Neymar needed more than Bale

(From left) Real Madrid's Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas, Welsh forward Gareth Bale and French forward Karim Benzema training for today's Clasico against Barcelona. Bale was named to the 20-man squad but is doubtful for the game. Still, Real hav
(From left) Real Madrid's Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas, Welsh forward Gareth Bale and French forward Karim Benzema training for today's Clasico against Barcelona. Bale was named to the 20-man squad but is doubtful for the game. Still, Real have options to minimise his absence.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Barca appeal to CAS in Spain for Brazilian to play but Real not missing Wales star

MADRID • Barcelona have made a last-gasp bid to have star striker Neymar back for today's critical Clasico clash, with an appeal to a Spanish sports court against his three-game ban yesterday.

But as it stands, the 25-year-old Brazilian striker is set to miss the blockbuster showdown with Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu. This, after being shown the first red card of his Barcelona career for two bookable offences in a 2-0 defeat at Malaga earlier this month that badly dented his team's hopes of retaining the Spanish title.

"With the Appeal Committee (Spanish federation) dismissing Barcelona's appeal for the three-match suspension of Neymar Jr, the club will appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (in Spain)," Barcelona said in a statement.

Neymar has already missed Barcelona's 3-2 win over Real Sociedad and will also be out of Wednesday's game against Osasuna if the Spanish court turns down the appeal.

While Barcelona's fans are concerned that their front line will not be potent enough without Neymar, Real diehards are not unduly worried that their forward, Gareth Bale, is racing against time to be fit from a calf injury for the potentially title-deciding LaLiga clash.

For Real have thrived despite another injury-ravaged season for the world's second most expensive player (slightly more than €100 million or S$149.8 million).

"There has been no Real Madrid fan seen crying over Bale's injury," said an editorial in Madrid sports daily Marca this week. "Bale's absence is a solution for Real Madrid, not a problem."

Indeed, statistics show Real have benefited far more when coach Zinedine Zidane has balanced his side with less glamorous names to work within a more solid structure.

Bale's injuries have limited him to just 18 of Real's 31 La Liga games this season, in which the European champions have won 12, drawn five and lost once at Valencia.

By contrast, Lucas Vazquez - who cost Madrid a meagre €1 million in 2015 - has thrived in Bale's absence, winning in 22 of his 28 La Liga appearances this season.

In 13 games without Bale, Real's win percentage jumps from 67 per cent to 85 per cent.

While he was included in Real's 20-man squad after missing the last two games, Zidane was evasive on whether the Welshman would be fit to start.

Real go into the Clasico well set to deliver their first league title in five seasons and the first of Bale's career.

They are three points clear of Barca and have a game in hand. The massive difference between the sides so far this season has been the depth of Real's squad.

While Barca coach Luis Enrique has paid for rotating in shock defeats by Alaves, Celta Vigo, Deportivo la Coruna and Malaga, Real's reserves have at times delivered even better results than Zidane's first-choice XI.

The Frenchman made sweeping changes for three of Real's last four away league games at Eibar, Leganes and Sporting Gijon. Despite Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo not even being included in the squad, they won all three games.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 23, 2017, with the headline 'Neymar needed more than Bale'. Print Edition | Subscribe