to have respect."

Madrid's trip to Mestalla on Sunday marks their final match before El Clasico on Wednesday, a potentially pivotal encounter in the title race.

Zidane insisted his team was focused only on beating Valencia and would not be distracted by the upcoming match at Camp Nou.

"We don't even talk about it," he said. "We are not interested in what will happen on Wednesday. We are only interested in tomorrow's game.

"Valencia are playing very well, getting very good results, they're through to the next stage of the Champions League.

"What we want is to give the best version of ourselves and to try to continue growing as a team. That is what interests us."

Zidane offered no clues over his starting XI but promised Gareth Bale had not fallen out of favour after the winger went unused against Club Brugge in the Champions League.

"I don't think Gareth's role is less important now," he said.

"He is one of us and I will count on him, but I have 25 players and they are all important to me. I follow the squad's progress day by day and everyone puts in. Bale is as important as the others."

Zinedine Zidane has no qualms with Gareth Bale continuing to play golf, even though Wales may not allow the Real Madrid forward on courses during Euro 2020.

This week, Football Association of Wales (FAW) chief executive Jonathan Ford said he did not want players "risking their fitness by playing golf" as he scouts out potential training bases for Ryan Giggs' squad next year.

That could mean Bale is unable to partake in his favourite hobby, with the 30-year-old drawing the ire of Los Blancos fans when he posed with a 'Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order' flag last month as Wales qualified for the Euros.

Bale is currently out injured with a hamstring problem, yet Zidane insists he will not follow the FAW's lead when it comes to keeping him off the golf course.

"I'm going to give you my reply, the club might say something different," Zidane told a news conference to preview Real Madrid's clash with Espanyol.

"As Real Madrid manager I'm not going to stop my players doing anything in their free time.

"They're mature enough and they need to know what they need to do."

Zidane revealed Bale trained on Friday but "not as the same intensity as his team-mates", and he will likely miss Saturday's game along with Eden Hazard and Marcelo, who have respective ankle and calf problems.

Media reports suggested Hazard is set to miss El Clasico against Barcelona on December 18 due to the injury, with Zidane confirming the problem was worse than first feared.

"It's always bad news when a player gets injured," Zidane said.

"Of course he's upset that he's unavailable. It might be a bit more concerning, the injury, than we first thought.

"We will have to see, but he will be back with the rest of the players soon."

Hazard made a slow start to life at Madrid and has still scored just once in LaLiga, but Zidane feels he was rediscovering the type of form he showed at Chelsea prior to picking up the injury against Paris Saint-Germain last week.

"It's a very bad piece of news that we've lost Eden Hazard to injury as we have some very big games coming up," Zidane added.

"He had been playing very well and I'm sure he will again in the future. It's not good when you have players out injured, especially a player like Eden Hazard.

"He was in great form. We've seen him play very well, he had reproduced that form that we had seen before in England. It's a setback and hopefully he won't be out for long."

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