Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"Its The First Time I've Managed A Team..."

Malaga and Real Sociedad say 'adios' to their coaches

In an event of stunning predictability, La Liga yesterday experienced its 6th and 7th managerial casualties of the season. Malaga, currently bottom of the table with only 17 points from 21 games, have removed Antonio Tapia from his office comfy chair and replaced him with former sporting director Manolo Hierro - the elder brother of Real Madrid legend. Hierro has been signed up until the end of the season, but faces a tricky task in trying to keep Malaga in the top flight - especially with his confession that he had no first team managerial experience, but he seems to be fairly confident of his abilities.

Real Sociedad, currently in 15th place with the worst defense in the league if not world, bid farewell to their own beleaguered manager, Jose Mari Amorrortu. His instant replacement is Gonzalo Arconada who was previously the reserve team coach. Arconada has been tasked to impose some kind of stability to the team and a vague idea of how to defend. The new manager will have two new players to help reinforce the squad with the arrival of Mark Gonzalez and Mark Viafra - unfortunately, neither of them of centre backs.


In Other News...

The endless saga of Valencia and Deportivo's Copa Del Rey match rumbles on. After the second leg was suspended last week due to a linesmen being injured by coin thrown from the crowd, the Spanish footballing federation had ordered the game to be replayed on Wednesday in Valencia's Mestalla stadium, but behind closed doors. Depor, not pleased by this decision have been fighting to either have the game awarded in their favour, or played at a neutral ground. A judge, who clearly has nothing better to do with his time, will rule this afternoon on whether Wednesday's clash will take place. Incidentally, the police have been unable to track down the culprit who caused the whole kerfuffle in the first place.

Atletico Madrid have announced a three stage plan to conquer the world - well, set up training camps across the globe - where eager new recruits will be taught how to defend badly and miss open goals.


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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Blue Monday

Some more odds and ends to kick off another week...

This year's Copa Del Rey is becoming rather confusing. The draw for the semi-finals took place on Friday - but with only two teams having definitely qualified for them, Espanyol and Real Madrid. Due to a mixture of stomach viruses and coin throwing, the other two quarter final matches are only half way through.

Valencia and Depor have been ordered to replay the final 46 minutes of their second round leg behind closed doors on Wednesday, after last week's encounter was suspended due to the linesman being struck by a coin thrown from the crowd.
Barcelona still have to play their home leg against Real Zaragoza and have to try to claw back a 4-2 deficit. Should they manage this (with the press desperately hoping they do), they will face Real Madrid in a tantalizing double header - strength sapping encounters that both teams could do without, with the Champions League around the corner.

The semi-final draw in full:

Real Zaragoza / Barcelona v Real Madrid - 8th Feb and 15th Feb
Espanyol v Valencia / Deportivo - 8th Feb and ??? (Espanyol in regular Uefa cup action after this date)


Raul seems to have taken inspiration from Rocky in his ongoing attempts to recover from his knackered knee. Last week he reportedly spent three days running in the snow and perhaps lifting tree trunks in the mountains just to the north of Madrid, in an attempt to test the strength of his left leg. Raul has optimistically targeted his return to action in one month, but the Champions League against Arsenal may well be too soon for it.


Spain are reasonably pleased with their 2008 Euro Champs draw which has a very Nordic and indeed rather chilly flavour...

The group - Sweden, Spain, Denmark, Latvia, Iceland, N Ireland and Liechenstein


Quotes of the Week...

"I'm not speaking to another referee until 2010" - Potty mouthed Osasuna manager Javier Aguirre on his 5 sendings off since joining the club - all for harassing of the man in black.

"He didn't know how to adapt to European football, he didn't adapt to our ways and nor us to his". Atletico Madrid captain Fernando Torres' rather barbed comments on former manager Carlos Bianchi.

"I was unhappy at Real, I was not respected. Florentino (Perez- Real president) never understood that I am a prestigious manager" - the rather grumpy complaints of former Real coach Wanderley Luxemburgo. Perez was not the only one to lack that comprehension, Wanderley !

"We must push it to the limit, but always within the law." The words of Valencia's David Albeda before Wednesday night's Copa encounter with Deportivo. Just eight minutes into the game, his team mate Carlos Marchena was sent off for a horrendous forearm smash on Depor's Arizmendi- a tackle that has subsequently seen him banned for three games.

"They insulted me in the stands and the players called me names that are best not repeated." Real Betis striker Dani is suprised by the reception he received in Osasuna during Sunday evening's clash. Dani had suggested before the game that Osasuna players were consistently guilty of faking injuries and diving.


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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Weekend Preview Time

It's Friday, it's freezing and it's time for more wildly inaccurate weekend predictions as La Liga heads into round 21 - and what a round it is going to be...


Cadiz (15th) v Racing Santander (12th)
The 'yellow submarines' from Andalusia are having a fairly good time at the moment. Before the winter break, they looked dead and buried in the bottom three, but since the restart they have won twice in the league and were a little unlucky to lose to Real Madrid last weekend. Racing are having a pretty good 2006 as well and are trundling along quite nicely, despite having to field old men and ball boys due to an unfortunate rash of injuries. A sneaky home win.

Athletic Bilbao (19th) v Getafe (9th)
A match that Bilbao really cannot afford to lose against opponents still giddy from a 5-0 demolition of Espanyol last Sunday. Knocking 3 past Sociedad in the Basque derby last weekend may well give Javier Clemente's merry men the confidence to start digging themselves out of the hole they find themselves in. Home win - if not, they are totally screwed.

Atletico Madrid (11th) v Deportivo (6th)
A good choice for the Saturday night tv clash. The press are very excited indeed about Atletico actually winning a game last weekend and there have been boisterous claims from the club that they still have a chance of a top 6 finish - nonsense of cause. Deportivo have dropped 5 points from their last two games - not good form for a team trying to qualify for a Champions League spot, but should be well rested having only played 44 minutes of their abandoned Copa Del Rey match on Thursday. A draw.


Valencia (2nd) v Real Zaragoza (10th)
A big match from two teams in storming form at the moment. Valencia are sensing vulnerability from leaders Barca and are desperately trying to close down the 10 point gap - surely it can only go one way? Not so fast. Zaragoza's midling position stems from a poor first half of the season. They have had a strong 2006 so far and are also carrying the head of Barcelona before them on a big spike, having slayed them 4-2 on Thursday night in the Copa del Rey. A close home win.

Sevilla (8th) v Villarreal (5th)
Too many good games this weekend. Seville are still a little bit too inconsistent to make a real impact in La Liga this season and are currently too light in defense. Inconsistency is also the theme of Villarreal this year - until last week's 2-1 victory against Osasuna, they had not scored in five matches. And even then, their two goals came from penalties. Home win.

Espanyol (14th) v Malaga (18th)
This is going to be very messy indeed. Malaga's coach, Antonio Tapia, has reportedly been given one more chance by the board to save his job - three points in Espanyol's Montjuic stadium or his P45. However, Tapias' tactics are in disarray, the players are literally fighting amongst themselves and the fans hate him - he may well be secretly praying for a defeat. If so, his prayers will surely be answered.

Alaves (20th) v Real Sociedad (13th)
Sociedad's Jose Maria Amorrortu is another manager with his head squarely on the block - having only picked up 6 points from 33 and being responsible for the worst defense in the league, it is no surprise. Their opponents, 'bottom of the table' Alaves, are showing some signs of life since their change of manager two weeks ago and are quite capable or making life very difficult for Sociedad. A draw.

Osasuna (3rd) v Real Betis (16th)
Osasuna have been a little unlucky recently. They were unfortunate to lose to Valencia two weeks ago and last weekend they were robbed by two awful penalty decisions in the defeat at Villarreal. This is a great chance to bounce back against a Betis side who were really crap on Wednesday night against Real Madrid - as they have been all season. Home win and Osasuna to get back into the groove.

Real Mallorca (17th) v Barcelona (1st)
BARCA IN CRISIS! Not really. Their first defeat in yonks against Zaragoza in a midweek cup clash should not be taken to seriously. A large number of players were either rested or dropped as Barca seem to be the only team in Spain not taking the Copa del Rey very seriously indeed this season. Mallorca could well find themselves on the end of a backlash, although they can be tricky opponents on occasions in their idyllic island home. Away win.

Celta Vigo (7th) v Real Madrid (4th)
The first big test for Real to see if their recent run of form of 6 victories and 1 draw in 2006 is a flash in the pan or the dawn of a glorious new horizon. It is always one of the two with Real, if you believe the footballing press in Spain. Their opponents, Celta, are no pushovers and are enjoying a decent beginning of the year after a rather disappointing end to 2005 which saw them fall from 3rd to midtable. A draw.


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"We Will Not Let Them Close the Mestalla"

Big trouble in little Valencia as match suspended in first half

Normally the Copa Del Rey is a mere distraction from the real business of the league - a chance for the little guys to have a chance of glory. Not so this year - it has got nasty and in Valencia's Mestalla stadium last night, there were some very ugly scenes indeed. It was the second leg of their quarter final tie with Deportivo La Coruna and the home team were looking to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the home leg.

Even before the match had started, the hype was flying in all directions with Valencia manager Quique Sanchez Flores calling for "a rough game...a struggle...a real battle on the pitch...and the crowd will play their part".

Well, this is exactly what he got. After only eight minutes, Valencia defender Carlos Marchena was given his marching orders for an elbow in the face of Depor's Arizmendi. However, this did not stop the home team, who went 1-0 up in the 44th minute with a yet another tasty goal from David Villa - then suddenly, on the far side the pitch, the linesman, Vicente Egido Flores, could be seen down on all fours and clutching his face. When he removed his hands, blood could be seen pouring from a cut just above his eye - a injury caused by an object being thrown from the crowd. One centimetre lower and it would have been even worse.

When referee Megia Davila saw this, he immediatly called the players off the pitch and was seen shouting "let's go, let's go" to an over excited Flores on the sidelines. Soon after, an announcement was made that the game had been suspended and the shocked supporters left the stadium.

With the game now tied at 1-1, a replay will be required at some point in the future, but in a very cluttered calendar, it is going to be difficult to find another slot to play it. More important though, are the repercussions on Valencia - it is entirely possible that they will be forced to play a number of games behind closed doors, although Valencia president Juan Bautisa Soler says that he will fight tooth and nail to avoid that happening. Be prepared for an intense legal battle.

This incident will hopefully widen the debate in Spain on how referees are treated - for too long they have had to put up with all kinds of abuse and all manner of threats from crowds, players, managers and the media alike. The incident last night seems to have been a bridge too far and it is possible to have a lot sympathy with the ref who took a bold stand and said 'enough'.


Real and Espanyol move through to the semi's

An entertaining match in the Bernabeu last night. Real continued their recovery with an easy 1-0 win against Real Betis, who barely tried for much of the game. Robinho (the scorer) , Cicinho and Sergio Ramos all had solid games, as did Beckham who is in the form of his life at the moment. Baptista was rubbish yet again, whilst Cassano did not do a great deal apart from miss an easy chance.

Espanyol beat Cadiz 2-0 home to go through to the last four with a comfortable 4-0 aggregate win. Tonight sees Real Zaragoza v Barcelona in their first leg of their quarter final tie. Barca look set to start without Puyol, Eto'o, Deco, Xavi, Valdes and Guily but still field a pretty decent line up - however there is every chance of their winning stretch being ended tonight against a fairly decent team.


In Other News...

Atletico Madrid are reportedly interested in ending Albert Luque's Newcastle nightmare, however, the fact that the Magpies want every penny of the money they paid for him back, could be a major stumbling block.

Villarreal are sniffing around Schalke 04's Danish striker Christian Poulsen, whose contract with the Bundesliga team runs out this summer.

Barca are reportedly lining up Villarreal's Diego Forlan as back up if their interest in Thierry Henry comes to nothing. Another name being banded around is Fiorentina's Luca Toni.


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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Rijkaard in for Robben?

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics....

But, enough about the weblog. It is reported in today's 'AS', that Barca manager Frank Rijkaard will make a summer time move for Chelsea's flighty but fragile winger Arjen Robben, should he fail in his bid to sign Thierry Henry. With a supposed 30 million Euro transfer kitty burning a whole in their metaphorical pockets, the price that Chelsea would want for the Dutch midfielder who is having a bit of an iffy spell at Stamford bridge, would not be too much for the Spanish champions. Nevertheless, stories linking Barca to Henry still remain, despite Thierry's recent vow of loyalty to the Gunners. Does 'AS' know something we don't?

Meanwhile, there is not a whiff of a story linking Sven Goran to Real in today's papers and this could mean one of two things. Either, it is a load of old nonsense and simply a matter of British journalists adding 2 and 2 to get five, or the papers are keeping quiet on any rumours, in a bid to avoid upsetting Real Madrid - proof of the unhealthily close relationship that exists between the Galacticos and the daily press.


Copa del Rey time again

Tonight action sees the second leg of three of the quarter final rounds taking place.

Real Madrid v Real Betis (1-0) - 10 euros a ticket, a bargain.
Espanyol v Cadiz (2-0) - game over
Valencia v Deportivo (1-0) - live on Cuatro at ten, should be a good 'un


In Other News...

Real Sociedad coach Jose Mari Amorrortu has been given one more game to save his job. A defeat against bottom of the table Alaves over the weekend, and the underfire manager will be handed his P45. His club are currently enduring a really crap season and are slumped in midtable.

Thomas Gravesen still seems to have one foot in and one foot out of Real Madrid. Although he has been restored to the starting line up, he clearly isn't enjoying the defensive midfielder role he has been assigned to. His agent yesterday claimed that 6 clubs were interested in putting an end to his suffering at Real, whilst Gravesen lamented in the Danish press that, "the refs always give me a card quicker than anyone else.... ' here comes the thug', they think".


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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Beckham is the Best Foreigner at Real Madrid"

Galacticos in Full Spin Mode in Praise of England Captain

Real Madrid have gone into a bit of a panic over persistent rumours that David Beckham may well be looking for a summer time move to another club. The 'fake sheikh' allegations that he is unhappy with the lack of success of the team combined with reports that talks on his contract renewal have been postponed, have the club very worried that their most prized asset may well be looking for a move back to the Premiership.

Since the News of the World allegations were published last week, there has been a marked increase in the number of positive press stories in 'AS' and 'Marca' (the two papers in the pocket of the club), praising Becks and his contribution to the team. On a football talk show last night, he was the centre of a discussion as to his merits, with old war horse Hristo Stoitchkov being wheeled out to declare that Becks was the most important out of all the foreign players to play for Real in recent years - a little harsh of Ronaldo and Zidane perhaps.

However, the reports of his impending departure may be premature. He seems to be genuinely happy with his life in Madrid; the performance of the team is steadily improving; he is playing some of the best football of his career this season and he is extremely popular with both the fans and his team mates - as shown by the reaction to his goal on Sunday night when the entire squad piled on top of him. As can happen in any relationship, Becks, it seems, has started to be taken for granted by Real and the fans - now is the time to show a little attention and TLC.


In Other News...

Woodgate Injury Watch - Woody looks set to return to action in Sunday's night's league encounter with Cadiz after his most recent lay off. He is in full training with the rest of the team and looks set to slot in at centre back alongside Sergio Ramos, with Mejia returning to the bench after his recent run in the first team.

Liverpool have reportedly offered 6 million Euros to Atletico Madrid to take central midfielder Luciano Galletti off their hands. The Argentinean, who arrived at the club in the summer from Real Zaragoza, has barely featured for the 'rojiblancos' this season (not a good sign considering their lamenetable form), and is looking for an urgent move out to boost his chances of a World Cup place in his national team. It is also reported in 'Marca' that star striker and club captain Fernando Torres is also to be put up for sale - Barcelona and Chelsea would be the only clubs with a realistic chance of buying the mulletted Spanish international.

Getafe are on the brink of selling left back Mariano Pernia to Valencia for 4 million Euros. Pernia, scorer of a cracking 40 yard goal on Sunday is the top scoring defender in La Liga and also has a chance of making the Spain team for the World Cup - pending the completion for his renationalisation from Argentinean to Spanish.

Malaga are this week's club in crisis. The club slipped into the bottom three on Sunday night after a 2-0 home defeat against Celta Vigo and now have to deal with the fallout of a very public player bust up between Fernando Sanz and Antonio Manu. Still, former Ipswich legend Pablo Counago was on hand to give the positive side of the incident, " I liked it. It shows that we have intensity". Manager Antonio Tapia, on the receiving end of a fair amount abuse from the home crowd is on the brink of being booted out - but only if the club can actually find anyone to replace him.


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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Monday's Essential Selection

The Highlights from the Weekend's News

Laid back Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard has denied any contact with AC Milan after rumours of a summer move to Italy swept through the city over the weekend. "It's a matter of respect, I would not talk with any other club", he retorted as angrily as he can actually get. Which is not very.

Deportivo La Coruna and Spain have been rocked by the news that midfielder Juan Carlos Valeron has been ruled out for six to eight months after picking up a cruciate ligament injury in Sunday's 2-2 draw against Mallorca. "The injury is even worse than the Mallorca result, as he's a vital player for us and we're going to miss him", lamented Depor manager Caparros.

Another potential motivation for Real Sociedad striker Nihat's change of heart on his proposed move to Spartak Moscow - now postponed until the summer. Today's top temperature in Moscow is a chilly -18C. San Sebastian is a positively balmy 12C.

Martin Ferguson, brother of Sir Alex, has been a familiar figure in La Liga's grounds in recent weeks. Last Sunday he was in Madrid checking out Getafe forward, Riki. Yesterday, he was spotted at the Villarreal v Osasuna tie, scouting Osasuna's highly rated young midfielder Raul Garcia - with Real Madrid reportedly in the race for his signature, Man Utd will face some competition, should they make a move for him.


Quotes of the Week...

"If the technical team ask, we can sign anyone we want in the transfer market" - Barcelona's boastful financial vice president Ferron Soriano on the healthiness of his club's accounts (current debt level, 188 million Euros)

"I see the Barca v Chelsea game as 50 50, but Arsenal against Real Madrid...I make it 60% for the English and 40% for my old team" - Chelsea's Claude Makelele speculates on next month's Champions League clashes.

"In the stands, there are fans who have fought with their families or even been separated from them, with Atletico Madrid to blame" - Atletico captain Fernando Torres on the dubious honour of supporting the world's unluckiest team.

"I have to give my players 10 out of ten, or even 12", Real Madrid manager Juan Ramon Lopez Caro continuing to show his unique grasp on mathematics after their 3-1 victory over Cadiz. Last week, he gave David Beckham 12 out of ten for his professionalism and last night he claimed on tv that his team were training at 200%.



Top Goal Scorer

Samuel Eto'o (Barca) - 18
David Villa (Valencia) - 13
Ronaldinho (Barca) - 11
Ronaldo (Real) - 9
Diego Milito (Real Zaragoza) - 9
Roman Riquelme (Villarreal) - 9
Diego Tristan (Deportivo) - 9

Most Yellow Cards

Pablo Alfaro (Racing Santander) - 11
David Albeda (Valencia) - 10
Diego Rivas (Getafe) - 10


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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Something for the Weekend

It's Friday..it's weekend preview time....


Real Zaragoza (9th) v Atletico Madrid (14th)
A rematch of their Wednesday night Copa Del Rey encounter which saw a 2-2 draw, but in the league, it will be a very different kettle of fish. These are two clubs going in opposite directions - Zaragoza are unbeaten in eight and making a charge for a UEFA cup spot, whereas Atletico have not won for about eight years, although have improved slightly under temporary manager Pepe Murcia. Home win, but could be close.

Real Madrid (4th) v Cadiz (15th)
If the Galacticos are Poltergeist's Carrie-Anne, lost in the oblivion, trapped between light and darkness, then new manager Lopez Caro is the unnervingly tiny lady who is guiding them out. Two straight victories against Sevilla in the league on Sunday and Betis in the Cup on Wednesday have given massive confidence to a Real side that is beginning to get back into their stride. Their opponents, Cadiz, are currently defying all expectations of a second half of the season that would see them stuck in the relegation zone and have won their last two games. A big home win for Real.


Villarreal (6th) v Osasuna (2nd)
It sounds a little dramatic, but this really is a season defining match for both teams. Villarreal have had a very poor start to 2006 and a currently on a 5 match run without scoring a goal. Mainly thanks to Diego Forlan. Osasuna have started the year with a draw against Zaragoza and a 2-0 defeat away to Valencia last weekend. They desperately need victory to maintain their charge for a Champions League spot. Ditto Villarreal. Perhaps a draw.

Real Betis (16th) v Valencia (3rd)
Betis have clawed their way out of the relegation zone where they spent much of 2005 and will still be smarting after their unlucky midweek cup defeat to Real. Valencia, beaten 1-0 by Deportivo on Thursday in their own cup tie will be looking for another three points to continue their mission to catch Barcelona. David Villa and co to be too strong for Betis. Away win.

Deportiva (5th) v Mallorca (18th)
Mallorca are terrible these days and deservedly slipped into the drop zone - this will not be a weekend where they will escape. Deportivo are looking to recover from a shock 2-0 home defeat to Alaves last round and are buoyed by the midweek cup victory over Valencia. Home win.

Getafe (10th) v Espanyol (12th)
A must win for Getafe who have been dropping too many silly points over the past couple of weeks. They need to secure three more to make sure they continue to stay in the business end of mid-table. Espanyol will be tough opposition and have been building up a nice run of form recently. A draw.

Racing Santander (11th) v Sevilla (8th)
Can Santander continue their remarkable month and add Sevilla to recent scalps of Real Madrid and Villarreal? Maybe. Sevilla's normally watertight defense was rattled by Real last week who stuck four past them whilst their forward line is still not as prolific as they would like. Home win.

Malaga (17th) v Celta Vigo (7th)
Despite an end of year wobble, Celta appear to have stabilised a little and are only one point away from a UEFA spot. Malaga are ploughing through what is going to be a very tough 2006 and could well be battling holiday resort rivals, Mallorca to avoid the drop. Nevertheless, they seem to know where the goal is on occasions, so a home win looks possible.

Barcelona (1st) v Alaves (20th)
When you are missing your top scorer Samuel Eto'o (African Nations Cup) and a key midfielder (Deco suspended for 2 matches), then the one team you would like as visitors to help you get over any anxieties is Alaves. Then again, Alaves pulled off one of the results of the season last week by defeating Depor 2-0 away. Could lightening strike twice? Probably not, but Alaves could make life difficult for the champions.

Real Sociedad (13th) v Athletic Bilbao (19th)
The Basque derby - and a big one. Although Sociedad look comfortable in midtable, this is a team that should be doing a lot better - another defeat and the pressure will really be on their manager. Real look set to field the little and large show up front with new signing Morten Skoubu from Denmark and Nihat - whose proposed winter move to Spartak Moscow has been postponed. Athletic had looked like they were climbing out of the relegation zone, but instead have dropped back in again - three points a must for both teams. Home win.


All weblog content of La Liga Loca 2006.

"Fat or Not Fat, the Main Thing is that We Won"

Antonio Cassano Scores Three Minutes into Debut

As David Coleman would no doubt have commented, "quite remarkable". Deep into the second half of Real Madrid's Copa Del Rey against Real Betis, in the hostility of their Ruiz de Lopera stadium and the Galacticos were under the cosh. The home team were launching attack after attack on the Madrid defence whilst their front man, Soldado, had barely had a touch. Something had to be done. In the 61st minute, on comes new signing Antonio Cassano for his debut appearance - a player who has suffered a great deal of criticism in recent weeks for his 'shapely' appearance.

Three minutes later, a free kick is launched into the area by Guti. Betis keeper, Antonio Doblas, makes an absolute dogs dinner of an attempt to punch out the cross and the ball falls kindly to Cassano who simply pokes it into an empty net. Cue bedlam and a lot of disbelieving faces in the Betis team. Real hang on and take a very useful 1-0 lead into next week's second leg in the Bernabeu.

All in all, it was an entertaining game but both sides will have reasons to feel aggrieved by some truly dreadful refereeing. Julio Baptista, who cannot buy a goal at the moment, had a perfectly good headed effort disallowed, after a supposed push on the goalie, whilst Thomas Graveson was lucky to stay on the pitch and also not give away two penalties - the first for a handball in the area, the second for an astonishingly blatant body slam on Juanito in the 90th minute.

Although he is back in the starting eleven, the former Everton midfielder had previously admitted that he was finding it difficult to adapt to the defensive midfielder position he is constantly being asked to play. This was clear as the great Dane spent the 90 minutes hurling himself around the pitch like a WWF wrestler.

Unfortunately, the match was marred by some fairly unpleasant behavior from the Betis fans. Objects were hurled at some of the Real players, a yellow-trousered buffoon ran onto the pitch to berate the linesman (the Betis security gave him a good 10 seconds before ambling on to take him back to the stands), but most shamefully of all, Baptista was on the receiving end of racist chanting. "Disgraceful" commented Marca this morning.

In the other quarter final tie played last night, Cadiz were defeated 2-0 at home against Espanyol, with a debut goal from former Birmingham striker Walter Pandiani. His new manager, Miguel Angel Lotina, commenting that "there were times when Pandiani was simply working too hard !" Not the kind of thing that Steve Bruce was likely to complain of.

In the remaining tie of the previous round, Atletico left it very late against Zaragoza in coming back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2. However, it was not enough to take them through to a quarter final encounter against Barca as Zaragoza were carrying a 1-0 lead from the first leg.

Tonight, Deportivo take on Valencia in their quarter final 1st leg. A televised 10.00 pm kick off.

In Other News...

Rumours are floating around Valencia that all is not going well with 'Nightclub' Patrick Kluivert, after the party going striker pulled out of a training session due to a 'non specific injury'. Kluivert has not had the best of times at the club, since his summer move from Newcastle and has only featured in 8 games this season, with only one start. He has also suffered three separate injuries - but no one of them serious enough to stop him attending a certain nightclub in Valencia according to La Liga Loca spies in the city.

Striker swap at Villarreal. 'Lucho' looks set to be on his way out to River Plate in Argentina with Guillermo Franco, an Argentinean with a Mexican passport, taking his place after a 1.5 million Euro transfer fee was agreed with Mexican club Monterrey.

Sevilla are said to be considering a 'swoop' for Chelsea's redundant right back Glen Johnson, in what would actually be a very good move for the forgotten defender, should it go through.


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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Drinking in the Last Chance Saloon

Copa Del Rey Quarter Finals - 1st leg: Fasten Your Seatbelts

Well, not too tightly. For once, it appears that the Spanish Cup is going to be quite competitive this season, with all its remaining participants laying down their gauntlets, pulling their socks up and putting their money where their mouths are (saying they want to win, basically). This week sees the first leg of three quarter finals and the remaining second leg of one tie from the previous round.

Tonight, cup holders Real Betis take on a rejuvenated Real Madrid, with both teams expected to field strong teams - there is even the chance of Cassano waddling onto the pitch. Betis will be out to try and salvage something from a nightmare season, whilst the Galacticos, desperate for any kind of silverware, are looking for an excuse to break out their dust-gathering party poppers for an end of season celebratory bash.

In the other ties, Cadiz take on Espanyol - two teams who are doing fairly well at the moment, whilst Deportivo play their home leg of their tantalizing tie against Valencia tomorrow. From the previous round, Real Zaragoza, with a 1-0 lead against Atletico Madrid, look good to finish the job off and will take on Barca in the quarters should they hang on for the victory.


In Other News...

Barcelona midfielder Deco has been awarded a 2 match suspension after his last minute red card in Sunday night's ill-tempered game against Athletic Bilbao. This will further weaken the league leaders who are already missing Samuel Eto'o, away at the African Nations Cup. But not that much.

Better news for Real Sociedad. It seems that inspirational Turkish striker Nihat Kahveci will be staying with the struggling club until the end of the season. Further problems with the 3 million Euro transfer to Spartak Moscow have arisen and it would now appear that Nihat will be heading off to Russia in sunny June, as opposed to significantly less sunny January.

Soon to be relegated Real Mallorca have signed Portugeuse centre-back Jose Carlos Nunes from Sporting de Braga for 2 million Euros.

Desperate negotiations are taking place between Valencia and their soon to be out of contract left-back Fabio Aurelio. Should nothing come of them, Fabio will be free to lay his hat where ever he wants in June - with Anfield being the current favourites to offer him a stand.


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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

"As a Person, Eto'o Has Cheated Me"

Javier Clemente In Hot Water - But Eto'o Off the Hook

The Spanish National Football Federation have ruled that potty-mouthed Athletic Bilbao manager, Javier Clemente, should face the wrath of the Anti-Violence Commission (a confusingly named organisation that is a bit like the Football Association and police rolled into one), where he faces the possibility of a heavy fine or suspension for his controversial comments aimed at Samuel Eto'o on Sunday night.

Clemente, when answering a question in the post-match conference relating to accusations that Eto'o spat at Athletic defender Unai Exposito, said that "people who spit are those that have come down from trees." Cue press pandemonium.

Clemente swiftly denied any racial connotations to his comments, claiming that, "When I talked about people who had just come down from the trees, I mean everyone, whether they be black white or yellow". However, the footballing authorities, whose radar is very sensitive to this kind of incident these days, did not believe him and have sent him before the Commission - the very same organisation that fined Spanish national manager Luis Aragones 3000 euros for his rather unpleasant name-calling of Arsenal's Thierry Henry.

Eto'o, on the other hand, has escaped any sanction for his alleged gob. The player himself said that he had no intention of spitting directly at his opponent, but that the unfortunate Exposito had merely walked into the path of his phlegm. The recipient of the spittle was less than impressed with Eto'o's explanation, "I was surprised by his reaction as he is one of the best players in the world...as a person, Eto'o has cheated me."

The Barca striker is now able to escape "spit-gate", having joined up with Cameroon for the African Nations Cup - but this is a story that is going to go on.


Real Sociedad's Not So Great Idea

Real Sociedad had a crazy plan to resolve the problem of their abject rubbishness this season.

1 - Find star striker Darko Kovacevic - even though he is only two months into his recuperation from a badly damaged Achilles tendon.
2 - Thrown him back into training, irrespective of it being two months earlier than doctor's recommendations.
3 - Watch him single handedly turn around Real's season and guide them to glory.

Good in theory - but here's what actually happened.

1 - Darko Kovasevic thrown back into training.
2 - Darko breaks down with a recurrence of the same injury he has been out for since November.
3 - Darko whisked to hospital and operated on again.
4 - Darko out for rest of the season.
5 - Sociedad still crap.


In Other News...

Woodgate injury watch - Poor Woody. After being sidelined last weekend in the victory against Sevilla, Woody is set to miss out yet again in Real's Copa Del Rey match against Betis and Saturday night's league encounter with Cadiz, due to yet another leg strain.

Cassano weight watch - A rather cruel photo in the papers contrasts Real Madrid's sprightly striker, Robinho, athletically vaulting a small fence, with tubby Italian, Antonio Cassano hauling himself over the same barrier in a rather ungainly manner. Real's backroom staff confirm the former Roma star still has another 4 kilos to lose before being allowed near a first team start.

Sevilla, suffering from a dearth of decent defenders due to an unfortunate set of injuries, look set to sign Frenchman Julien Escude from Ajax for 1.5 million euros.


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The Monday Smorgasbord

Welcome to the now traditional (well, two weeks in a row) round-up of the bits and pieces floating around the glass of orange juice that is Spain's Monday morning press.

Svens's 'fake sheikh' sting is reported in glorious detail in all the papers - especially the allegation that David Beckham would leave Real Madrid for delights of Aston Villa to improve his chances of winning trophies (Real are surely not that bad at the moment !). However, Real temporary manager Lopez Caro is non plussed by all the kerfuffle commenting that, "as a professional, David is not ten of ten, but twelve". Clearly the same counting abilities as Becks.

According to a leading tv channel, Barcelona are to cave into the demon dollar and allow shirt sponsorship for the first time. Ronaldinho and company look set to run out onto the Nou Camp next season with 'Betandwin' blazoned across their chests - a deal that will enrich the coffers of President Laporta for a cool 50 million euros over 3 years.

Sir Alex Ferguson's brother Martin was spotted at Getafe's Sunday match with Celta Vigo. As it is not a place one would visit for fun, it is thought that he was casting an eye over star stiker Riki.

Some Stats...
Top League Scorer -
Samuel Eto'o (Barca) 18 goals
David Villa (Valencia) 11 goals
Ronaldinho (Barca) 11 goals
Ronaldo (Real) 9 goals
Diego Milito (Zaragoza) 9 goals

With Eto'o away for at least three games at the African Nations Cup, the race is on to catch up with the free-scoring Cameronnian.

And Finally.
Zidane's hattrick doesn't count. The first goal was a penalty and the third was very offside. And he missed two complete sitters before the penalty.

Also standing in the 'doubting Zizou' doghouse of shame, AS's Juanma Trueba, "It is difficult not to feel guilty for having declared his death..."


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Saturday, January 14, 2006

"He Was a Bad Manager and A Bad Man..."

Spain's Journalists Doing the Snoopy Dance at News of Bianchi Sacking

Atletico Madrid's end of week dismissal of manager Carlos Bianchi has been widely heralded by the footballing press as a great thing. So much so, that perhaps it was at their instigation in the first place?

At the time of the Argentinian coach's firing on Thursday afternoon, Atletico were in 12th place in the league - not an unusual position for the consistently underachieving club, in the Spanish Cup and still within touching distance of a European place, with the entire second half of the season still to play.

Undoubtedly, Bianchi's record could and should have been better since his appointment last summer - 6 victories, 8 draws and 7 defeats - but many of the dropped points were down to the uselessness of his defense who, over 5 successive games, had developed the habit of conceding late goals and giving up leads. Hardly the fault of the coach and indeed a number of the Atletico squad had publicly blamed themselves for this, rather than their manager.

Instead, when reading this weekend's press, what seemed to be Bianchi's biggest failing in their eyes, was his unwillingness to give interviews - apart from the daily press grillings a manager must endure, when the same tired old questions are endlessly repeated, something that Bianchi clearly never enjoyed as his often terse responses showed. One can hardly blame in for wanting to avoid more of the same treatment.

The fact that Bianchi rarely moved from his bench during games also seems to grate with the journalists. That he was not constantly up and down and gesticulating to his players like an flea-ridden traffic cop is interpreted as a sign that Bianchi did not really give a flying one about the club's performances. Ironically, former Real coach Wanderley Luxemburgo was criticised for doing exactly the opposite to Bianchi - his desperate flapping was considered a sign of desperation.

As well as the "he was a bad man" comment from Jose Antonio Abellan in Friday's Marca, AS also joined in the verbal kicking describing Bianchi as an "accidental tourist" and a "bureaucrat without luck or a soul." Fairly unpleasant really.

Still, Carlos Bianchi walks off with the rest of his contract paid up - a cool 6 million euros in all and Atletico stumble on with reserve team coach Pepe Murcia in charge until a new man can be found. Osasuna's Javier Aguirre has already been linked with a move to the Vicente Calderon in the summer - let's hope he has a thick skin.


Copa Del Rey Fixtures

Real Betis v Real Madrid
Cadiz v Espanyol
Deportivo v Valencia (who look a good bet to pick up this year's title)
Atletico Madrid / Zaragoza v Barcelona

First round ties to be played 18th January.


In Other News...

Real Madrid have reportedly been in contact with Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas's father. Just to check that all is going well for his son at Highbury. Nothing more. His father confirmed that Cesc was rather enjoying life in London and Real were no doubt delighted to hear that. Nice of them to keep in touch.

Valencia's forgotten man and ex-Arsenal midfielder 'Edu' arrived back in the country after five months in Brazil working hard to repair the damage to the knee he messed up in August.

Quote of the Week
"I was not insulting the referee, I was insulting my players !" Osasuna coach Javier Aguirre after his recent sending-off and subsequent two match touchline ban for abusing the man in black.

Runner Up Quote of the Week
"They have spent over 100 million Euros, just for one point." Sevilla's reticent President Jose Maria del Nido, before this weekend's encounter with Real Madrid - a team just one point and one place above them at the time.


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Friday, January 13, 2006

A Bumper Weekend Preview


Real Betis (18th) v Atletico Madrid (12th)
A tasty game between two teams in all sorts of trouble. Betis, lying third from bottom will be looking to improve on two draws by actually winning a game - something they have only managed three times this season. Atletico - where to start? One win in eleven, falling crowds, and like Joe Cole - unable to score. And since Thursday, without a manager. Home win.

Valencia (3rd) v Osasuna (2nd)
If there is any hope of either team challenging Barca, this is a game each must win. Valencia will want ensure that the current ten point gap from the league leaders does not get any bigger whilst Osasuna will want to prove that they are not simply a 'home' team by taking Valencia's scalp. Probably a home win, but maybe a draw if Osasuna repeat their stifling tactics they deployed recently at Real Madrid.


Zaragoza (9th) v Mallorca (17th)
Real Z, unlike the city itself, are starting to look interesting and are one of the form teams of La Liga. Mallorca, on the other hand, are fourth from bottom and are a soft touch away from their island home. Their increasingly unimpressed manager Hector Cuper will be looking for a better performance from his charges, but the home win for Zaragoza looks likely.

Deportivo (4th) v Alaves (very bottom)
Oh dear. Not the game that Alaves needed with their 17th manager of the season taking the helm after President Piterman fired no.16 on Monday. Depor are flying at the moment and it is difficult to forsee anything other than a hefty home win in this match.

Real Sociedad (11th) v Espanyol (14th)
Perhaps the dullest looking tie of the round, but probably worth a few goals. Espanyol may well give a debut to new striker Walter Pandiani, fresh in from Birmingham, whilst Sociedad may in turn field their new front man, the eight foot Dane Morten Skoubo. High scoring draw...or 0-0.

Getafe (10th) v Celta Vigo (8th)
A match between two teams who will be both quite happy to remain where they are in the league if it means avoiding a relegation battle. Getafe took set to field new Brazilian striker Jackson Coehlo, who may well add a bit of glammer to Bernd Schuster's dowdy team. Celta are one of the most unpredictable sides in the league, but will perhaps sneak this game 1-0.

Malaga (15th) v Cadiz (16th)
Cadiz have had a cracking start to 2006 with a home victory at Getafe last week and a midweek 0-0 draw at Seville that saw them boot their Andalusian neighbours out of the Copa Del Rey. Malaga, also flirting with relegation, really need to pick up three points here and should just manage it.

Racing Santander (13th) v Villarreal (5th)
There could well be an upset here, as Racing are putting together some decent results (a victory over Real and draw at Osasuna), whilst Villarreal are having a wobbly start to 2006, having been defeated twice by Valencia in the cup and given an iffy performance against Real last week. A draw.

Barcelona (1st) v Athletic Bilbao (19th)
Fresh from their somewhat embarrassing Thursday night tonking at the hands of Real Madrid in the cup, Javier Clemente takes his battered team into the Nou Camp, probably to receive another kicking. Samuel Eto'o, who plays his last game for Barca before disappearing for African Cup of Nations duty, will look to sign off with a couple of goals as a leaving pressie. A big home win.

Real Madrid (6th) v Sevilla (7th)
Although the Galacticos will be very excited with their cup win over a second string and relegation fighting Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla will be another matter entirely. Facing a team with the best defensive record in the league, Real will find it hard to break Sevilla down, especially with Ronaldo out of action and Cassano still too hefty to start the ninety minutes. 1-0 home win looks possible.


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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Atletico Madrid To Add to Unemployment Statistics

Copa Del Rey Defeat Seals Carlos Bianchi's Fate

Atletico Madrid's under-fire Argentinian manager could well find himself with a lot more free time on his hands, after an emergency board meeting was called this morning to discuss the future of the luckless coach. Bianchi was already hanging onto his job by his fingernails before last nights 0-1 home defeat in the Spanish Cup by Real Zaragoza and it would appear that the Atletico leadership have lost patience with him - something the fans did some time ago.

In what was expected to have been a successful season for Atletico, Bianchi's team find themselves stuck in mid-table in La Liga with just one victory in eleven games. The normally loyal fans, who have made their ever-growing displeasure at their team's recent performances fairly vocal, have started to stay away from games in their droves. A mere 15,000 turned up to the Vincente Calderon stadium last night to watch their team's shambolic defeat, putting pressure on Atletico's board to take swift action.

However, the two factors that could still keep Bianchi in his job are the cost to cash strapped Atletico of terminating his contract and the lack of immediate obvious replacement for the amusingly coiffured coach.


Barcelona Break Yet Another Record with Copa Del Rey Victory

Barca's second string team thrashed lower-league Zamora 6-0 last night in the Nou Camp to give Frank Rijkaard's team a record sixteenth victory in a row in all competitions - a milestone that has stood since 1960. Henki Larsson contributed two goals to the hammering of Zamora, who were only able to hang on for fifty-nine seconds before conceding their first goal. However, in defence of the plucky minnows, the team were still suffering the effects of a nightmare 12 hour journey that had seen them in a 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' style mad dash across the country after a planned morning flight to Barcelona was cancelled due to bad weather.

Elsewhere in last night's second leg cup action, struggling Real Betis finally had something to cheer their fans up, with a 0-0 draw with Celta - enough to take them through to the next round. Last years finalists Osasuna beat Deportivo 2-1 but were still knocked out, having lost the first leg 3-0. Cadiz held Sevilla 0-0 to go through, thanks to a remarkable 3-2 home victory, whilst Valencia and Espanyol also progressed to the next round with aggregate victories over Villarreal and Getafe respectively.


In Other News...

The Ashley Cole to Real Madrid saga continues in 'Marca' with the paper claiming that they have received official confirmation from the Spanish club that they are interested in Arsenal's left back.

Conflicting reports on the future of Thomas Graveson, Real's unwanted baldy hardman. The Dane's agent is in town to discuss the future of his client, with some papers claiming that he will be allowed to leave during the latest transfer window, but others reporting that he is wanted by Real until the summer.

Walter Pandiani's on-off move to Espanyol looks back on again, with a transfer fee of 1.4 million euros reportedly agreed between themselves and Birmingham.


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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ashley Cole To Be New Roberto Carlos

Real target Arsenal's Leading Mercenary As Summer Signing

Reports in this morning's Spanish press suggest that Real Madrid have targeted Arsenal and England left-back Ashley Cole as the man to replace the legendary, but now rather rubbish, Roberto Carlos. Although, this has been a rumour floating around the capital for some time, it would appear that an initial approach has already been made to Arsenal by Real - but not immediately rebuffed by the Gunners, perhaps tired of Cole's antics and wanting shot of him.

Cole is reported to have a 15 million euro buy out clause in his current contract - which was never really worth the paper it was written on - and could well be lining up alongside Becks and Woody in the Bernabeu next season.

Roberto Carlos, unusually gloomy and introverted these days, has been hinting for some time that this season, his tenth in Madrid, will be his last. The Brazilian looks set for a final pay-day in Qatar, or even a return to Brazil to rest his over-sized legs.

Real, like a hyperactive child in a sweet shop these days, have also reportedly expressed an interest in Osasuna's 19 year old play-maker, Raul Garcia. Garcia, one of the key reasons for Osasuna's success this season, would cost Real up to 15 million euros, although it is possible that Pablo Garcia, bought from Osasuna only this summer would be going straight back to Pamplona as part of the deal.


Copa Del Rey

The second legs of the current round of Copa Del Rey matches take place tonight and tomorrow - except Atletico Madrid v Real Zaragoza who will be playing their first leg, after it was called off last week due to Atletico's virus outbreak.


Betis v Celta (1-1)
Osasuna v Deportivo (0-3)
Sevilla v Cadiz (2-3)
Atletico v Zaragoza (first leg)
Barcelona v Zamora (3-1)
Valencia v Villarreal (2-0)
Espanyol v Getafe (0-1)


Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao (1-0)


In Other News...

Real Sociedad unveiled their 'gigantic' new Danish striker Morten Skoubo. The 1.92 metre tall forward, signed from Brondy for 2.5 million euros, looks set to be bumping his head everywhere he goes in San Sebastian until 2010.

Woodgate Injury Watch - Woody, after playing a whole 90 minutes on Sunday in his latest comeback game, looks set to miss out on Thursday night's Copa Del Rey match with a thigh strain.


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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

" I Wasn't Unhappy With The Job He Was Doing..."

Before delving into today's news, a quick correction - the email contact address posted yesterday had a typo (I am still getting used to this internet business...)

It should have read laligaloca@yahoo.co.uk. And not .com. Apologies to anyone who may have emailed, but they would have been lost in the ether.

Latest La Liga Manager Bites the Dust

Colourful Alaves president Dmitry Piterman, yesterday accepted the resignation of his coach, the superbly-named Chuchi Cos. With Alaves rock bottom of the league, defeated 2-0 at home on Sunday by Real Zaragoza and seemingly destined for a swift return to the second division, Piterman proclaimed, somewhat unconvincingly, that this was the best move for the club, "I wasn't unhappy with the job he was doing...but we need to vary the dynamic of the team and change the rhythm a bit". Former second-in-command Juan Carlos Oliva, a man with no managerial experience in the top flight, takes over the reigns, while the luckless Cos moves upstairs to take over the ubiqitous "sporting director" role.

However, there is more to this story that would appear at first. Piterman, one of La Liga's "characters", is a legend in the Spanish game. He is a man who wants nothing more than to be a coach himself and simply buys into clubs to try to fulfill his boyhood dream. But, his lack of qualifications, experience and indeed footballing judgement precludes him from taking up a permanent place on the bench. Instead, he often spends games sat next to his no doubt terrified manager, making helpful suggestions as to the team's tactics. His time in Alaves alone makes fairly entertaining reading....

June 2004 - Piterman buys 51% stake in Vitoria based Alaves, recently relegated to the second division. Appoints Cos as his manager.
July 2005 - Cos guides the team to promotion, but leaves after fall-out with Piterman. Rafa Montfort appointed manager.
August 2005 - Montfort fired by Piterman after the "hands-on" president was said to have been unhappy with the preseason preperations. Cos reappointed manager.

To make things even more entertaining, former Chelsea and Newcastle manager Ruud Gullit is rumoured taking over the Alaves hot seat.


Antonio Cassano Weight Watch

There is much debate as to the general fitness of Ronaldo (again). The Brazilan striker, who hobbled out of Sunday's 0-0 draw after just half an hour, is under heavy (no pun intended) criticism for having declared himself fit for the game in the first place, having badly strained his thigh in training the week before. Ronnie now faces his fifth injury lay-off of the season, three weeks this time - bad news for the goal-shy Galacticos.

All eyes are now turned on new boy Antonio Cassano, newly arrived from Roma during the winter break, but hopelessly out of shape. Cassano, who has so far lost one and a half kilos of the five he was ordered to shed by Real's coaching team, looks like making his debut earlier than expected due to the injury to Ronaldo and could well feature in Thursday night's Copa Del Rey second leg against Athletic Bilbao. Expect a slimming video style "before and after shot" with Cassano once he is able to fit into his new Real Madrid shirt and take to the pitch.


In Other News...

Jose Mourinho's agent, Jorge Mendes, was spotted recently in Madrid, fuelling speculation that the Chelsea boss, known to be on Real Madrid's manager wish-list, is considering a move to the Bernabeu in the summer. Or perhaps Mendes was simply taking an Easyjet AwayBreak to Spain's delightful capital.

Second place Osasuna's difficult start to the season continues after striker Savo Milosevic was ruled out for one month.


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Monday, January 09, 2006

A Monday Morning Call

With a full weekend review to be found on the ever excellent football365 website, here are some odds and ends that have found their way into this morning's papers.....

Newcastle winger Albert Luque was apparently offered to Barcelona just before Christmas, according to sports daily 'AS'. Luque, who has not had the best of times at St. James Park since his move from Deportivo is set to be unhappy in the North East. However, Barca turned down the offer, having no plans to reinforce the squad during the transfer window, despite the upcoming absence of leading scorer Samuel Eto'o, on African Cup of Nations duty.

The Atletico de Madrid fans have started to turn against manager Carlos Bianchi after he substituted Bulgarian midfielder Martin Petrov, the only player unaffected by the club's recent stomach virus, during last nights 0-0 draw against Valencia. However, club president Enrique Cerezo announced soon after the game that the under-fire Argentinian coach still has the support of himself and his board. He should definitely be worried now.

Samuel Eto'o's eighteenth goal of the season for Barca, in Saturday night's defeat of Espanyol, means that he has now single- handedly scored more goals than six other La Liga teams.

Raul continues to make good progress on recovering from his knee injury that has seen him out of action since Real's defeat at Barcelona. However, it is still too early to say whether he will be back in time for the Champions League clash at Arsenal. With Ronaldo constantly joining him in the treatment room, Baptista unable to find his form, Robinho still adjusting to the demands of his new environment and new signing Cassano yet to be tested, Real desperately need their captain back.

Some stats after this weekend round of matches...

Top Scorer - Samuel Eto'o (Barcelona)
Top Goalie - Victor Valdes (Barcelona)
Most Assists - David Beckham (Real Madrid)
Most Fouls committed - Diego Rivas (Getafe
Most Fouls Received - Riki (Getafe)


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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Weekend Preview

Round number 18 in La Liga and all teams back in action this weekend after the winter break....

Saturday -

Athletic Bilbao (17th) v Deportivo (6th)
A decent looking clash between two teams at opposite ends of the table. Athletic will be hoping for a considerably better second half to the season than their first and look good to cause an upset on Saturday night. However, Deportivo, in domineering form before the winter break, will want three points to start a challenge for a Champions league spot.

Espanyol (14th) v Barcelona (1st)
Can city rivals Espanyol stop the relentless march of Barca, looking for their 15th consecutive victory, in this fiercely fought derby? Maybe. Espanyol are unbeaten in five and Barca are due to lose some time soon, at least centre back Puyol thinks so, "We know than one day, we have to lose and we are prepared for it."

Sunday -

Sevilla (7th) v Malaga (15th)
Malaga, with former Ipswich legend Pablo Counago on the bench, will be looking to repeat their victory from last season, that prevented Sevilla from claiming a Champions League spot. Nevertheless, Sevilla, without Saviola for this clash, should pick up the three points with Freddie Kanoute now starting the find the net.

Cadiz (19th) v Getafe (9th)
A 'must win match' for Cadiz if the league newcomers are to have any chance of avoiding relegation this season, but without a victory in eight games and up against a stubborn Getafe team, a draw may be more realistic.

Celta Vigo (8th) v Real Sociedad (11th)
Two teams, both trying to end bad runs of forms. Celta, who had made a bright start to the season, went into the winter break with three consecutive losses whilst Sociedad, look set for a season of mid-table obscurity. New signing, Stevanovic to start the match from the bench.

Alaves (20th) v Real Zaragoza (10th)
Bottom of the table Alaves will be desperate for three points against Zaragoza, a team looking to build on an indifferent start to the season, with a push for a European spot.

Real Mallorca (16th) v Real Betis (18th)
A fascinating tie between two teams flirting with relegation. Real Mallorca, who can be tricky to beat at home, take on Betis, a team that has improved in recent weeks from their dreadful start to the season. Betis look to set to give a debut to one of their two new Brazilian strikers, Roberto, fresh in from Paris St Germain.

Osasuna (2nd) v Racing Santander (13th)
Can Osasuna keep up the momentum that has seen them hot on the heels of Barca for much of the first half of the season? Mexican coach Javier Aguirre's men will be looking for their tenth consecutive victory at home against Racing, a team still on a high from their defeat of Real Madrid just before the winter break. Racing to give a debut to hard man centre back Pablo Alfaro who joined from Sevilla during the week.

Villarreal (4th) v Real Madrid (5th)
All Real games are big, but this one is especially so. Can the Galacticos kick of the new year with a much needed victory over rivals Villarreal, a team they have never lost against? Probably not. It is going to be a tough challenge against tricky opponents who welcome back Sorin into the team after a short spell on the sidelines. Real look set to put new signing Cicinho straight into the starting eleven and experiment with a new 4-1-2-3 formation.

Atletico (12th) v Valencia (3rd)
Taking on Valencia these days is a tall order in itself, nevermind when you lose almost your entire squad to food poisoning during the week. Manager Carlos Bianchi admits that his team are by no means 100% ready for this big clash and Valencia took good to exploit Atletico's ill fortune with a win.


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Man Swims Mediterranean

A Slow News Day

Not exactly football news, but on a cold rainy bank holiday Friday in Spain, there is not much else to report. Besides, what happened is quite remarkable. On Thursday morning, masochist David Meca dragged himself from the cold waters of the Med, having swum non stop for an incredible 26 hours from Jarea on the east coast of Spain to Ibiza, a journey of 102 kilometres. Unsurprisingly, he was in pretty poor shape when he was fished out of the sea, suffering from hyperthermia, exhaustion, and dehydration. January does seem a strange time to attempt the crossing though.


In Other News...

Early Real Madrid team news suggests that Ronaldo should recover from yet another injury in time for Sunday night's potentially tricky away match at Villarreal. New boy Cicinho is expected to take up the right midfield position, vacated by the suspended David Beckham. Cassano is not yet ready for action, being a little portly after the Christmas break and has been challenged by Real's backroom staff to lose 4 kilos in 10 days.

Weight loss is not a problem for Atletico de Madrid's suffering team. The recent outbreak of gastro-enteritis lead to each of the affected players losing up to 3 kilos. Their weekend match with Valencia is due to go ahead as planned, but it will be a quite a test for Carlos Bianchi's men.

Barca's Samuel Eto'o is due to miss 3 games for his team, having decided to participate in the African Nations Cup. The Cameroonian striker was contemplating giving the tournament a miss, to continue his quest to be top scorer in La Liga this year.

Deportivo are set to start talks with six squad members, all due to be out of contract in June.


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Thursday, January 05, 2006

More Trouble for Atletico

'La Pupas' Return to Atletico de Madrid

'La Pupas' is a fairly difficult word to translate into English. The nearest equivalent we have to it is 'jinxed'. Over the years, many clubs such as Newcastle and Birmingham have claimed that their lack of success is due to some kind of curse or jinx. More often than not, it is simply because they insist on buying players like Titus Bramble or Emile Heskey.

Only one team in the world can genuinely claim to have been blighted by ill-fortune over the years, and that is Atletico Madrid. They have 'La Pupas' - and in spades. Over the years, they have lost finals galore, been relegated, repeatedly lost to their rivals Real Madrid and consistently appointed inappropriate managers and presidents to lead them.

This season, the curse has returned with a vengeance. Their previously highly-rated Argentinian manager Carlos Bianchi, has turned out to be a dud with funny hair; supposed goal scoring saviour Metja Kezman has spent more time lounging around in the treatment room than out on the pitch missing chances; the team has been forced to play with their fifth choice 'keeper due to injuries and suspensions, but most spectacularly of all, Atletico have blown leads six games in a row, thus dropping fourteen points and leaving them twelve place in the league.

However, with the winter break arriving, the team must have thought that things could only get better in the new year. Wrong. First of all, long term transfer target, Maniche was snatched from under their noses by the cheque book of Chelsea. But worse was to come. On Tuesday night, almost the entire Atletico squad went down with food poisoning, at a dinner hosted by the Spanish FA (cue conspiracy theories galore), causing the cancellation of their Copa del Rey match at Zaragoza. This was a match that they had been training like demons for, including a session on New Year's Day. Their return to La Liga actio on Sunday night against Valencia, is already looking in doubt.

I imagine the club will be avoiding traveling by air this year.


In Other News....

Some interesting results in last night's Copa Del Rey matches - Valencia look favourites to pass through to the next round after a 2-0 away victory at Villarreal, although both teams fielded under strength teams. Deportivo thrashed Osasuna 3-0 and Cadiz beat local rivals Sevilla 3-2 to set up and intriguing return leg next week.

'Bad Boy' Antonio Cassano caused chaos just minutes after his signing for Real Madrid for 5 million euros. After a quick warm up in front of the fans, the Italian striker kicked a ball into crowd causing such a scramble for the coveted prize, that one fan fell forward two rows and smashed his face on the back of a seat.

Valencia's left midfielder Fabio Aurelio, out of contract in June, has been linked with Liverpool, who, if they add him to their books, will have more left wingers than a 1983 Labour Party conference.


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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Real Madrid In Victory Shock

Real Victory Ushers in New Glorious Era for Galacticos

Or so their official website probably reads and as some babbling journalists in today's footballing press have claimed. Nevertheless, last night, in the away tie of their Copa del Rey showdown against La Liga strugglers Athletic Bilbao, Real managed to sneak a 1-0 lead to take back to the distinctly unfortress-like Bernabeu for next week's second leg.

However, having opted to waste nearly two hours of my life watching Arsenal and Man Utd's wholly tedious draw, which was being played at the same time as Real's match, I did not get to witness the increasingly rare spectacle of a Madrid victory. For this reason, I cannot really comment on their performance, except to say that it was apparently not as bad as normal, which translates into Spanish-media speak as Real returning back to their best. Again.

Real's victory, (still feels strange writing that), came from a seventieth minute goal from our very own Becks, on target for only the second time this season. Another key moment of the game was the return to the side of Jonathan Woodgate, who came on for the last twelve minutes of the match, and in that time neither managed to get himself injured nor score an own goal. Quite an achievement for the luckless centre back.

In the night's other tie, a second-string Barcelona side made hard work of it against lower division Zamora, but managed eventually to come away with a 3-1 victory. It would be a little bit of an understatement to suggest that they should feel fairly confident of polishing off their plucky part-time opponents in the second leg in the Nou Camp.

From tonight's ties, highlights include a derby match between Villarreal and Valencia, although without their respective star players, Juan Roman Riquelme and Pablo Aimar; an interesting encounter between two in-form teams, Osasuna and Deportivo and an Andalusian derby between Cadiz and Sevilla. On tv, we are stuck with the distinctly unglamorous Getafe v Espanyol to entertain us.


In Other News...

Real Sociedad's new Slovenian striker Dalibar Stevanovic arrived in town...Henki Larsson has been linked with Newcastle in a transfer window move as the soonto be fired Grahame Souness looks for striking cover for Michael Owen...Former Chelsea striker Metja Kezman returned to training with Atletico de Madrid, just eighteen days after an operation on his knee.


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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Non-Excitement of the Cup

Copa del Rey Match Gives Real Madrid Brand New Opportunity for Humiliation

Spain's players return to action this week in the latest round of matches in their equivalent of the FA Cup. However, their version of the knockout competition lacks the fun and the prestige of its English counterpart, due to a combination of big clubs not entering until the latter stages of the competition, the uselessness of teams from the lower leagues and the fact that the ties are held over two legs. For the most part, the Copa del Rey is a mere distraction from the more important business of La Liga.

Nevertheless, there are some potentially intriguing clashes taking place midweek, which could well give a idea of how this weekend's league matches may shape up. The big tie of the round sees Athletic Bilbao, struggling near the foot of the table and desperate for a cup run, taking on Real Madrid, who are simply desperate. Whilst the visitors are not planning to give debuts to either of their new signings, Cicinho or Cassano, they will be looking for a rare victory in Bilbao's San Mames stadium and will field a reasonably strong eleven, despite facing their usual list of injuries and suspensions. Manager Lopez Caro is set to give rare starts to the outcast Thomas Graveson, the hopeless Raul Bravo and the actually very good but under-used as he is Spanish, Roberto Soldado.

A poor result tonight would leave Real with the only realistic, in the broadest sense of the word, chance of silverware being the Champions League, despite President Perez' ever-tiresome declarations that the title is still up for grabs.

The ties in full...
Zamora v Barcelona
Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid

Deportivo v Osasuna
Cadiz v Sevilla
Celta v Betis
Athletico de Madrid v Zaragoza
Villarreal v Valencia
Getafe v Espanyol


In Other News...

Seville's Saviola is out for one month after picking up an injury yesterday in training. The club are now relying on the goal scoring talents of Freddie Kanoute, which can never be a good situation to be in.

Real Mallorca are moving in on Birmingham misfit Walter Pandiani and are also expressing an interest in picking up Ivan Campo from Bolton.

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Monday, January 02, 2006

Spain's Laziest Player

Barcelona Player in Early Bid for Poorest Decision of 2006

Occasional Barcelona striker 'Maxi Lopez' has hardly set the world alight since his arrival in the Nou Camp in January 2005, from South American outfit River Plate. Originally brought in with much hype, as cover for the then injured Henki Larsson, the girly-haired Argentinan has barely featured for the league champions, being unfortunate enough to have been stuck behind Eto'o, Ronaldinho, Messi and Larsson in the striking queue. And also by not being any good.

However, 2006 was looking a little more promising for our Maxi. With Samuel Eto'o expected to be away from the side for three weeks on African Nations Cup duty and the now-creaking Larsson seemingly falling out of favour after his recent announcement of his departure from Barca in the summer, the window of opportunity had seemed to have opened a smidgen for Snr Lopez. But, alas, the permanently-peripheral striker seems to have personally slammed it shut.

In a kind Christmas gesture, manager Frank Rijkaard had given his South American players a couple of extra days off for the winter break and were not due back at the Nou Camp until the 2nd January, five days after the rest of the squad. However, with a Spanish cup game away to Zamora on Tuesday, Maxi was invited to return to Spain a couple of days early with the idea that he would lead the forward line and perhaps remind Rijkaard why he was bought in the first place.

But, Maxi, yet to start a match this season, declined the invitation, preferring to remain in Argentina for that extra couple of days. Let's hope she was worth it, as the club have strongly hinted that this clear display of where his loyalties lie will not be forgotten soon.


Giant Cloud of Doom and Despair Hangs Over the Bernabeu

A series of telling interviews in today's press seems to suggest that the Real dressing room is perhaps not the happiest at the moment.

Michel Salgado on Zidane's current fragile psychological state, "He mentally exhausted and we are all trying to help him".

The ever-honest Guti discussing his high and low points of 2005, "The worst part was not winning anything, the best?...nothing I can think of".

Real have the chance to either restore some pride or make their current plight even worse with a Spanish cup game away to Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday night.


In Other News...

Barca welcome back Dutch central midfielder Mark Van Bommel to the team after a two-month injury lay off.

Atletico Madrid's Argentian midfielder Ariel Ibagaza looks set to be moving on in June, after neither he nor the club expressed any interest in renewing his current contract. The former Real Mallorca player has never shown the form expected of him since his arrival in Madrid in the summer of 2003.

Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez revealed that currently-crocked Real Madrid captain Raul was in attendance at his team's recent 2-0 defeat of Newcastle. Raul was set to be impressed by both the Anfield atmosphere and team. Interesting.


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