Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"We Are Playing the Best Football on the Planet"

Joan Laporta Feels Very Pleased With Himself Indeed

If Barcelona's president with a girl's name, Joan Laporta, could have sat though his first interview for three months puffing three cigars simultaneously, with his feet up on the table - he would have. However, Spain's feeble attempt at a smoking ban prevented the first occurrence, his buffet-stuffed paunch stopped the second - thankfully.

Nevertheless, these legal and gravitational hurdles did not stop Laporta from putting on a euphoric display of pure self satisfaction and unadulterated joy at his club's current trajectory that made Tom Cruise's insane hollering on Oprah look like a scene from a Mike Leigh film in comparison.

"We are the reference point, for all the world's clubs", he boasted. "We are playing the best football on the planet", he proclaimed.

Obviously oblivious to the concept of pride coming before a fall, Joan then turned his attentions to his arch nemeses at Stamford Bridge and their dastardly ways - "they used tactics on us that were certainly not footballing...if they cannot beat us on the field, they simply try other means', complained Laporta.

With a transcript of these comments soon to be landing on Mourinho's desk with a thump, to be made into another one of his files, it would seem that there is now more chance of negotiating a lasting peace between Hamas and Israel, than getting Chelsea and Barca to play nicely. Good. Roll on next Tuesday.


International News...

On Wednesday night, a cobbled together Spain takes on Didier Drogba's Ivory Coast, in what will probably be a very tough friendly match in Valladolid. The main team news centres around a possible debut for Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas, who has now burst onto the national scene in Spain, from previous relative obscurity in the Premiership. However, he does owe his potential starting position to injuries to Baraja, Guti, Xavi, Xavi Alonso and Valeron - a fair amount of talent to have missing.

Probable team -

Casillas (Real Madrid)
S.Ramos (Real Madrid)
Puyol (Barca)
Pablo (Atletico Madrid)
A.Lopez (Atletico Madrid)
Luis Garcia (Liverpool)
Albeda (Valencia)
Reyes (Arsenal)
Cesc (Arsenal)
Torres (Atletico Madrid)
Villa (Valencia)


In Other News...

Real Zaragoza have been fined a pathetically small 9000 euros after the outbreak of racist chanting from a section of their support during Saturday night's clash with Barca - a step up from the 600 imposition last year I suppose. However, the club have announced that they will be opening an investigation, in coordination with the police, to find the perpetrators of the monkey chants specifically aimed at Samuel Eto'o.

Getafe have parted company with sporting director Alfredo Duro, after just one and half years at the club. Although, this news was announced in a press conference featuring both Duro and club president, Angel Torres, it is understood that the two had clashed on a number of occasions over the sporting direction of the club and the transfer policy. Duro is to be replaced by Antonio Prieto, who was Getafe's trainer, during their promotion winning season, two years ago.


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Florentino Perez 2000 - 2006

Real Madrid President, Florentino Perez, Leaves the Sinking Ship

It was late last night and La Liga Loca was cradling a pint and ensconced happily in his weekly pub quiz - and being of no use whatsoever, as usual - when the face of Real's galactic president Florentino Perez appeared on the bar's plasma screen tv. This could only have meant one of two things. Either, he had fired another manager or hired yet another minion in Real's already elongated chain of command.

Not this time. Perez was announcing to a stunned press pack that he had stepped down as president of Real Madrid, on Sunday night. Although, there were inklings that not all was right in Florentino's world - one just needed to look at his increasingly glum face during Real's defeat at Real Mallorca to realise that this was a very pi$$ed off man indeed - the announcement of his departure was a bit of a bombshell, even by Real's standards.

By now, the reasons for his resignation have been well publicised. In his final press conference, Perez, at first, gave the usual platitudes that he felt that the club needed a change of direction, but then, later on he became considerably more candid. He confessed that he believed that the some of Real players were not giving their all (something, any fan could have told him for the last 2 years) and were simply not hungry enough for success - "I would have liked them (Real players) to have celebrated their goals like the Real Mallorcans did", he grumbled.

Considering that he was wholly responsible for the 'galactico' policy of 'Zidanes and Pavones' - building a squad comprising the biggest stars in the world mixed with home grown 'talent' - it was all a bit rich. In classic Real Madrid style, at only one point did he admit that he may have been partly to blame for the problems of the side, by questioning that he may not have educated the players sufficiently as to the importance of it playing for the club.

It would take a very long book indeed to assess the successes and failures of Florentino's presidential reign. When he took over the club in 2000, it was in dire financial straights, but through a slightly dubious business deal when the club's city centre training ground was sold off to developers for an over-inflated fee, thus wiping out the club debts - Perez was able to rebuild the commercial side of the club to such an extent, that it now has the biggest income of any football team in the world.

Although, Perez will be remembered more for the disastrous and trophyless last two years of his tenure, he was not without success. In his first years in charge, Real Madrid won two league titles and one Champions League trophy - but then he fired the architect of this success, Vicente del Bosque - perhaps where it all started to go wrong for the club.

Opinion on whether Perez has done the right thing by walking away from the team is mixed in Madrid. Some liken him to a captain abandoning his sinking ship and betraying the 91.64% of the club membership who voted for him in the last club election. Others say that, for once, someone in the club is taking responsibility for the myriad of problems that currently beset Real.

Whilst club captain Raul was reported to have been very upset by the news of his mentor's departure, one player who clearly does not give a flying one about the news (and who is surely one of those that he implied, do not care about the club) is Roberto Carlos. When told of the news of Perez' resignation by journalists he merely shrugged and said "whatever, it's not my problem".

In the meantime, former club vice president Fernando Martin has been confirmed by the club board to take over Perez' affairs. Martin, like Perez, is a very rich man indeed who owns a fairly substantial construction company - not unlike many of the La Liga's club presidents. When someone in Spain is big in, ahem, 'construction', one has to raise one's eyebrows a little and look furtively towards a Martin Scorcese DVD. Say no more.

All in all - quite a mess. Saturday night's derby day encounter with Atletico Madrid could be very interesting indeed.

Florentino Perez - honourable man or big girlie coward? Send your comments via the blog or email directly to laligaloca@yahoo.co.uk


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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Big Mouth Strikes Again

Quotes of the Week

This week, a special focus on Alaves president and all round genius, Snr Dmitry Piterman

"I don't like players kissing shirts. They're just mercenaries" - Dmitry Piterman with a fine sentiment, if it were not for the fact that his words were set next to a picture of him kissing an Alaves shirt.

"There are always subhumans and drunks behind the bench (in the stands)" - Dmitry Piterman further endears himself to the Alaves support.

"My use of the words 'subhuman' and 'drunks' were unfortunate but were also misinterpreted" - Piterman apologies to the fans for his earlier comments.

"I'm not going to be the slave to 12,000 season ticket holders and simply do what they want." - Piterman makes matter worse seconds later.

"We're bad. But other teams are worse" - Real Betis defender, Juanito, reveals the team's main hope in avoiding relegation.

"There are times you think he has disappeared from the game, you focus on another player, then he appears again and scores." - Valencia's Argentinean defender Roberto Ayala on Ronaldo. He was half right with this comment.

"Congratulations, Reyes"
"In the next leg, we are hoping to win"
"I hope we do"
- The less than warm exchange between Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and Arsenal's Jose Antonio Reyes after last week's Champions League encounter, perhaps dispelling rumours that the Galacticos are targeting him. Zidane was signed by Real, after Perez slipped him a napkin during an awards dinner asking if he wanted to play for his team - this does not suggest the same eagerness.

"It was a trick just to waste time. We had to win." - Jose Antonio Reyes on his 'injury' on Tuesday's clash, which resulted him feigning injury to the side of the pitch and rolling back onto it to buy a few extra minutes. And get a furious Iker Casillas, a yellow card.

"Ronaldo thought more about himself than the team" - Strong words from Real captain, Raul, after his teammates midweek complaint of feeling unloved at by the Bernabeu faithful.

"No more. I'm not playing anymore" - Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o to the ref as he attempted to leave the field, after recieving a barrage of racist abuse in Saturday night's clash with Zaragoza.


In Other News...

Villarreal have pulled off a bit of a coup with the signing of Danish midfielder, Christian Poulsen from Schalke 04. Poulsen is out of contract with the Bundesliga side this summer and will be packing his sunblock making his way to the Mediterranean coast in July, where he has signed a pre contract for four years with the 'yellow submarines'. With the capture of Real Sociedad's Nihat completed earlier this month - also on a free - Villarreal could be quite a force next season, providing they can hang onto Riquelme and Forlan.


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Friday, February 24, 2006

The Weekend Starts Here. Sort Of.

It's Time for the Wildy Inaccurate Weekend Predictions

With Atletico defying all (my) expectations, Deportivo being hopeless at home and Valencia sneaking a victory last weekend, La Liga Loca managed a whopping four out of ten correct forecasts. Still, it was a 25% improvement on the previous week. Time for round 25 of La Liga...


Atletico Madrid (9th) v Malaga (20th)
The 'rojiblancos' are on fire at the moment - not literally, but anything is possible with this luckless club. Last week's away victory at Getafe was their fifth in a row and they look odds on to make it number six on Saturday night. The visitors to the Calderon are bottom of the table Malaga, who suffered a calamitous home defeat last weekend against relegation rivals Mallorca. Instead of spending the week pulling themselves together, there have again been photographs of player dust ups on their training ground - suggesting that all may not be well in the Malaga camp. With Atletico just three points from a UEFA cup spot, this is an opportunity to gain further ground that they must and should grab. Home win.

Zaragoza (10th) v Barcelona (1st)
There is the whiff of an upset in the air here. Zaragoza recently beat Barca in the Copa Del Rey, took apart Real Madrid 6-1 in the same competition (but lost 4-0 in return) and held Deportivo last week to a 1-1 away draw. A fairly impressive group of scalps. Barca will no doubt be nursing a few bruises from their encounter with Chelsea, as well as suffering the knackering after-effects of 90 minutes of wading through mud that resembled something from a World War One trench. One casualty for Barca could well be Ronaldinho who missed training yesterday and is a doubt for the clash. Draw.


Valencia (2nd) v Getafe (11th)
Strangely, I have a feeling that this match will not go the way most would expect. Valencia have been on a fine run of late, but have to have a slip up sometime and Getafe are the kind of awkward team who could cause it. Fresh from the 0-3 thrashing by neighbours Atletico, last weekend, they need to get some kind of result to hold on to their proud mid table status and avoid a worrying slide towards the relegation zone, which their recent form suggests is possible. Valencia could well be without David Villa, whilst Getafe are still missing star striker Riki. Home win, but could quite easily be a draw.

Real Betis (19th) v Sociedad (13th)
There is a lot of talk in Betis circles on whether they should deliberately get themselves knocked out of their UEFA cup campaign, to give themselves a better chance of winning their relegation battle. Well - they only went and did the opposite on Thursday night, by being forced into extra time by opponents, AZ Alkmaar. Indeed, they only had themselves to blame as chance after chance was blown that could have wrapped up the tie with plenty of time to spare - although a late goal eventually saw them through to the last eight. Will the effects of 120 minutes of plodding around Holland be too much for them on Sunday night against an improving Sociedad? Probably. Away win.

Celta Vigo (6th) v Cadiz (17th)
Difficult to know how the season will end up for these two teams, who were both promoted into the top flight this season and are having very different seasons. Celta are a prickly bunch from the president, to the players, to the fans and you never can tell if their current good form will suddenly stop, as it did towards the end of 2005. However, Cadiz now look officially doomed - again. Home Win.

Espanyol (14th) v Sevilla (5th)
Sevilla are the team of the moment - they have dragged themselves into fifth place and are progressing extremely well in the UEFA cup, having qualified for the last eight on Thursday night, with an easy 3-0 aggregate win over Lokomotiv Moscow. Espanyol, on the other hand, are a team falling apart. Thrashed 3-0 at home on Thursday by Schalke 04; whipped 4-0 by Villarreal last Sunday and 2-0 by Santander the weekend before - that is not what one would call good form. Espanyol have slipped to just two points above the relegation zone and they really, really, really have to win this one. But they won't. Draw.

Athletic Bilbao (15th) v Villarreal (7th)
Fresh from a rather late, but immensely crucial 1-0 away victory at Santander last week, Bilbao will be looking to put together a bit of a run with a home victory against opponents still recovering from an midweek trip to Glasgow. However, we have been here before - Athletic are incapable of putting an IKEA table together, let alone back to back victories - something they have not managed in ten months. Villarreal have Riquelme back in the side, Forlan with his scoring boots back on and appear to have woken up from the two month coma that saw them slide out of contention for CL places. Away win.

Alaves (16th) v Racing Santander (12th)
When Dmitry Piterman wakes up on Sunday morning, he really won't be looking forward to this match. Then again, he is such an attention-seeking, argumentative ego-maniac, he actually might be. Racing and Alaves have something in common. They either were, or are, owned by the ex-long jumping Ukrainian - and neither sets of fans are happy about this. Sunday will be demo day in Vitoria - firstly by Alaves fans protesting their owner's recent sacking of their fourth manager of the season - the man who lead them out of the relegation zone. Racing fans - just because they hate him. Having called some of the Alaves supporters 'drunks' and 'sub-humans' during the week - it could be interesting for Dmitry. As for the game? The Alaves players seem to hate Piterman just as much, after he referred to them as mercenaries. Away win.

Mallorca (18th) v Real Madrid (3rd)
A quiet week for the Galacticos that merely saw them humiliated by a bunch of teenagers (and a few oldies) from London in front of the world's watching press. Have they got the mental strength to bounce back with a victory at relegation strugglers Mallorca? The main change in the Real line-up might well see Raul replacing Ronaldo, whom he criticised yesterday for his midweek complaint of feeling unloved by the Real fans. Woodgate is back in the familiar surroundings of the treatment room, so this will also be an interesting moment to see if Helguera will be allowed back into the first eleven, having been noticeably absent in recent encounters. Mallorca are enjoying their post manager sacking euphoria and managed a very handy 2-0 victory at Malaga last week. However, they may not be ready for a Real Madrid team looking to prove a point or two to their critics. Away win.

Osasuna (4th) v Deportivo (8th)
Incredibly, Osasuna have yet to win in their own stadium this year since renaming it over Christmas - this is all the more remarkable, as they won nine from nine in the first half of the season. Despite a slow start to 2006, the return of some of their key players such as Savo Milosevic, who has managed three goals in as many games, and now Webo, finally returning from the African Cup of Nations, Osasuna have lifted themselves back in contention for a CL spot. Deportivo, on the other hand, are fading fast. They badly lack goals and are missing the impetus and driving force of Valeron, currently out for the rest of the season. The only sure prediction in this game is that it is going to be very, very, very cold at 9pm on Sunday night, high up in Pamplona. Home win.


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Thursday, February 23, 2006

"Is it Even Worth Going To Barcelona?"

The Incredible Sulk To Throw in the Towel?

Well, Jose Mourinho has pretty much blown any last lingering chance he ever had of visiting Barcelona either as coach or even for a cheeky weekend summer break. Already fairly unpopular with the good people of Catalonia after his Anders Frisk \ Frank Rijkaard antics in last season's defeat of Barca - he has simply made matters worse with his behaviour over the past few days.

He cynically made the pitch nearly unplayable (for both teams), accused Barca of diving and cheating - even before the game kicked off - and in the post match press conference, insulted the region of Catalonia by referring to it somewhat patronisingly as a "theatrical" place and by accusing their new favourite star, Messi, of cheating - despite an outrageous body check by Del Horno, who should count himself lucky to have been sent off, rather than spend the rest of the game being skinned by the Argentinean 'wonderkid'.

All in all, a good night's work from Jose.

The game finished a little too late for the Spanish press to report full reaction to the events of Stamford Bridge, but overall, they seem to feel that justice has been done. One point they do pick up on is the fact that monkey chants could clearly be heard at the end of the first half whenever both Eto'o and Ronaldinho touched the ball, something that has not yet been reported in the English press.


The Real Madrid Fallout Continues

Rather than inept tactics, hopeless performances from supposed big stars and general cluelessness, the Spanish press have rounded on Ronaldo as the scapegoat for Real's Tuesday night defeat against Arsenal. Indeed, a campaign has been started to replace the big-boned one with Thierry Henry, as if a 'Bewitched' style twitch of President Perez' nose will magic the Frenchman to the Bernabeu in the summer.

"Sign him ! He's a Galactico !" screams Jose Felix Diaz in MARCA, a paper that swings between calling for the era of big name stars to be curtailed or the immediate signing of anyone who is in vogue such as Ballack, Zlatan, Gerrard or Adriano.

Considering that Real's new director of sport, Benito Floro, declared just two months ago, that the new strategy of the team was to have only two or three of the starting line up as foreign players, Henry's arrival in Madrid would not be good news at all for Roberto Carlos, Robinho, Zidane, Ronaldo, Cassano, Beckham, Diogo, Woodgate, Cicinho, Pablo Garcia and Baptista - just some of the other foreign players in the first team squad.

Do Real know what they are doing? Write in with what you think.


Yet More Euro Action

Villarreal seem quite happy with their 2-2 draw at Rangers, a match that has been drowned out by the other big ties - which is a shame as it seemed to be quite a battle. Riquelme looked on good form with his trademark set pieces, whilst Forlan will have been pleased to have scored for the first time in Europe this season - although he will be less happy when he sees the tv replays of his potential second goal being disallowed for offside.

Tonight, the second leg of the latest round of UEFA cup matches take place, with three Spanish clubs still featuring in the competition and all in fairly strong positions. Espanyol have to claw back a 2-1 deficit against visitors, Schalke 04 - but without their top scorer Tamudo; Betis travel to Holland to play AZ Alkmaar with a comfortable 2-0 advantage, whilst Sevilla play their home leg with Lokomotiv Moscow having won the away tie last week 1-0.


In Other News (yes, there is actually some)...

Osasuna have racked up the asking price on their highly-rated eighteen-year old midfielder, Raul Garcia. 18 million euros is now the price tag for any interested suitors.

Real Betis' forgotten striker, Ricardo Oliveira, injured in November's CL clash with Chelsea, looks to set to be playing again in April, but it is doubtful that it will be in time for him to make the Brazilian World Cup team, his main hope.

Occasional Valencia striker Patrick Kluivert is to miss the next eight week's of action after a knee operation.


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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"We Thought They'd Come and Defend..."

The Morning After the Night Before

"Wenger gave Lopez Caro a lesson in tactics" proclaimed MARCA this morning and, for once, they were not wrong. As Beckham confessed after the game, Real's big hope was that Arsenal would come looking for a draw, defend for 90 minutes and allow the Galacticos all the time and space they could want to do their stuff. However, once it become clear by the second minute with Reyes' effort, that this was not the case, Real showed that there was no plan B up the sleeve.

Guti and Zidane in the central midfield were outclassed by Hleb and Cesc. Cicinho failed his first test as a defender by constantly being caught up field and completely lost the battle with Reyes - to such an extent that he was lucky to be on the pitch by the end of the game. Ronaldo did nothing to show the fans why they are wrong to doubt his commitment to the club. In fact, the team only really played well for a fifteen minute spell, late in the first half.

Iker Casillas was, as ever, his side's saviour and ruefully commented after the game, "we only had one chance. That makes it difficult to win". To the point, as always. The only other players who did not completely disgrace themselves were Beckham and Gravesen who were quickest to realise that they were actually in a game; Robinho who showed a few good touches and Roberto Carlos who had a fairly disciplined match on the left.

As to be expected, the local footballing press have put the boot into Real, big time - just two days after proclaiming that their rehabilitation from their two years of hurt was complete. To be fair to Madrid, no-one at the club had been saying that the Arsenal victory was in the bag before the game - only the journalists.

Instead, the papers were raving about the performances of Cesc, Reyes and of course Thierry Henry - especially when juxtaposed with the shambles that was Ronaldo. The worrying thing for Arsenal fans now is that these fine performances may well have given the Real board some new ideas for summer transfer targets. As the match winning Frenchman left the pitch, the crowd started chanting "Florentino...Sign Him!".

Overall, it does not look too good for Real in the second leg - their best hope of getting through the tie to the last eight was to have a two, or at least one goal lead to take to London. In what will surely be an impassioned Highbury stadium, it is doubtful that the Galacticos can turn the game around. Still - there is always the league to focus on now.


The Big One - Part 2

"The Vendetta!" Screams MARCA this morning. What else could they be talking about, other than the small matter of Chelsea v Barca tonight. All in all, reading the interviews with some of the Barca players, this morning and Frank Rijkaard, they all seem to be doing their best to calm things down - which is a shame really.

The Barca players are using a lot of respectful words like "solid", "organised", "direct" to describe Chelsea and the controversial state of the pitch has not been interpreted as a deliberate attempt by Chelsea to disrupt Barca's play, but instead an inevitable result of another crappy English winter.

The main team news is that Messi may well be sacrificed to allow Barca to switch to a more conservative 4-4-2 formation, with a fairly tough looking midfield trio comprising of Van Bommel, the returning Motta and Edmilson to put the boot in, with Deco as the one nod to creativity. Overall, with Giuly out of the match, it may well be a wise idea to keep the sometimes over-enthusiastic Messi on the sidelines, firstly as a back up and also to stop him getting into any trouble.

As for what will happen on the night? Both Mourinho and Rijkaard have both confessed in a roundabout way that 0-0 would suit them - and they may not be far wrong, but here's hoping for 4-3 and some magic from both sides.


The Not So Big One, But Still Important

It should not be forgotten that Rangers v Villarreal is also taking place tonight and it is an intriguing tie. Two teams not doing well and with little realistic chance of winning the actual tournament. However, the financial gains and indeed prestige of ending up in the final eight in the Champions League is enough of an incentive for both teams to go for it, over the two ties.

Villarreal will welcome back Riquelme into the starting eleven, however, he himself confessed that he is not 100% fit and is not sure how he is going to do. Ideally, Rangers need to take advantage of this weakness, get stuck in from the first minute and hope Forlan continues his rather poor striking form so far this season.


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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

"I Have Never Felt at Home in the Bernabeu"

Big Ronnie is Feeling Very Sorry for Himself Indeed

Winning the World Cup, playing for some of the most glamorous teams in the world, earning an absolute fortune and bedding a posse of supermodels along the way, has not been enough to keep poor old Ronaldo happy. Quite simply, he is not feeling the love.

In a remarkably candid press conference yesterday, the big-boned forward responded to the less than enthusiastic reception he often receives from the home crowd with a frank confession that all is not well between him and the fans. "I have thought about it a thousand times...I don't know why the fans have so little patience with me", he moaned. To some extent, Ronaldo has a point. He has been a fairly consistent scorer at the club and in an injury hit season, this time round, he has managed a creditable 10 goals in 16 games. His oversized shirt is still the third biggest seller in the club shop - all be it, some considerable distance behind Raul and Beckham.

So why the boos?

1. Ronaldo never, ever seems to be giving his all for the club. Whether that is an unfair perception of a fairly languid style of play is, of course, debatable. However, the Real faithful have witnessed time and time again, the sight of Ronnie refusing to run onto to a through ball that is not quite inch perfect, or jump for a header.

2. He is always injured. Four separate occasions this season in fact. Although this is not entirely his fault as he has received a fair amount of knocks over his illustrious career - his general lack of fitness and poor physical shape is blamed for a number of the spells he has had on the sidelines.

3. Ronnie is a mercenary. To be fair, nearly all modern footballers are, but Ronnie seems to be more so. He dumped Inter three seasons ago, having returned to fitness, after the club had stood by him admirably during his lengthy layoff - and quite frankly, he would leave Real in seconds should the right amount of cash arrive at his door step.

Am I being unfair ?- if you think so, drop La Liga Loca a line.

Overall, his outburst did not go down at all well with Madrid's sports writers, with Manuel Saucedo in 'MARCA' declaring than Ronaldo was displaying 'unbelievable egotism' in hi-jacking the football headlines, just hours away from Real's much anticipated clash with Arsenal. The irony that his newspaper pretty much set the football agenda each day was lost on him.

Which moves us nicely on to the small matter of the tonight's big game. On paper, a Real victory of around 2-0 looks a good bet, but their supporters should not get too excited about the club's recent form - nor Arsenal's too despondent (I just saw two wandering around the city centre, looking very gloomy indeed).

Arsenal, despite their rubbishness so far this season, will be considerably tougher than recent opponents for Real such as Cadiz, Bilbao and Alaves. While many have raved about the attacking prowess of Cicinho, we are awaiting to see his defensive skills - which will surely be tested against Henry and Reyes. Either way - he should have a busy night. Let's hope for a bit of a classic.


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Monday, February 20, 2006

The Monday Catch Up

A News Digest...

First up, more goings on at Alaves and their madcap president, manager, trainer, photographer, groundsman, etc - Ukrainian born American Dmitry Piterman, who, last week, grew tired off his fourth manager of the season and blasted him into space. Poor Juan Carlos Oliva had only been a charge of the club a month and had, in fact, done rather well, having guided Alaves from the bottom of the table to 15th place, two points clear of the danger zone.

However, on Thursday, Oliva made a fatal mistake - he disobeyed direct orders from Piterman on tactics for Saturday's game against Real and was swiftly fired for 'insubordination'. The words of the two protagonists, best describe what happened next.

"Here, people are not independent and the coach is not at liberty to say or do what he wants" - Piterman

"Dmitry told me my independence only lasted as long as I was in agreement with him" - Oliva

"The players are mercenaries and are only worried about their own money" - Piterman on the effects of yet another managerial change at the club on the players, who went on to lose 3-0 at Real Madrid.

Piterman swiftly appointed Mario Luna as the "official manger", but I think we all know who wears the trousers at that club. You've gotta like him.


Good results all round in the UEFA cup last week with Real Betis beating AZ Alkmaar 2-0, Espanyol managing a crucial away goal in a 2-1 defeat at Bundesliga side Schalke 04. Sevilla managed the best result of the lot with a 1-0 away victory at Lokomotiv Moscow.


Getafe left back and top scoring La Liga defender, Mariano Pernia is moving onto to near neighbours Atletico Madrid in the summer according to club president Angel Torres Sanchez....Valencia's occasional striker, Patrick Kluivert, looks set to miss two months of the season after a midweek knee-op.

And finally, congrats to 'Deep Throat' who managed a whopping 9 correct predictions over the weekend, compared to La Liga Loca's rather shambolic 4.


Quotes of the Week

"We can afford to fail twice, the others can't" - Cool Samuel Eto'o on why Barca still hold the upper hand in La Liga with their six point lead over Valencia.

"What was missing from the performance for Madrid to have gone through?" asks a journalist after Real's 4-0 cup victory over Zaragoza which left them one short of the five required. "A Goal" replies Lopez Caro, the Real coach.

"Cuper was the scapegoat , but the ones that were really to blame were the players" - A very candid David Cortes, captain of bottom of the table Real Mallorca, after last week's firing of manager Hector Cuper.

"It would be odd to play in the first division and not visit the San Mames" - Racing manager Manolo Preciado speculates on life without Athletic Bilbao before their match on Sunday evening - which they handily lost 1-0.

"We need to be careful. It's true that Arsenal are not at the best, but they still have players who can hurt us" - a diplomatic Raul commenting on Tuesday's clash with the Gunners.

"I am in the best form of my career, but I want to keep on getting better" - a very upbeat and perky David Beckham.

"I respect the Chelsea defense, but I'm not overly worried about it" - Ronaldinho keeps up the war of words ahead of Barca's Champions League clash in Stamford Bridge.

"Their football is certainly direct. It's not pretty, but it's very effective" - Barca team mate Leo Messi joins in.



'MARCA's' team of the week

La Fuente (Athletic Bilbao)

Javi Venta (Villarreal)
Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
Albiol (Valencia)
Sylvinho (Barcelona)

Jesus Navas (Sevilla)
Guti (Madrid)
Luccin (Atletico)
Regueiro (Valencia)

Milosovic (Osasuna)
Pisculichi (Mallorca)

Top Scorers

Eto'o (Barcelona) - 18
Villa (Valencia) - 15
Ronaldinho (Barcelona) - 12
Diego Milito (Zaragoza)- 12
Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - 10


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Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Fun Packed Weekend Preview

More Wild Stabs in the Dark Before Round 24 of La Liga Kicks Off

Oh dear - a rather disappointing 3 correct predictions last week with teams like Atletico Madrid and Racing simply not doing what they were supposed to do - do they not read this?. It will be fairly difficult to do any worse than that performance, but here goes.

This week, there is a new player in town who has stepped up to the plate, climbed into ring and er....thrown down the gauntlet to La Liga Loca with their own predictions - scroll down to the bottom to find the random guesses of the worryingly titled Deep Throat - Bring it on !



Villarreal (8th) v Espanyol (14th)
Although I repeat this each week ad nauseum, Villarreal really have got to put the brakes on their slide sometime soon - scoring some goals would help, as they have only managed a meager three so far this year. All week, the players have been talking about how to get over their little crisis they find themselves in, all the time trying to avoid eye contact with the profligate Diego Forlan, shuffling in the corner trying to look inconspicuous. Espanyol, overloaded with matches in the Copa del Rey and UEFA have to be careful that their league form does not suffer in the process - they do not have the biggest, or indeed best squad in the world. Home win.

Barcelona (1st) v Betis (16th)
This may not be as clear cut a result as you expect - although with my talent for astrology, this instantly makes it a 9-0 victory for Barca. They have wobbled in recent weeks and although they should welcome back Ronaldinho and the gang back into the side, in remains to see how long it takes for them to get back into the groove, as Madonna would put it. Betis, looked very perky indeed in last night's 2-0 victory in the UEFA against Alkmaar and may ask a few questions of the Barca defense - like finding out what is going on with Puyol's hair. Home win.

Real Madrid (3rd) v Alaves (15th)
It remains to be seen what effect midweek's admirable, but in the end pointless, exertions had on Real in their 4-0 win over Real Zaragoza in the cup, just one goal short of their target to win a place in the final. They players looked gutted after the game and a little exhausted. Still, the opening ten minutes of the game which saw some cracking goals showed what they are capable of and if they can repeat this feat, then Alaves may well be in trouble. However, their opponents are defying all expectations at the moment and look like they could well stay up this season, despite looking doomed at Christmas. They have managed 10 points from the last 15 - can they manage 3 more? No. Home win.

Sevilla (6th) v Celta (5th)
Tough week for Sevilla with three games in seven days, including one in Moscow in the UEFA cup - one that they managed to win 1-0 in a great result. The question will be whether the players can defrost in time from their sub zero encounter against their rivals for a UEFA cup spot on Saturday. The fact that Sevilla have put themselves into the Intertoto hat for next season, suggests that they may not be all that confident of balancing the two campaigns. Draw.


Cadiz (17th) v Osasuna (4th)
Mmm. Tricky one to call. Cadiz are normally good at home with their noisy support acting as an extra man, however, their 3-0 home thrashing by Sevilla last weekend put paid to that. They have a tough campaign ahead of them in trying to avoid relegation so their home fixtures have added importance. Osasuna are desperate for a victory and may well look to an away trip to change their home form, which has seen them without a win since they changed the name of the stadium to the "King of Navarra". Clearly the footballing gods are not impressed. Draw.

Deportivo (7th) v Real Zaragoza (10th)
A match that could well be the Copa Del Rey final this year, should Deportivo overcome Espanyol in their second leg tie. Zaragoza should be feeling very ashamed of themselves after rolling over midweek in their 4-0 defeat to Real in their own Cup match, whilst Deportivo are looking to pull themselves together after a disappointing 2006 so far and will look to build on their last minute and very jammy 1-0 victory at Betis last week. Home Win.

Racing Santander (12th) v Athletic Bilbao (19th)
Whatever I say Racing will do, they do the opposite, so what I write now is fairly meaningless. On paper, Racing should win this comfortably - they are probably safe from the drop zone now and can cut loose a little, as they did last weekend in their 2-0 away victory at Espanyol last week. Bilbao go from bad to worse and will need to win games like this if they are to avoid relegation. Away win.

Real Sociedad (13th) v Valencia (2nd)
Socieded may well fancy their chances for an upset in this game - their defense has improved in recent weeks whilst Nihat and Skoubu are a real handful up front. Somehow, I feel the effort of Valencia of beating Barca last week could catch up with them. Draw.

Malaga (18th) v Mallorca (19th)
Such is the lack of imagination of the tv people in Spain, this game is simply classed as an also ran instead of the big one. A relegation battle extraordinaire. Mallorca are taking to the field with a new man in charge after Hector Cuper handed in his resignation this week, packed the wads of cash he earned at the club (3 million euros a year) into sport bags and headed for the nearest beach bar. It is unlikely that Gregorio Manzano, the new victim at the helm, will have been able to do that much in just four days. Home win.

Getafe (11th) v Atletico Madrid (9th)
Derby day in Madrid, but if you want to be snooty about it - a the poor man's derby day from the two clubs at the wrong end of town. With the fans going to the game, often supporting both clubs (in an Arsenal and Orient kind of way), it could be interesting. Atletico are currently feeling very pleased with themselves having won four in a row now, but they looked a little dodgy last week against Sociedad, in all fairness despite a 1-0 victory. Getafe rarely get the limelight that a live showpiece game offers and could well raise their usual mid table game in the process. Home win.


And so onto 'Deep Throat'...

Barcelona v Real Betis - Home win
Real Madrid v CD Alaves - Home win
Sevilla v Celta Vigo - Draw
Villarreal v Espanyol - Home win
Cadiz v Osasuna - Away win
Deportivo La Coruna v Real Zaragoza - Draw
Getafe v Atletico Madrid - Away win
Malaga v Mallorca - Away win
Racing Santander v Athletic Bilbao - Away win
Real Sociedad v Valencia - Away win


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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Much Ado About Nothing

So Near, Yet so Far for Real Madrid

The mission-impossible for the Galacticos, last night, was to beat opponents Real Zaragoza by five clear goals in the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi final and - to ridicule my mocking doubts yesterday - sweet merciful Zeus, they nearly managed it. With only ten minutes gone and already 3-0 up against their shell shocked opponents - who were playing as governor Arnie would put it, like 'girlie men' - it seemed that one of the most unlikely turnarounds in football history was to take place before an ecstatic home crowd.

Cicinho grabbed the first goal after just 57 seconds, with Robinho following up with a second in the fourth minute. When Ronaldo got on the end of a glorious Beckham cross in the tenth minute, getting in between two defenders to poke to ball past former Real 'keeper, Cesar for a third, I had the same sinking feeling as when I watched Zidane score his first ever hat trick just two days after boldly declaring on 365 that the Frenchman was washed up and should retire.

However, despite a fourth goal in the second half - another thunderbolt from Roberto Carlos - the magical fifth was simply a bridge too far for Real, despite throwing everything at the Zaragoza goal, whilst remaining rock solid at the back after another outstanding performance from Woodgate. Indeed, had Real managed the winner, there would have been a fair amount of controversy as Zaragoza had an Ewerthon effort disallowed incorrectly in the 70th minute, supposedly for offside.

Perhaps the most remarkable sight of the game was watching Ronaldo, after scoring the third for the team, eschewing all celebrations, picking the ball out of the net and running back to the centre circle - you definitely don't see that every day.

Nevertheless, the scenes at the end of the game, were not of a triumphant team basking in glory, but instead a group of despondent players who gave their all, but only to be denied. Quite what effect this will have on the morale of the side, before their weekend clash with Alaves and more importantly against Arsenal next week, remains to be seen, but Real manager confessed in the post match interview, that his players were suffering mixed emotions of despair and anger.


Europa, Europa

Tonight sees the return of UEFA cup action to Spain and with three teams still in the tournament, it will no doubt be an eventful evening.

Lokomotiv Moscow v Sevilla
The main talking point before this chilly clash for the Andalusians has been the state of the Russian side's pitch, with genuine concern that the pot-holed mess they will be forced to play on could cause serious injury. "This is the worst pitch I have ever seen in my life," grumbled 'Monchi', Sevilla's sporting director - a view shared by manager Juande Ramos, as he climbed his way out of a two foot deep bunker in one of the goal mouths - "If it were up to me, the match would not take place at all, the pitch is in such bad condition".

If it were up to Sevilla, the game would take place in July, so horrified are the team in having to play a match in temperatures that could drop as low at -20 degrees. Still, if they can avoid freezing to death or breaking any ankles, they are capable of coming away with a point or even a win, although the inclement conditions and a hostile home crowd could make it tough.

Schalke 04 v Espanyol
A very tricky one for Espanyol who are not having the best of times in the league and are facing a very strong Bundesliga outfit. The stated aim of the team is not too concede any goals to give them a chance back in the Montjuic stadium next week.

Betis v AZ Alkmaar
Although Betis are stuck in a relegation battle in the lower reaches of the league, it would be premature to write them off in Europe. They performed admirably in their Champions League group and even had the temerity to inflict a defeat on Chelsea - although now that Middlesborough have managed the same feat, this achievement has been devalued a little. Their Dutch opponents are most famous for being the losers of the UEFA cup final, against the greatest European side of that era - Ipswich Town.


In Other News...

Real Mallorca have moved very quickly indeed in replacing former coach Hector Cuper, who had his resignation accepted by the club board on Monday - however, they have made a strange choice for his replacement. The new manager is one Gregorio Manzano - previously unemployed having being fired from his previous job at Malaga where he helped guide the team (alongside manager Antonio Tapia) to the relegation zone. Nevertheless, Manzano does have some history with Mallorca and was the man who lead them to Copa del Rey glory in his one season in charge in 2002/2003, however, his career managerial record of 64 victories, 44 draws and 71 defeats, does not bode well for a team who are bottom of the table and looking for a miracle to stay up.


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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

"We Must Battle to the End..."

Sergio Ramos in Rallying Cry to his Real Madrid Troops

An inordinate amount of coverage in today's papers has been handed over to Real Madrid's near impossible task of overhauling a 6-1 deficit in their second leg Copa Del Rey semi final against Zaragoza tonight. 'Marca' alone dedicates 14 pages to endless nonsense ranging from the Real squad holding up photos of 'Juanito' - a Real old timer who inspired a 5-0 victory in 1975 - and declaring that they will fight like lions on the pitch with every ounce of energy they have. Clearly, Ronaldo was not invited to this particular meeting.

Despite needing to score five goals, whilst hoping Zaragoza, a team doing rather well at the moment, manage none, a whopping 42% of 'Marca' readers think that the Galacticos are going to pull off a memorable victory.

Diego Milito, scorer of four goals for Zaragoza in the first leg and pictured looking somewhat uncomfortable in his car, with a football in his lap, lest we forget what he does for a living, says that "it will certainly be difficult for them to score five goals past us, but in football, anything can happen" - or "Are you kidding ! They're screwed !" in non-footballer speak.

With the strongest starting eleven possible due to take to the field tonight, with rumours of even Raul finding a spot on the bench after four months out with injury, it really does seem to be a colossal waste of time and effort, when Real really should be focusing their energies on the league and the small matter of the Champions League clash with Arsenal next week.

Is club president Florentino Perez that desperate for any kind of silverware for his expensively assembled team?


Come in Senor Cuper - Your Time is Up

Managerial casualty number eight for the season comes in the shape of Real Mallorca manager Hector Cuper, who resigned yesterday from the club, he has carefully guided to the bottom of the league. The Argentine coach did not have one of the most successful of tenures at the Balearic club since he joining them in late 2004. He only just managed to avoid relegation in his first season and this year his team had only managed a rather paltry four victories from a possible twenty three. Not a great performance for a man, who was apparently one of the best paid managers in world football - with Mallorca giving him a massive 3 million euros a year to bugger up their team.

Last Sunday's 1-1 home draw against Getafe was the last straw for Cuper. The long suffering crowd was against him and he was seemingly out of ideas on how to turn around the fortunes of the club. Tomeu Llompart steps up from the backroom staff to take temporary charge of the team, whilst a desperate search starts for a club saviour to guide them to safety.


In Other News...

Valencia president, Juan Soler, looks set this week to open talks with his scowling, but rather successful manager Quique Flores to extend his current contract with the club.

Espanyol goalkeeper, Carlos Kameni has been fined 6000 euros by his club for going AWOL for a week after the African Cup of Nations. Although he later claimed, on his return to Barcelona, that he had remained in Africa to support his family after the death of his aunt, he failed to make any contact with his management to inform them of his decision. As well, as the heavy fine, Kameni has also been dropped from the squad due to take on Schalke 04 in this week's UEFA cup clash.


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Monday, February 13, 2006

Monday's Odds and Sods

Quotes of the Week

"He left a legacy of order - education, sanitation and respect...when I returned to Italy, it was as if I had gone back in time". Juve coach Fabio Capello shares his admiration for former Spanish dictator General Franco, in contemplating his year spent in charge of Real Madrid in the late nineties.

"He has given the team humility, hunger, imagination and positive messages" - although he missed 'the ability to defend properly' off the list, Atletico Madrid director general Miguel Angel Gil Marin pays his respects to current manager Pepe Murcia.

"Why should I be worried? We are top of the table, so what?" - Barca striker Samuel Eto'o reflects carefully on Sunday nights defeat at the hands of title rivals Valencia.

"If we let five goals in and get knocked out, we will never be able to go back to Zaragoza" - Zaragoza midfielder Oscar Gonzalez contemplates the fate of the team should they throw away their 6-1 lead over Real Madrid in their upcoming midweek second leg cup match.

"In times like these, we should not be talking about bad refeering" - Real Sociedad manager Gonzalo Arconada after the match official ruled out a perfectly good goal and sent off one of his players in their 1-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid.

"The referee was looking for a round of applause from the home fans and he got it" - Arconada talks himself into a probable fine just five seconds after his first declaration.

"I've played in the cold and snow before, but never at -30 degrees. Let's see if we survive" - Sevilla striker Saviola is not exactly looking forward to his team's UEFA cup clash away to Lokomotiv Moscow. And who can blame him.



Marca's team of the week -

Canizares (Valencia)
Dani Alves (Sevilla)
Lequi (Celta)
Woodgate (Real Madrid)
Molinero (Atletico Madrid)

Damia (Racing Santander)
Astudillo (Alaves)
Casquero (Racing Santander)
Robinho (Real Madrid)

Villa (Valencia)
Ruben (Deportivo)

Most Assists of the Season -

Beckham (Real Madrid) - 56
Ronaldinho (Barca) - 54
Yeste (Athletic Bilbao) - 51
Petrov (Atletico Madrid) - 50
De La Pena (Espanyol) - 42


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Thursday, February 09, 2006

The New and Improved Weekend Preview

The predictions may not be any more accurate - a disappointing but consistent 4 out of 10 correct last week - but a fancy 'league form so far' bit has been added.


Cadiz (15th) DDLWW v Seville (6th) LWWLW
Derby day in Andalusia, the land of flamenco dancing, drinking and incomprehensible dialects. Cadiz are still smarting from their cruelly disallowed injury-time winning goal against Villarreal last Sunday and will be looking to put one over their near neighbours to aid in their spirited ongoing battle against the drop. Their opponents, Seville, have been hanging around the fringes of the European qualification spots for most of the season - too distracted by a UEFA cup campaign to mount a top four charge and too good to drop to midtable. Away win.

Osasuna (4th) WLLLD v Real Zaragoza (9th) WDLWW
Real Zaragoza may well be a little too overexcited by their rather surprising 6-1 midweek cup demolition of Real Madrid to focus on the boring old league again. Their opponents, Osasuna will be a tougher nut to crack than Real's flaky defense and are still a force to be reckoned with at home. However, Javier Aguirre's merry men of Pamplona are facing Zaragoza with key players missing such as Josetxo, Romeo and Webo whilst Zaragoza have just scored a stonking ten goals in a week - do Real have anything left in the tank? No. Home win.

Athletic Bilbao (18th) LWDLL v Real Madrid (3rd) WWWWD
A challenging week for both teams. Bilbao had a mini revolt after their maverick manager, Javier Clemente, openly contemplated the possibility of the club being relegated (quite probable) and having to drop their centuries old policy of only picking local Basque country folk for the team (never in a million years) - ruminations that his players took some umbrage to. Their opponents, Real Madrid were brought rapidly down to earth midweek, after a run of seven league and cup wins in a row was ended by an absolute tonking from Zaragoza in the Copa Del Rey. They will face another challenge on Saturday night at Athletic, as, despite Bilbao's lowly league position and general rubbishness, there is nothing the local fans relish more in life than the visit of the royalist oppressors from the capital. Can the Galaticos bounce back quickly and keep the pressure on Barca? Of course. Away win.


Real Betis (16th) LWLWD v Deportivo la Coruna (8th) LLDLW
A battle between two teams who really do need to pull themselves together at some point. Betis do not seem to be able to put together a decent run to pull the club away from the relegation zone, whilst Deportivo's impressive late 2005 form has completely collapsed this year and the club is rapidly falling out of contention for a Champions League cup spot. A midweek Copa Del Rey defeat to Espanyol, on top of last weekend's home loss to Valencia will not have helped their confidence either. Draw.

Celta Vigo (5th) WLWDW v Villarreal (7th) DLWLD
Celta are this year's stealth club - quietly going about their business, without making the headlines or drawing too much attention to themselves. They are always the team that others tend to underestimate and often to their cost, as their current lofty position reflects. Their latest visitors, Villarreal, are still having a torrid time of it in 2006 and were lucky not to lose last weekend at home to Cadiz, after their opponent's last minute winner was incorrectly ruled out. To be fair, they have been a little unlucky with injuries and will be boosted by the return to action of six players, including Sorin. However, they are still without Riquelme, who is off in Argentina seeking a miracle cure for his dodgy leg. Villarreal cannot afford to lose another game and Celta will probably be happy with a point. Draw.

Espanyol (14th) LWLWL v Racing Santander (13th) LDLWD
Although on paper, this appears to be a fairly unexciting midtable clash, this could be a season defining game for Espanyol. Whilst it is true that they have one foot in the Copa Del Rey final, after a 2-1 semi-final first leg win over Depor and are still in the UEFA cup, the club are only five points off relegation and do not have a strong enough squad to fight three separate campaigns. A win on Sunday and they will have a bit of breathing space, a defeat and they could well be dragged into a relegation battle. Racing are still too odd to predict - winning games they should lose and vice versa. Draw.

Alaves (19th) DWLWL v Malaga (17th) WLLLL
This looks line being a classic, brutal, bottom of the table relegation six pointer - one where it would be very surprising indeed if all twenty two players remain on the pitch for the entire game. Alaves, who have been training down south in La Manga, are impressing many this year by giving themselves every chance of avoiding relegation with some battling performances in recent matches. Their visitors on Sunday, Malaga, recorded their first win in ages last week with new manager Hierro in charge, but they still have a lot of work to do before being vaguely close to becoming a decent side. Home win.

Real Mallorca (20th) LLDLD v Getafe (10th) DLWDD
The Balearic club are already calling this a final and it is easy to see why. Rock bottom of the table and being lead by a manager who has managed to work his way through forty five players in just fourteen months - things are not looking great for Mallorca. Still, they have a fighting chance against their latest opponents, Getafe, who are not the best of travelers and may well take the opportunity of the trip to Mallorca as a chance of a seaside break, now that they seem safe for another season in La Liga's top flight. Home win.

Atletico Madrid (11th) WWWLD v Real Sociedad (12th) WLDLL
Heady days indeed for Atletico - three wins in a row, a victory over Barca, Torres scoring again and only six points from a European qualification spot. However, somehow, some way, they will mess it up - starting this weekend. Away win.

Valencia (2nd) WDWWD v Barcelona (1st) LWWWW
9pm Sunday night - perhaps the biggest game of the season so far. Can Valencia start to claw back the nine point difference between the two teams? Can Barca recover from last Sunday's defeat to show the upstarts from down the road who is 'de man'? Can David Villa continue his remarkable scoring form? Barcelona are due to welcome back Samuel Eto'o into the side, a player they missed more than they would like to admit over the last few weeks, but will be without the suspended Ronaldinho and quite possibly Deco, who limped from training on Thursday. Honours even in the Mestalla looks the most likely result. Draw.


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"I've Never Let in Six before. Not Even in Training."

Iker Casillas' 'what the f*** !! ' look returns after two month absence

Bit of a surprise to say the least in Zaragoza last night. A win over Real Madrid, a team they normally do reasonably well against anyway, would not have been so much of a shock. After all, Zaragoza beat Barcelona 4-1 recently; knocked four past Betis in about 20 minutes last Sunday, so they have some form these days. But six-one !

Sadly, I did not catch the game, opting for a night of Blockbuster entertainment instead, so cannot add much more comment to the event, other to say that 'Marca' gave all members of the (full strength) Real Madrid team 'nul points' for their efforts. Probably a first.

Still, the Galacticos have another chance to rectify events next week in the home leg in the Bernabeu, although the odds on them clawing back a five goal margin are slim to say the least. Especially with Baptista playing.

A big test awaits on Saturday night, in a league away match against Athletic Bilbao. Can Real bounce back, or has their already delicate confidence taken a hammering it cannot recover from?


In Other News...

A quiet day all round, with the Copa game grabbing all the headlines in the Spanish footballing world.

Espanyol play the first leg of their Cup semi-final with Deportivo this evening.

Barcelona are trying today to have Ronaldinho's red card from the other week overturned, to allow him to take part in the big weekend game against title rivals Valencia.

If you happen to be in Seville this weekend, a bit bored and have eight Euros to spare, then tight fisted Real Betis are putting the Copa Del Rey on display so loyal fans can have their photos taken with it - for a small fee of course. A nice reward for the forty odd thousand Betis fans who traveled to the Vicente Calderon to support their team in their victory last summer. All in all it sounds like another signature move from Betis' money grabbing, egomaniac president Manuel Luis de Lopera.


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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

"We Are Not Looking for the Ref to be Publicly Lynched..."

When is a goal, not a goal?

Cadiz are a club, this week, finding themselves trying to answer the philosophical question posed above.

It all started at about 6.52 last Sunday evening. It was in the 91st minute of their away match at Villarreal and Cadiz were drawing 1-1, a very creditable result for a side battling against relegation. Suddenly, Cadiz midfielder Fabian Estoyanoff broke up field on the right flank. He looked up, saw two of his strikers charging into the opposition box and crossed. Fortunately, the ball made it through to his teammate Alexandre Medina, hotly pursued by Villarreal defender Javi Venta. Somehow, Medina managed to bundle the ball over the line, despite the close attentions of his marker and referee Santiago gave the goal. 2-1 and cue celebrations.

But, and this is a big but, the linesman, Rafa Guerro waved his colleague over and advised him that Medina had used his hand to put the ball over the line - how he could tell was anyone's guess, such was the speed of the action. The referee concurred, the goal was ruled out and the apopletic Medina was given a yellow card for his supposed treacherous behavior.

However, Spain's Competition Committee, the body responsible for imposition or reduction of player suspensions, heard yesterday an appeal from Cadiz to have the yellow card removed from Medina's record, citing video evidence to prove that the ball had not touched his hand, but instead his chest.

The Committee agreed with Cadiz - no yellow card for their striker - but this is where the quandary begins. If the ball had been knocked over the line legally, as their decision now implies, surely all 3 points should be awarded to Cadiz, a team that can really use them? Naturally, this is not going to happen, especially to a relatively small fry club. If the same decision had gone against Barca or Real, the UN Security Council would now most likely be involved.

Nevertheless, despite the unfairness of it all, it is a credit to the Andalusian club that their president, Antonio Munez, has responded to the whole affair with great dignity and says that he forgives the match officials and does not see any useful gain in them being sanctioned for their error.

Honourable behavior from one of the nicer clubs in La Liga. Let's hope that the two point loss does not come back to haunt them at the end of the season.


More Trouble for Javier Clemente as Players Turn on him

As loyal readers will know, yesterday's blog update covered some of the random musings of Athletic Bilbao manager Javier Clemente, a man who seems only capable of thinking aloud and no doubt still moves his lips whilst reading. Well, Clemente is on the receiving end of a bit of flack for some of his opinions, but this time not from the press, but instead his own players.

Athletic Bilbao is a club steeped in tradition and have a famous philosophy that only players who are either born or brought up in the Basque country can play for the team - a tradition that has previously served them well, as Athletic have remarkably never been out of the top flight. However, this season, they are desperately battling relegation and Clemente mused, when questioned on this policy by a journalist, on whether this rather limiting philosophy would have to be jetissoned should Bilbao drop out of the top division.

Certainly not, said his players the next day, who were not best pleased by the comments of their manager. Captain Julen Guerrero claimed that, "this will not be debate anymore once we get three points (against Real) on Saturday". Tiko, a midfield veteran of the club agreed, "I don't think talk like this helps us much at all...we are who we are".

The Spanish league really would be a duller place without our Javier to liven it up.


In Other News...

Copa Del Rey semi's this week. Tonight, Real Madrid travel to Real Zaragoza for the first leg in a match that is a repeat of the 2004 final which Zaragoza won and which also saw the starting point of Real's two season long slump. Tomorrow, Espanyol meet Deportivo in the 1st leg of their contest.

Thomas Gravesen's increasingly erratic behaviour is starting to worry Real Madrid bosses. His insulting comments aimed towards his adopted country's players, referees and journalists last week have been added to by further on and off field misdemeanors. The great Dane was substituted at half time in their 4-0 victory over Espanyol on Sunday night after coming incredibly close to being sent off and during recent training sessions, he is reported to have come seriously close to injuring teammates Antonio Cassano, Sergio Ramos and Pablo Garcia, such was his 'enthusiasm' in the tackle. However, Gravesen himself, professes to be fairly happy with life at the moment, now that he has a regular starting place in the team.

For all of you desperately awaiting the results of yesterday's Espanyol Presidential election, the torment is over. The winner is.....current president Dani Sanchez Llibre with a whopping 60% of the vote. His challenger, Claudio Bern came through with a creditable 39% - the remaining 1% being abstentions.


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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Election Fever Grips Espanyol

Two Identical Old Men Battle for the Heart of Espanyol...and For Full Buffet Rights

Presidential election time for Barcelona's second team, with the vote previously postponed from December after, ahem, technical problems caused its suspension and also gave the current incumbent more time to improve the league position of the team and get them into the Copa Del Rey semi finals, allegedly.

This afternoon, 10570 Espanyol club members will assemble to vote for the man who will lead the club for the next five years. The contenders are...

In the blue corner...
Name - Dani Sanchez Llibre.
Current Position - President of Espanyol since 1997.
Appearance - In his 60s, grey, smug and a little portly.
Rash Promises to Electorate - Completion of new stadium for club to move into in 2007. World class signings that will cost nothing.

In the red corner...
Name - Claudio Biern.
Current Position - Former Vice President who resigned two months ago in protest of running of club (the fact that he was not doing it). Also ran animation company that created 80s classic cartoons 'Dogtanian and the Muskahounds'.
Appearance - In his 60s, smug and a little portly.
Rash Promises to Electorate - Champions League football and the signing of Ballack from Bayern Munich.

Current betting sees Llibre as the current front runner, but anything can happen over the finger rolls! Watch this space for the all important result tomorrow.


Javier Clemente Speaks to the World

Athletic Bilbao manager Javier Clemente, a man who is the walking definition of the word 'outspoken', was yesterday in full flow at a footballing forum where he was given full reign to talk nonsense on all manner of subjects thrown at him by an expectant press pack.

In a back drop scarily reminiscent of the United Nations General Assembly, Clemente - a Spanish mixture of Terry Venables, Harry Redknapp and a hefty dose of Ron Atkinson had the following to say for himself and his struggling club, currently third from bottom of the league.

"If we go down, I will only think of our fans...we would recover at some point, but I don't know when" - Javier with some confident words on his team's potential fate this season.

"It was always going to be a bit of a spectacle with me here, but they called and here I am" - Javier on his appointment to the club late last year.

"I would not want to work at a big team like Chelsea, where it is public relations all the time...keeping everyone happy and not upsetting anyone". Javier clearly hasn't been paying much attention to the life and times of Jose Mourinho. In fact Jose v Javier would be a dream pairing.


In Other News...

Beckham to stay on at Madrid, despite tempting possibility of Aston Villa - "The club wants me to stay and I want to"....Chelsea to tempt Atletico Madrid to part company with Torres for a cool 40 million Euros....Former Chelsea 'ace' Metja Kezman has been told by the Serbian government that he is excused military service until he is 34.


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Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Monday Round Up

Some more odds and ends from the weekend...

Real Sociedad's Nihat is off to pastures new in the summer - but not Spartak Moscow as previously thought. The Turkish forward will be moving to the east coast of Spain to join Villarreal, on the expiration of his contract with Sociedad in June.

Real Madrid are trying to persuade Zidane to postpone his footballing retirement this summer and to stay on at the Bernabeu until 2007, however the French legend, who is currently enjoying a fine run of form, is quite adamant that he will hang up his boots after the World Cup.


Marca's team of the season to date...

Armando (Cadiz)

Angel (Celta)
Puyol (Barca)
Pablo (Atletico Madrid)
Pernia (Getafe)

Silva (Celta)
Aimar (Valencia)
Ronaldinho (Barca)
Petrov (Atletico Madrid)

Eto'o (Barca)
Villa (Valencia)


Quotes of the Week

"They are more accustomed to fighting relegation" - Osasuna manager Javier Aguirre's explanation for his players' rapid decline in form since the start of the second half of the season.

"Everyday, they keep saying that they are the best team in the world. This can't be a good idea" - Former Real Madrid coach Vicente del Bosque takes his former employers to task.

"Yes, I am a racist, but only against idiots and morons" - Athletic Bilbao manager Javier Clemente continues to defend himself against unsavoury comments aimed at Samuel Eto'o a couple of weeks ago. Someone really ought to buy him a dictionary.

"The key is for them (Barca) not to score...this is very important." Atletico Madrid and Spain left back Antonio Lopez finally gets to grasps with footballing basics and to great effect on Sunday night.



Before this weekend's round of matches, the most effective strikers in La Liga were as follows...

Samuel Eto'o - one goal every 92 mins.
David Villa - one goal every 117 mins.
Ronaldo - one goal every 120 mins.
Ronaldinho - one goal every 153 mins
Roman Riquelme - one goal every 160 mins.


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Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Really Big Weekend Preview

After a rather disappointing 4 out of 10 correct predictions last week (although some were really close) - this week's attempt can only be better.


Malaga (20th) v Athletic (17th)
A tricky one to forecast. Bottom of the table Malaga have a new man at the helm after Manolo Hierro took over from Antonio Tapia during the week, however, this does not change the fact that they are very very bad indeed. Nevertheless, Hierro seems to have a cunning plan to win the game by fielding a team of approximately 21,000 people, "The crowd will get one point, the team will get the other two", he claimed. Bet Souness never thought of that. Their opponents Bilbao are a mere 2 points better off in the league and have only one jammy victory, last week to Getafe, to show from their last five games. Draw.

Real Madrid (3rd) v Espanyol (13th)
At last, a reasonably scheduled kick off time for Real at a pub friendly 8pm on a Saturday night - and a nice appetizer before the main match in La Coruna. Despite a wobbly performance last week in their victory at Celta, Real are starting to look very strong at home. There are injury doubts to Beckham, but they are boosted (yes really - Baptista is bloody awful) by the return to action of Ronaldo. Espanyol are widely unpredictable and capable of both knocking in the goals just as easily as conceding them. Their front two, Pandiani (would you play well at Birmingham?) and Tamudo can be quite a handful, however, difficult to see anything other than one result. Home win.

Deportivo (7th) v Valencia (2nd)
Seconds out for the fifth meeting of these two teams. This is a going to be a match and a half, not just because of all the Copa Del Rey funny business of the last week and subsequent payback we can expect the players to dish out. It is a must win game for both. Deportivo have started the year dreadfully and have not won in 3 league rounds. Valencia dropped 2 points last week in the draw against Zaragoza and cannot afford another slip up, if they are intent on keeping the pressure on Barca. Draw. But hopefully with stacks of fights.


Villarreal (6th) v Cadiz (16th)
There have been suspicions for some time that Villarreal are a mere one man team and the fact that they have not won a single game this season without the talents Roman Riquelme on the pitch, seems to add credence to this theory. However, it does seem that last year's exertions in qualifying for the next round of the Champions League and keeping the top 6 of La Liga has left the team a little jaded. Probably a good time for a pick-me-up and the visit of Cadiz, who are battling valiantly at the bottom against the drop, should provide this. Home win.

Real Zaragoza (10th) v Real Betis (14th)
I'm starting to quite like Zaragoza. Quite a mad team. Capable of stuffing Barca 4-2 in the cup and nearly beating Valencia in the Mestalla last weekend, but can just as easily lose 2-0 at home to Atletico de Madrid (which is a little embarrassing La Liga). This weekend they take on Real Betis, who I don't like, as their fans once kept me awake all night singing in the street. Good enough reason as any. Betis' continued lack of goal scoring presence and tendencies towards conservatism away is going to cost them again. Home win.

Real Sociedad (15th) v Real Mallorca (19th)
The home team are set to kick off a glorious new era this weekend with new man Gonzale Arcanada in charge - or perhaps a season of midtable mediocrity alongside Getafe. They may well have the same hapless defense as before, but in the club's favour, they do boast a very promising looking forward line in Nihat and Skoubu - they even sound good together. Real Mallorca? Oh dear, Hector Cuper will continue his pack of cards approach to selection, throw another 11 men onto the pitch and hope for the best. Home win.

Getafe (9th) v Alaves (18th)
Really hard to get excited about this one. Post industrial slumhole takes on improving but ultimately doomed club from the Northern Spain. Home win.

Racing Santander (12th) v Celta Vigo (8th)
Racing are another team that have recently grown in my affections, despite having always dismissed them as midtable dullards (honestly - records show that I have seen them live at least three times but I cannot remember a single moment of any game). This season they are a touch inconsistent and unpredictable, but more than capable of giving anyone a game. They also have history on their side for this encounter as their opponents, Celta, have not won at Racing in 21 years, with 18 defeats and 3 draws as their proud record. However, Celta are due a bit of luck. Away win.

Barcelona (1st) v Atletico Madrid (11th)
Almost every Atletico fan I know has claimed that there will be an upset in the Nou Camp on Sunday night. And this is from a some of the most pessimistic supporters on earth. This blind optimism stems from a victory that they recorded in the same fixture last season and to be fair, they are also the only team to have defeated the champions this season. Atletico have also managed two wins a row - it is not surprising that spring seems to be in the air in the Calderon. Perhaps they are right? Barca are without Edmilson, Ronaldinho (suspended), Eto' (Egypt), and long term absentee Xavi. Nevertheless, Larsson is still capable of finding the net, Messi is scoring for fun these days, whilst replacements such as Iniesta and Giuly are still rather tasty. Home win.

Sevilla (5th) v Osasuna (4th)
This year's maybe's against last year's has-beens. It does look worryingly like Osasuna will have nothing to show for this season's heroics in matching Barca stride for stride for the first half. The combination of a loss of momentum, injuries and absentees has left Osasuna without a win in 2006 and they are not going to get one at Sevilla. The Andalusians are starting to make a well timed move into Champions League contention, whilst other rivals such as Depor and Villarreal stumble. Home win.


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Ronaldinho Sees Red

Deportivo and Zaragoza march on to the semi's of the Copa

Last night saw the final two legs of the remaining two quarter finals of the Copa Del Rey taking place - and the drama which has been a feature of the tournament so far, did not let up in this normally docile competition. The first tie, well, half a tie, as it was restarted from the point the first attempt was suspended, was between Valencia and Deportivo - and behind closed doors. Even two fans dressed as photographers were caught red handed and removed from the stadium.

The players marched onto the pitch and picked up from where they left off, with the game tied at 1-1 on aggregate. They completed a fairly uneventful 45 seconds of the first half, changed ends and then commenced their foul tempered, bruising encounter in the same vein as the previous two matches. The game was, of course, decided in controversial circumstances after Deportivo were awarded a penalty in the 70th minute, after an innocuous shoulder barge on Senel was deemed as foul play. Victor duly dispatched the spot kick.

Valencia, playing with 10 men after a sending off in the first attempt at the second leg (I hope you are keeping up with this) could not make the breakthrough, although Kluivert came close in the dying minutes but blasted his effort over the bar.

Fantastically the two warring teams are due to meet again on Saturday night in La Liga and will no doubt be merrily kicking lumps out of eachother for another 90 minutes - if it is on a tv near you, I recommend catching it if you can.

Barcelona were unable to claw back a 4-2 deficit and could only manage a 2-1 victory over Real Zaragoza. The match will mostly be remembered for a rather harsh straight red card on Ronaldinho, after he was adjudged to have gone in rather strongly on Cani - a yellow would have been fairer. Sadly, the world misses out on a Real v Barca semi-final special.

Semi Final Line Up:
Real Zaragoza v Real Madrid
Espanyol v Deportivo


In Other News...

Real have angrily denied any interest in Juve's Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic - even though the Galacticos are a little low on strikers these days with only Raul, Ronaldo, Baptista, Cassano, Robinho and Soldado on the books.

Hector Cuper seems to be the new Barry Fry after someone has worked out that he has used 45 different players in his 15 months at Real Mallorca - a club currently battling relegation. Of these 45, 21 have been signed directly by Cuper and from this figure, 7 have already been moved on.


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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Transfer Window Closes

As the transfer window slams shut until the summer, it's time to look at who's in and who's out of La Liga. On the whole, not very exciting - Real Madrid were the biggest spenders whilst Alaves, Mallorca, Racing, Sociedad and Malaga were the busiest.

The stats - 40.4 million euros spent on 39 new players.

In - Giovanni (Sao Paolo), Georgiev (Slavia), Pacheco (Albacete), Ibon Begona (no team)
Out - Antchouet (Vitoria), Wesley (Vitoria), Tellez (no team)

Athletic Bilbao:
In - Aduriz (Valladolid)
Out - Javi Gonzalez (Ashdod), Ibon (Numancia), Tarantino (Numancia)

Atletico Madrid:
In - None
Out - Arizmendi (Deportivo), Braulio (Mallorca)

In - None
Out - None

In - Tardelli (Sao Paolo), Robert (PSV)
Out - Oliveira (contract suspended), Juanlu (Albacete)

In - Lobos (Gimnasia), Vella (Newell's), Moran (Racing)
Out - Manolo Perez (Hercules), Bertran (Lorca)

In - Vela (Arsenal), Yago (Celta)
Out - Isaac (Ferrol)

In - Arizmendi (Atletico), Gallardo (Sevilla)
Out - Pablo Amo (Valladolid), Scaloni (West Ham)

In - Pandiani (Birmingham)
Out - Riera (Manchester City), Jonathan (Almeria), Velamazan (Almeria), Soldevilla (Poli Ejido)

In - Jaja (Westerlo)
Out - None

In - Gabrieal (Fluminense), Bovio (Santos), Antonio Lopez (Sevilla), Ribeiro (Dynamo Moscow)
Out - Paco Esteban (Ciudad)

In - Pisculicho (Argentinos), Nunes (Sp Braga), Basinas (no team), Braulio (Atletico Madrid)
Out - Peralta (no team), Choutos (Reggina), Iuliano (Sampdoria)

In - None
Out - None

Racing Santander:
In - Pinilla (Sp Lisbon), Damia (Barcelona), Alfaro (Sevilla), Valencia (Nastic), Lee Ho Jin (PSV), Garay (Newell's)
Out - Marques (Atletico B), Casar (Valladolid)

Real Madrid:
In - Cicinho (Sao Paolo), Cassano (Roma)
Out - None

Real Sociedad:
In - Stevanovic (Donzale), Skoubo (Brondby), Viafara (Portsmouth), Mark Gonzalez (Liverpool)
Out - Juan Domingez (Eibar)

In - Escude (Sevilla)
Out - Alfaro (Racing), Antonio Lopez (Malaga), Gallardo (Deportivo), Carlitos (Hercules)

In - None
Out - Di Vaio (Monaco), De los Santos (no team), Caneira (Sporting Lisbon)

In - Josemi (Liverpool), Franco (Rayados)
Out - Kromkamp (Liverpool), Valencia (Recreativo), 'Lucho' (River Plate)

In - None
Out - Camacho (Lleida), Corona (Albacete)


In Other News...

Copa del Rey action tonight - A judge has ordered the Valencia v Deportivo game (well, the remaining 46 minutes of it) to be played, as planned, behind closed doors at the Mestalla. The match is currently tied 1-1 on aggregate, but Valencia are down to 10 men, after Marchena's sending off in the other match. Barcelona will be trying to claw back a 4-2 deficit at home to Real Zaragoza to set up a semi final encounter with Real Madrid - Barca look like they will be playing a full strength line up.

Transfer news for the summer links Fernando Torres to Spurs (one under achieving club to another), Juve's Ibrahimovic to Real Madrid (why?!), Atletico Madrid 'keeper Leo Franco to AC Milan, Getafe's Riki to Parma and Robert Pires and Albert Luque to Espanyol.


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