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Gareth Bale's growing influence on Real Madrid's attack

The first leg of Manchester City and Real Madrid's Champions League semi-final was a dour affair. With Cristiano Ronaldo absent and City seemingly focused on minimising Madrid's remaining attacking potency, the 0-0 scoreline reflected more about the potential prize on offer -- a date in Milan with the winner of Atletico Madrid-Bayern Munich -- than the clear attacking quality both these teams possess. More is expected in terms of chances created and goals from the return leg in Madrid, particularly from Los Blancos.

This season, Madrid have again been powerful in attack and their forward trio of Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale have once more helped themselves to a surfeit of goals. But with Benzema and Ronaldo injury doubts for Wednesday's second leg, the spotlight turns to Bale as the remaining star forward.

In his third season at the club, Bale's output has noticeably risen and the balance of Madrid's attack has subtly shifted. While any team with Ronaldo will defer to the three-time Ballon D'Or winner, the role of his teammates should not be underestimated and they are now taking on a larger share of the shooting work. Let's take a look at how Bale, in particular, has progressed into an ever more important role this season.

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Lionel Messi fan leaves Afghanistan after Taliban threats, father says

Barcelona and Argentina star Lionel Messi speaks about football, life and the future with the five captains of La Masia.
The father of the Afghan boy who received an autographed shirt from Lionel Messi says his family has left Afghanistan.

The family of a 5-year-old Afghan boy who received autographed shirts from Barcelona star Lionel Messi, his football hero, has been forced to leave Afghanistan amid constant telephone threats and a menacing letter from the Taliban, the boy's father said.

Mohammad Arif Ahmadi -- whose son grabbed headlines in February when he was photographed wearing a homemade Argentina shirt with No. 10 on the back -- said the family has moved to neighboring Pakistan and settled in the city of Quetta,...

Barcelona unhappy with Copa del Rey final kickoff time

ESPN FC's Shaka Hislop breaks down the current La Liga title race with Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Real Madrid all earning crucial victories.
The Barcelona coach discusses his team's comfortable win over Real Betis and its significance in the La Liga title race.
ESPN FC's Alexis Nunes and Tommy Smyth predict week 36's fixtures of the top 3 in La Liga.
ESPN FC's Shaka Hislop unveils his latest power rankings, featuring a new side at No. 1.

Barcelona board spokesperson Josep Vives has expressed his annoyance at the kickoff time for his club's Copa del Rey final against Sevilla on May 22.

This year's Copa decider has been fixed for Atletico Madrid's Estadio Vicente Calderon, with the game set for 21:30 local time kickoff, apparently to maximise the TV audience within Spain.

The evening start does however mean players and fans of both clubs will need to travel and stay overnight in the Spanish capital, something which lead to Barca already...

Barcelona set to have full squad to choose from vs. Espanyol

The Barcelona coach discusses his team's comfortable win over Real Betis and its significance in the La Liga title race.

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique is set to have a full squad to choose from at home to Espanyol in La Liga next Sunday evening -- in a game which could see the Blaugrana claim the title.

With just two games remaining, Barca are level on 85 points with Atletico Madrid atop the table, with Luis Enrique's side having a better head-to-head record, while Real Madrid remain just one point behind in third place.

Should both their challengers lose next weekend, when Atletico are at already relegated Levante...