Friday, March 31, 2006

The Famous Weekend Preview

Eight rounds to go (providing all the referees turn up - the issue still not resolved) and some potentially great games coming up this weekend, with Real v Barca, the Sevilla derby and a battle royale at the bottom of the table to look forward to. Enjoy.


Zaragoza (10th) WLWDD v Villarreal (8th) WDDDL
I actually forgot to update this one originally - which says a lot for the interest value of the encounter. Draw.

Real Sociedad (18th) LWLLL v Malaga (20th) DDLLD
Forget the big, shiny games in Barcelona and Sevilla - this is where the real action is. Sociedad’s problems are clear - semi decent up front, but a shambles at the back. Stuck third from bottom and starting to lose contact with the rest of the field, relegation is starting to look a very real possibility for the men from San Sebastian. On Saturday night, they take on Malaga - a club routed to the bottom of the league, eight points from safety and destined for the drop. However, they are making a fight of it and came away with a credible draw against Barca last weekend - all be it, thanks to a dodgy decision from the linesman. Sociedad simply cannot afford to lose. Home win.

Barcelona (1st) WLWWD v Real Madrid (2nd) WDDDW
This match is all about if’s - If Ronaldo had scored his 91st minute penalty against Valencia; if Real had not drawn 0-0 at Betis at home and if Real were to beat Barca on Saturday - then the gap between the first and second would only be four points, with seven games still to play. The fact that none of this actually happened and that there are 11 points standing between the two great rivals, means this is the most subdued ‘classico’ in years. Barca are clearly more interested in next Wednesday’s home clash with Benfica, whilst Real are simply looking to regain a bit of self respect after November’s 3-0 drubbing. If they fail to perform yet again, then the title will surely be Barca’s. Home win.


Valencia (4th) DDLDL v Cadiz (19th) WLDLD
Heavens above, if Valencia don’t win this game, then it could get very very messy indeed at the Mestalla. This week, a very disgruntled club president, Juan Bautista Soler - not a man to cross - had already been letting off steam by threatening an end of season club clear out. Failure to pick up three points against their spirited visitors, although destined for relegation, could well see the cull starting on Monday - with Joe Pesci and a baseball bat leading it. Home win.

Deportivo (7th) LLWWL v Racing Santander (13th) DLWLD
After a mini revival, last weekend’s defeat at Real has returned a fragile Depor to the doldrums yet again, with increased speculation that manager Joaquin Caparros will be leaving the club at the end of the season. Their visitors on Sunday are Racing, a club by no means sure of safety and needing another three wins to ensure another year in midtable. Depor’s lousy home record to continue. Draw.

Alaves (16th) LWDWD v Athletic Bilbao (12th) DLWWW
Bilbao’s manager, Javier Clemente, may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he certainly is effective and looks like leading his men to safety, after three straight wins. However, a tough test awaits them this weekend with a visit down the road to Vitoria and a team who still fancy their chances of defying predictions by staying up. Athletic, not the most prolific of teams, will be hampered by the suspension of striker, Urzaiz after his mini-spat with Osasuna’s Delporte, last week. Home win.

Mallorca (17th) DDDWL v Espanyol (15th) LWLDD
This will be an interesting test to see how strong Mallorca really are. After last weekend’s 2-0 defeat against Celta, manager Gregorio Manzano claimed that the team’s buoyant self confidence remained unaffected. However, the defeat dropped them to just three points from the drop zone and a failure to win on Sunday against Espanyol would see the Balearic outfit dropping back into real relegation danger. But, they should be ok. Home win.

Osasuna (3rd) LWWWL v Getafe (11th) WWLLW
After last weekend’s disappointing loss to Bilbao, this is a golden chance for Osasuna to pick up more points to help secure the club a fully deserved top four finish, at the end of the season. Their visitors have achieved their season’s target of forty points but are a little unsettled by a midweek announcement from club president Angel Torres, that he is looking to bring at least five new players into the club during the summer. Great timing. Home win.

Atletico Madrid (9th) LWDLD v Celta Vigo (6th) WLLLW
With Europe now a distant dream for the ‘rojiblancos’, the club has occupied itself, this week, with a fierce debate on the size of the stripes on their kit next season - a handy distraction from the flak that should have come their way after their recent poor record. Sunday night’s encounter with Europe-chasing Celta is a final for Atletico - a win will see them hanging onto to Europe by their finger nails, but a defeat will banish them to mid table, alongside the Zaragoza’s of the league.

Betis (14th) LDDWW v Sevilla (5th) WLDWW
If the Sociedad tie is the number one encounter of the week - then this one is not far behind. The Sevilla derby is usually a madcap affair, but this one has added spice to it. The green and whites of Betis are still seven points from safety, whilst Sevilla are looking for another victory to continue their charge for a Champions League spot and also to try to make life difficult as difficult as possible for their fierce local rivals. Both sides are in good form, with Betis enjoying back to back wins and Sevilla 4-1 conquerers of Zenit, in last night’s Uefa cup tie. A shock away win is on the cards. And at least three reds.


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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Lots of Blood, But No Glory for Villarreal

Last Night....

Villarreal’s Champions League chances hang in the balance after last night’s 2-1 defeat - their first of the season, in Inter’s San Siro stadium. Although they went 1-0 up after just 45 seconds, they were pegged back soon after with a goal from Adriano. In the second half, a very grumpy looking Martins made it 2-1.

On the whole, Villarreal played reasonably well, but Inter deserved the win and actually looked pretty darned good at times, with Stankovic easily best of the bunch. The most alarming part of the match, however, was the sight of Villarreal’s newly Spanish midfielder Senna, apparently suffering from a nasty bout of cholera. The most of the game, the seat of his shorts was covered in blood - the cause of which turned out to be a unfortunately placed stud to the groin in the first half. Still pretty serious, but it looked a whole lot worse.

With Barca’s Champions League future by no means certain - it looks possible that at least one of La Liga teams could be out of Europe, by this time next week.

Tonight, Sevilla continue their European odyssey with a home leg against Zenit - a team from St Petersburg, apparently.

In Other News...

Ex Real Madrid star Luis Figo has reportedly advised Madrid president, Fernando Martin, to buy fellow Portuguese midfielder Christian Ronaldo over the summer. This is the second Man Utd player that Real have been linked with in two days, with Wayne Rooney’s name also in the air.

However, it could just be a cunning ploy from the eternally sulking Figo to oust Beckham from the side - a man whose arrival spelt the end of the line for the brooding Inter Milan star. As Fernando Martin has not shown the slightest inclination to listen to anyone over recent weeks, the advice will remain unheeded, no doubt.

Villarreal have been linked with Arsenal’s Robert Pires after club officials reportedly met with the diving Frenchman’s agents.

Valencia are set to have a summer clear out with Mora Curro Torres, David Navarro, Rufete, Jorge Lopez, Regueiro and Kluivert set to be taken out with the trash - Bolton and Newcastle will be watching with interest.

Barcelona midfielder Xavi has been photographed kicking a ball again, 117 days after buggering up the cruciate ligaments of his right knee (anatomically dubious, I know) in a training ground accident, last year. The race is now on to get him fit for the World Cup.

The referees have still not had their money, so technically, the strike is still due to go ahead this weekend. At time of writing, the clubs have just under 24 hours to make the backdated salary payments owed to the men in black. Where is Jack Bauer when you need him?

Tomorrow - the great weekend preview. And should reading while walking be made illegal?

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

"Verbal Incontinence Without Precedent"

Fernando Martin on a Roll

If seismologists around the world are picking up an unusual disturbance from Spain on their monitors, then that would be the shocks caused by La Liga Loca banging its head repeatedly against a wall. The reason for this sudden and violent behaviour is the latest news from Real Madrid.

Club president - in the Belarussian sense of the word - Fernando Martin has reportedly declared that what the club really needs to do, to return to being a contender in La Liga and in Europe is - wait for it - buy more galacticos. Seriously.

According to AS, Martin’s hit list of stars has, quite incredibly, the name of Wayne Rooney proudly at the top - a player who simply couldn’t be more unsuited to Madrid, not least because chip shops and snooker halls are fairly hard to come by.

Whilst Rooney is certainly admired by the Real fans as a player, when the idea of him playing for their side has been brought up in the past, they have tended to react the same way Queen Victoria would if offered a top shelf magazine, as an afternoon’s reading material.

Their one and only view of Rooney in person was during England’s infamous visit to the Bernabeu in their international against Spain - a match that resulted in the Man Utd forward being subbed at the end of the first half, having shoved Iker Casillas into the crowd and attempted to reconstruct the ankles of the Spanish back four.

Although it was a cameo that La Liga Loca enjoyed immensely, it did nothing to help dispel the perception of Rooney as a hooligan in a football kit. However, the image of Wayne sitting in the Bernabeu guest box, on the invitation of Beckham, for Real’s October clash with Mallorca has lead to speculation that Rooney may well fancy catching a bit of sun for a few years. It would certainly save Colleen a few pounds on sun bed bills.

Rooney is not the only name to appear on Fernando Martin’s list - he is joined by Chelsea’s Robben and Lyon’s Mahamadou Diarro. The club has also been linked with two centre backs, potentially to replace the ever-injured Woodgate - one is the Romanian Chivu and the other is Michael Dawson of Spurs.

Of course, this could be more tosh from a President who now appears to be slowly losing the plot. An example of this was the ridiculous press conference on Monday when Martin openly listed the seven managers he had in mind for Real (although he had to be prompted to remember Sven).

All in all, this idiocy from Martin raises some questions, as ever. Isn’t this kind of open speculation against footballing rules? Are you going to go down the list and ask each one until someone says yes? If so, how will that make the last person to be asked feel? Why wasn’t Bernd Schuster on the list, the proposal of your own director of football for the manager’s job?

The Real Madrid fans were less than impressed by the names on offer. On a local news show which did a short street poll, the name that arose most for the choice of next manager was Vicente Del Bosque - and if not him, someone Spanish.

The lunacy from Fernando Martin, this week, has prompted Roberto Gomez, normally a pompous arse, to write in Marca - “the verbal incontinence of the president of Madrid is without precedent in the recent history of world football”.

For once, he’s talking sense.


Europa, Europa

Although La Liga Loca opted for the cracking game at Highbury for last night’s entertainment, it seemed, from the highlights, that Barca were a little unlucky not to come away with a victory from their match with Benfica.

While the sporting papers in Spain disagree on whether Frank Rijkaard’s men deserved to win by eight or twelve goals, it does seem that it certainly wasn’t their night, rather like the encounter with Malaga on Saturday. Will Real Madrid be suffering the backlash this weekend?

Onto tonight and ‘plucky’ Villarreal continue their tremendous European tour that, so far, has seen them visit the Stade de France, Old Trafford, the Stadium of Light (not Sunderland’s) and Ibrox. This evening, it is the turn of the San Siro for their first leg clash with Inter Milan.

In Other News...

The referee strike has yet to have been averted - although the Spanish league association claims to have the money owed to the referees, there now seems to be a disagreement over the method of payment. Should the strike go ahead, however, the league have threatened to sue the refereeing authority for 17 million euros - the estimated cost of this weekend’s footballing schedule being wiped out.

Valencia’s Vicente, still struggling with a ligament injury, is feeling fairly pessimistic about his chances of making this summer’s World Cup in Germany. The flying winger is expected to return to full training in two to three weeks time, but does not feel this will be soon enough to return to fitness.

Atletico Madrid have been linked with a 10 million euro ‘swoop’ for Roma’s right midfielder, Alessandro Mancini.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Cheeky Tuesday

Barca in Action

The Champions League kicks off again this week, with two La Liga sides still in contention - Barcelona and Villarreal. Tonight, the league leaders travel to Portugal and take on Benfica - a club managed by club legend, Ronald Koeman, the hero of Barca’s European Cup win in 1992 at Wembley stadium.

This evening, the Dutchman’s clog will be on the other foot and he may well be fancying his chances of causing a bit of an upset, in a tie that many presume will be a breeze for Barca. However, a number of injuries and suspensions to their first eleven could well make the encounter a close affair.

Barcelona are set to field the unfamiliar centre-back duo of Rodri and Oleguer, due to the injury to Marquez and suspension of Puyol. To compensate for this lack of experience in defence, Frank Rijkaard is expected to field both Van Bommel and Motta in a combative midfield that looks designed to grab a draw. We shall see.

Rafa Benitez - Real’s Most Wanted

The readers of MARCA have chosen Liverpool’s Rafa Benitez as their number one preferred candidate for the top job at Real Madrid, in an interesting poll which featured the seven names who have been linked with the soon to be available position at the Bernabeu.

Bottom of the heap is poor old Sven, whose continuous well-publicised, off the field ‘indiscretions’ appear to have put off the Real faithful, despite the Swede being the only candidate who is actually available in the summer.

Those results in full -

Mourinho - 18.6%
Capello - 15.9%
Benitez - 28.4%
Wenger - 12.5%
Ancelloti - 17.6%
Lippi - 3.2%
Sven - 3.8%

In Other News...

Worrying, the threat of a refereeing strike this weekend, which would cause the cancellation of all the games in La Liga’s first and second divisions, is still looming. The men in black, who have not been paid since Feb 15th are still waiting for a 1,160,704 euro deposit from the Spanish league. If this is not received by 2pm on Friday, it will result in a free weekend for Ronaldo and co. However, league Vice President, Javier Tepas claimed yesterday that there was no need to panic and that the cheque will definitely in the post - “I can assure you that we will pay them. There will be no strike”.

Atletico Madrid may well have a dramatic new look next season. The famous red and white stripes will be gone, to be replaced by a new design which has just half the shirt red and the other white - a bit like Blackburn Rovers, but not blue. All in all, it looks quite good, and a considerable improvement on their current headache inducing attire.


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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Monday, Monday

It’s Only Words...

“I believe that some of these players are not doing so well, just to save energy for the World Cup” - Brazil manager Carlos Parreira on Roberto Carlos’ and Ronaldo’s recent unwillingness to break into a sweat.

“It’s the players who deserve all the praise” - A rare bit of humility in La Liga from Real Mallorca’s genius coach, Gregorio Manzano - the man who has guided the side out of the bottom three.

“Only a miracle can stop of us from winning the title - but miracles can happen” - Samuel Eto’o is certainly not counting his metaphorical chickens before they are hatched.

“Some people have their priorities a little skewed. Right up to the end of the match, the fans kept booing me - ultimately to the detriment of the team.” - Lord Dmitry Piterman is feeling very unloved in his own stadium.

“If we don’t already have enough problems in our game with racists and thugs in our grounds, now we have bottles of beer and spirits” - MARCA’s Juan Jose Diaz reflects on Thursday night’s scenes in the Vicente Calderon.

“We’re not going to win many games if we keep playing like this” - Athletic Bilbao’s Francisco Yeste after their midweek home draw against Espanyol.

“We lost a manger, then Sacchi, then a President...this really isn’t normal” - Real Madrid’s vice president, Emilio Butragueño speaking the bleeding obvious.

“Ronaldo is in excellent form and will soon be back to being the best in the world” - Real Madrid president, Fernando Martin, not spotting the whole ‘World Cup in Three Months’ link.

“Valeron’s injury and that of Andrade is like Barcelona losing Eto’o and Puyol” - Depor manager Joaquin Caparros, laments the loss of some key players over the last month.

Bernd Schuster - The Most Wanted Man in Spain

Just a over year ago, Getafe manager Bernd Schuster was pottering around in his garden and tending to his moustache - after all, he had a lot of free time, having been given the boot by Levante, after guiding them to the bottom of the table and fighting with most of the players.

These days, life is looking a little better for the amiable German. Since being rescued from the dole by Getafe during the summer, he looks like ensuring another season of top flight football for the side from the wrong side of Madrid’s tracks - quite an achievement with a limited transfer budget and a team of cast off’s and journeymen.

This season’s success has attracted the attention of a number of suitors lead, inevitably, by Real Madrid, as they continue their pledge to allow everyone in Spain to have a go at managing the club at some point. The theory is that Schuster would take over the day to day running of the team, alongside an experienced director of football - precisely the kind of crazy scheme that has got the club into trouble in the first place.

Other candidates lining up for Schuster’s services are reported to be Real Zaragoza, who are said to be contemplating ditching Victor Muñoz - who bears an uncanny resemblance to the billionaire guy who went out with Monica in Friends and was in Very Bad Things - even though he has lead his side to the Copa Del Rey final. Bayer Leverkeusen are also in the hunt.

Schuster himself is contracted to Getafe to 2008, but has left a strong hint that he would be interested in a move up the road by claiming that he could solve the dressing infighting that blights the Galacticos.


Woodgate Injury watch

Having broken down within the first few minutes of Real’s champions league first leg clash with Arsenal, it had seemed that Woody was to make his latest comeback last night against Deportivo - but it was not to be. He pulled out of training on Thursday and now looks set to miss next weekend’s derby with Barcelona. Raul Bravo to mark Eto'o’ o then. Oh dear.

The Referees are Revolting

Not content with littering this season’s league yellow and reds, Spain’s card happy men in black are threatening to go on strike - and if they do not go their way, then next weekend’s round of matches, including Barca v Real will be called off. To be fair to the refs they actually have some justification for taking such severe action - they have not been paid in two months. If the funds owed to them by the league are not paid by the 31st March, they will be hanging up their whistles - causing the cancelation of La Liga’s most high profile and money spinning game. Ingenious timing.

In typical Spanish style, all the parties involved are blaming each other for the pecuniary oversight, but with a bit of luck, someone will bang some heads together before the weekend and sort the mess out. Don’t bank on it though.

Transfer News....

All fairly quite at the moment but the latest is....Borussia Dortmund midfielder, Tomas Rosicky has been offered a four year deal by Atletico Madrid (again).... Valencia’s Brazilian left back, Fabio Aurelio has been linked with a move to Liverpool in the summer, after the expiration of his contract....and, er, that’s it.


Coming up in this week’s La Liga Loca...Villarreal and Barca in Champions League action and why it is crisis time for Spain’s top managers.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Weekend Preview - Part 2

A Mini Rant

If you are looking for a weekend end away and in the mood to make a bit of racist mischief or hospitalise your favourite footballing stars - then come to a match in La Liga, where anything goes.

After Thursday’s night disgraceful scenes in Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon stadium, the Spanish footballing authorities, yesterday, took swift action in response - and did absolutely nothing to ensure that a repetition of the missile throwing would not occur again. All very predictable.

Atletico’s punishment - and I use that term in its loosest possibly sense - was a 3000 euro fine and the threat of playing a game or two behind closed doors, should there be a repetition of the scenes.

A much relieved Atletico have promised to study video evidence to prosecute the culprits of the bottle throwing, but the club has to ask itself how fans were able to bring litre bottles of spirits into the ground - one of which came close to hitting Palop, in the Sevilla goal.

In fact, it was only thanks to the supporters in the stands possessing the same shooting accuracy of Kezman that prevented the opposition ‘keeper from being seriously injured.

Another question for the club - as the object throwing started as early as the fifteenth minute, why was nothing done to eject the guilty parties then? How were Pepe Murcia and another club official allowed to scream in the referee’s face and manhandle him as he left the field? Will they be punished?

All these questions will, of course, remain unanswered as the club are too busy complaining that the referee had said that the game had been suspended permanently, rather than temporarily - although the Sevilla officials claim the opposite.

Unfortunately, the debate that is dominating the pages of the sports papers this weekend, is whether the game should have been restarted, rather than examining what can be done to prevent further repetitions of Thursday’s nights scenes.

What do you think? Send your comments to La Liga Loca....


The Weekend Preview - Part 2

And now back to football...Can La Liga Loca better the midweek score of five correct predictions? We’ll see.

Coming up on Monday’s blog - the quotes of the week; Bernd Schuster - the most wanted man in Spain; Woodgate injury watch; Transfer gossip and why Spain’s referees are on the brink of hanging up their whistles....


Sevilla (5th) LWLDW v Valencia (4th) DDDLD
Shame on Valencia. The players should be made to play Sunday’s game wearing dunce caps or in It’s A Knockout costumes, as punishment for their recent record. If they fail to win the clash with Sevilla, who currently sit five points behind them, then the side will be in very real danger of slipping out of the top four altogether. Good. Sevilla, who pulled off a cracking result against Atletico - something that has been overlooked with all the other business - are still struggling to find the net. Their two strikers, Kanoute and Saviola - who both missed penalties on Thursday night - have only managed ten goals between them this season leaving a central midfielder as the side’s top scorer. Draw.

Espanyol (14th) WLWLD v Alaves (16th) DLWDW
It would take a computer the size of the Solar System to be able to come remotely close to predicting what Espanyol are going to do, with permutations ranging from injuries to solar flare activity having an influence on their performances. They are still only three points away from the relegation zone and are taking on tricky opponents, also battling the drop, and who like nothing more than a good scrap. Deep Blue says Home Win.

Getafe (11th) DWWLL v Real Sociedad (18th) LLWLL
Eleventh-placed Getafe, who really should consider changing their name to ‘eleventh-placed Getafe’ will never have a better chance to grab the three points they need to secure another season in the top flight. Their opponents have the worst defence in the league, have lost four in five and sacked their second manager in two months on Thursday. However, they do possess a really good forward line, so a victory is not necessarily in the bag for Getafe. However, they should prevail. Home win.

Racing Santander (12th) DDLWL v Zaragoza (10th) LWLWD
Our time on this mortal coil is too precious to waste by either writing or reading about this game - the most meaningless in La Liga’s history. Draw. But could be anything.

Real Madrid (3rd) LWDDD v Deportivo La Coruña (3rd) WLLWW
As the club seem to have finally accepted that they have lost the league - something that would never have been allowed to happen under Florentino Perez - the battle for second starts here...nine finals, etc. Who are they kidding? The players are only thinking of the World Cup or where they are going to play next season. Opponents, Depor are looking a little better these days, but are still fragile and struggled for much of the game against Malaga on Wednesday - however, there is nothing like the thought of battering the Galacticos to put a spring in the step. Away win.

Cadiz (19th) LWLDL v Atletico Madrid (9th) WLWDL
Ah Atletico. Just as I started to believe they were going places - they mess it up. It is difficult to know how they will react to Thursday night’s defeat, a match that they started incredibly well, but then lost control of, in the second half. The one piece of good news is that Kezman is back for the team after suspension, although they are without Pernia and Luccin who both received their marching orders against Sevilla. Poor Cadiz, stranded second from bottom, are starting to lose contact with their fellow relegation battlers. This may be their last chance to save themselves. And they will do it. Home win.


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Friday, March 24, 2006

"Everything About the Night Was Bad..."

The Calderon Fall Out....

To kick off today’s La Liga Loca update, some reaction from those on the receiving end of the countless objects thrown by some mindless fans in Atletico’s Vicente Calderon last night (early morning).

More info here...

“Nothing like this as ever happened to me before,” - Seville ‘keeper Andres Palop who claimed he was struck on the shoulders and the head by a number of objects.

“These people have done enormous damage to Atletico Madrid” - Enrique Cerezo, President of Atletico Madrid

“The referee had to suspend the game” - Leo Franco, Atletico goalkeeper.

“The match was very dangerous out on the pitch” - Seville coach, Juande Ramos.

“The match had become too dangerous for the Seville keeper and the referee had no other option” - Seville president, Jose Maria del Nido.

“An embarrassment and an absurdity” - The headline in MARCA.

“Everything about the night was bad - bad for Atletico...bad for the referee, bad for the image of the club around the world and bad as a spectacle” - F. Javier Diaz writing in AS.

With the game finishing in the early hours of the morning, it is still too early to tell what sanction Atletico will face in response to the behaviour of their fans, but it is likely to be strong. However, the main controversy that seems to be brewing now, is whether the referee suspended the game, or merely brought the players off temporarily. There are complaints in the Atletico camp, that they did not know that the game was to be restarted and so were unprepared. Mmm.

Expect more from this story...


The Weekend Preview - Part One

With La Liga Loca needing a lie down in a darkened room with smelling salts after last night’s excitement in Madrid, this weekend’s preview comes in two easy to chew parts.

Saturday -

Villarreal (8th) DWDDD v Real Betis (17th) WLDDW
Are Villarreal going to be made to pay a heavy price for Riquelme missing his penalty on Wednesday night at Valencia? Three draws has seen the side drop out of the European places, and with a big tie at Inter Milan coming up in the Champions League, they are in danger of coming away from this season, empty-handed. However, they are faring a little better than their opponents who also started the year with a Champions League campaign - but to their detriment. Betis are still badly struggling for goals and will find it tough on Saturday night. Home win.

Malaga (20th) LDDLL v Barcelona (1st) WWLWW
Poor Malaga. Although they are bottom of the table and eight points from safety, they are not at the Sunderland level of badness. Last weekend, it was a last minute goalkeeping howler cost them a point, whilst on Wednesday night, they gave Deportivo quite a fright before losing 2-1. Even so, it will be a tough challenge to get anything out of their visitors, Barcelona on Saturday night. Although Barca’s defence will be without the familiar figures of Marquez (injured) and Puyol (suspended) and Rijkaard could well be resting a number of players with an eye on the midweek Benfica clash, the league champions elect will still be too strong. Away win.

Athletic Bilbao (15th) DLWWD v Osasuna (2nd) LLWWW
The Basque players of Bilbao could not be living life anymore dangerously than if the players took to the field in ‘I love Spain’ shirts. Through a combination of last minute penalties and equalisers, they are slowly clawing their way out of relegation trouble. But slowly. They face a tough challenge on Saturday night, when La Liga’s bruisers and in form team come to town. Osasuna may be from neighbouring Navarre and have close links with Athletic, however, the stakes are too high for anything other that a football feast. And one or two red cards no doubt. Draw.

Part 2 - Coming Soon


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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Very Special Midweek Preview

Round 29...

Thanks to Tuesday night’s 3-1 victory for Barcelona over Getafe, La Liga Loca is on a 100% correct prediction roll - but can it last? Probably not.

In tonight’s round of matches, can Valencia and Real Madrid consolidate their own positions, now that the league title chase is surely over? Can Osasuna move into second? Can Betis move out of the bottom three? And will Bilbao take one step closer to safety. Let’s see.


Valencia (3rd) WDDDL v Villarreal (7th) WDWDD
Valencia remind the sizeable geek in La Liga Loca of the recent Matrix films - the trailers promised so much - yet the movies delivered so little. At the start of 2006, Valencia looked like they could have been genuine contenders for the title. Alas, it was not to be. An over dependency on the goals of David Villa and injuries to some key players such as Vicente, Baraja and... er Kluivert has cost them dearly. Even though some of these names are returning to action - it looks like being far too late. Valencia’s aim now is to hang onto a top 3 finish and they continue on this quest with a local derby match against Villarreal - who themselves welcome back Riquelme to the side after a one-match suspension. Home win.

Betis (18th) LWLDD v Racing Santander (12th) LDDLW
This encounter for Betis has the words ‘MUST WIN’ painted in giant red letters all over it. Third from bottom, one victory in five and unable to score goals - things are not looking good at all for the Andalusians, however, tonight’s match is a tiny spark of light at the bottom of a very deep well. Their opponents, Racing, veer between being awful (Racing 0-1 Bilbao) and very good (Racing 2-1 Valencia). Betis will be hoping it is the former version of the team that turn up at the Ruiz de Lopera stadium. Home win.

Deportivo (8th) DWLLW v Malaga (20th) LLDDL
This weekend’s 2-1 away victory at Getafe showed that there was still life in the old Deportivo sea dog yet. Before that result, the team were in rapid decline with a couple of defeats and a Copa Del Rey exit to their name. Tonight’s match against bottom placed Malaga - who still cannot believe how they blew a point in injury-time against Zaragoza last Sunday - looks like a certainty for three points to put them back into top six contention. However, we have been here before with Depor. Home.

Athletic Bilbao (14th) WDLWW v Espanyol (13th) LWLWL
By jimminy, Bilbao have lived dangerously to gain their two recent consecutive 1-0 victories in a row - the first was through a retaken 93rd minute penalty; the second was achieved by scoring an early goal against Celta on Sunday night and hanging on for dear life. A third consecutive victory tonight against a bizarre Espanyol team could go a long way to banishing all thoughts of a potentially disastrous relegation from the top flight. Home win.

Alaves (17th) LDLWD v Celta Vigo (6th) LWWLL
Despite their numerous off field problems, Alaves are still in with a decent shout of staying up this season. A vindication of the chop and change policies of president Piterman perhaps? - a sizeable part of the Alaves support would disagree and argue that the club are surviving despite his pesky meddling. Their opponents, Celta, are starting to fade from contention for fourth place and are resetting their sites for a top six finish instead. With both Alaves and Celta relying heavily on the goals of one player - Aloisi and Baiano respectively - tonight’s encounter will perhaps be a battle of which is on form. Draw.

Mallorca (15th) WWDDD v Cadiz (19th) LLWLD
The Manzano effect continues. Since taking over at Mallorca, the club have yet to lose under his guidance. A rebuilt defence and a rediscovered fighting spirit have propelled the Balearic club out of the relegation zone and towards mid table, but with just two points between them and the drop zone, there is still a long way to go. Cadiz continue their long, tiring trek round Spain in the search for points to avoid a swift return to the second division. Sadly for them, a trip to the Balearics will be a wasted journey. Home win.

Osasuna (4th) WLLWW v Real Sociedad (4th) LLLWL
All hail Osasuna - the Spurs of La Liga. For a number of seasons, this team been on the brink of doing something vaguely interesting in the league, before thinking better of it. However, like their Premiership cousins, this year, Osasuna seem to be willing to give a top four finish a bit of a go. Two successive victories and the inability of challengers to keep up has given Osasuna a handy seven point gap over Sevilla in fifth and if other results were to go their way tonight - Osasuna could find themselves in second. Real Sociedad, the ‘Osasuna’ of two seasons ago, continue their dispiriting struggle for survival, but will find it hard to get anything out of their opponents, in Pamplona. Home win.

Real Zaragoza (10th) DLWLW v Real Madrid (2nd) WLWDD
The last time these two clubs met in La Romareda, Zaragoza absolutely battered the Galacticos 6-1, in a cup game. Although a repeat of this result may a bit too much to ask, the home team will be fancying their chances against opponents, not exactly in crisis, but certainly going through the motions and looking ahead to the World Cup. Whilst Real have not conceded in three games, they have not scored in them either. Lopez Caro looks set to try another combination up front with Baptista and Ronaldo forming the front two, whilst Beckham looks like being restored to the line up, alongside Gravesen in central midfield. Zaragoza will be looking towards the very excellent Ewerthon and Milito to continue their fine seasons with some more goals tonight - and they should get them. Home win.


Atletico Madrid (9th) WWLWD v Sevilla (5th) WLWLD
Crunch time for Atletico. This is a match that will show if they mean business with their talk of European qualification or whether it is all hot air. Pepe Murcia’s men will be looking to build on a decent away draw at Villarreal, last Saturday night, with three points against yet more challengers for a top six finish, Sevilla. With Fernando Torres in superb form whilst their opponents strikers, Kanoute and Saviola are desperately struggling for goals, Atletico should make a great leap forward towards Europe. Home win.


All web blog content, copyright of La Liga Loca 2006.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Bernabeu Bulletin

With the behind the scenes activity at Real Madrid, considerably more interesting than what is currently taking place on the pitch, La Liga Loca today tries to make sense of the endless speculation and blatantly made up stories that have been filling the Spanish papers over the last few days concerning the goings on at the Bernabeu...

A New Presidential Election?

Probably not. Fernando Martin has his posterior planted firmly in the hot seat now and does not look like moving it any time soon. Despite the occasional call for new elections in the press, these are becoming more half hearted by the day, as the realisation that he is going nowhere sets in. The total ambivalence of the crowd, at the weekend’s bore-fest with Betis, has done nothing to make Martin reconsider his decision.

The New Manager?

One by one, nearly all the candidates that have been banded around in the papers over the past few weeks, as possible future coaches have ruled themselves out of contention for the soon to be open position at Real....however, in case any of them should be tempted by the sunnier climes of Madrid - these are the current runners and riders...

Arsene Wenger - a favourite of former president, Florentino Perez, but unfortunately for him and the club, Wenger is contracted to Arsenal till 2007 and has recently announced that he will be seeing it out. Should he change his mind, there is speculation that he would bring Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas with him.

Carlos Ancelotti - Like Wenger, contracted to 2007, but could well be booted out of the San Siro if he delivers another trophyless season to their evil overlord, Silvio Berlesconi. Ancelotti has publicly expressed that it would be a footballing honour to manage at Real and is one of the few names not to immediately rule himself out of contention. Strongest possibility from this managerial gaggle.

Rafa Benitez - A man who has strong links with the club, having managed the youth team many moons ago. However, he has also ruled himself out of an immediate move to Madrid and confirmed his intentions to see out his current contract at Liverpool which extends to 2010. After his unpleasant experience at Valencia and the relative calm and support he has received at Anfield, he looks like keeping to his word.

Jose Mourinho - Went up enormously in the popularity stakes in Madrid, with his recent Barca baiting, however, his personality and ways of doing business may be a little too strong for the club. Nevertheless, he is a proven winner and would soon sort out the dressing room. Although he is contracted to Chelsea to 2010, he is definite a long shot for the job in Madrid and worth keeping an eye on.

Fabio Capello - Until recently, the current Juve coach was the out and out favourite for the new role. For some months, he had made all the right metaphorical noises about coming to Madrid, however, it now seems very unlikely indeed. His reported demands of a 20 million pay packet over 3 seasons were a little rich for Real’s tastes, as was the shopping list he gave to them requesting that names such as Steven Gerrard and Zlatan Ibrahimovic be brought to the club with him.

Others -
Juan Roman Lopez Caro - current man in charge and despite a good start, his lack of experience in top flight football as become all too clear. Rumoured to be off to Betis in the near future.
Sven Goran - Available after the World Cup, but far too much shagging around in his personal history for the tastes of Real’s ultra conservative board.
Bernd Schuster (Getafe), Manuel Luis Pellegrini (Villarreal) and Quique Sanchez-Flores (Valencia) - all doing well with their current clubs and could well be a candidates should Real fail to land one of the big names on their list.

Players In and Out?

A recent poll in ‘El Mundo’ gave the fans opinions on who they would like to see booted out of the club in the summer...

79% - Roberto Carlos
73% - Gravesen
72% - Raul Bravo
62% - Zidane
52% - Ronaldo

However, the writers at AS, on a quiet Monday afternoon, have given their thoughts on what will happen next.

See You Next Season !

Sergio Ramos
Raul Bravo

Maybe See You Next Season

Raul (sacrilege!)

Get Out !

Roberto Carlos
Pablo Garcia



The Great Midweek Review - Part One

A very rare midweek round of matches, gives some clubs a quick chance to right some wrongs from the weekend or dig themselves even further into trouble. And it also gives La Liga Loca a chance to bounce back from the miserly two correct predictions from last weekend, with a clean sweep !

With one game tonight, eight tomorrow, and one on Thursday - here comes part one, with the rest to follow in tomorrow’s La Liga Loca.

Barcelona (1st) WWWLW v Getafe (11th) LDWWL

Barca have a great chance to give themselves a fourteen point gap over nearest rivals Real, who are in action tomorrow - however, one or two injuries to the squad has left the league leaders a little low on defensive cover. Edmilson and Marquez are out for the next month and Puyol is just one yellow card from a suspension. Expect a thundering challenge from Carlos on some poor Getafe sap tonight, to make sure he does not miss ‘el derbi’ in two rounds time. Getafe are still looking for the magic three points that will take them to 40 and guarantee them another year in La Liga. Although, Getafe can be a pain in the arse to play away from home, Barca should have enough up front to get past them. Home win.

In Other News...

Although the words ‘horrific tackle’, ‘bleeding’ and ‘red card’ are often linked with Sevilla’s hardman defender Javi Navarro, for once there is a slight twist to a familiar story. Navarro - who is renowned for his own particular style of play which involves beating the crap out of the opposition - has been on the receiving end of a bit of bother over the last week. In just three matches against Lille, Alaves and Mallorca he has been the recipient of tackles resulting in two red cards for his adversaries but leaving Navarro needing stitches, receiving concussion and temporary blindness. Nevertheless, Javi is unbothered by recent events - “these things sometimes happen on the pitch” - he shrugged as he reached for his Deep Heat and whiskey.

Chelsea have signed the ‘new Lampard’ from Espanyol’s youth team - not normally a place where you would expect to find world class talent. Still, 15 year old Sergio Tejera is moving to Stamford Bridge in the summer for a handy 250,000 euros and is hoping to emulate Cesc Fabregas’ meteoric rise at Arsenal, since leaving Barcelona’s youth academy.


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Monday, March 20, 2006

More Monday Crazy Talk

More Words of Wisdom from La Liga...

“I pray to God, that I don’t go to the World Cup finals with Betis in the second division” - Betis’ sometimes flying winger, Joaquin, looking for divine help in his club’s current predicament.

“The most effective way to prevent racism, is by deducting points” - La Liga referee, Daudan Ibanez, pre-empts Fifa’s new anti-racism guidelines with his thoughts.

“Barcelona? We should have no problems, if we play at our best” - Real Sociedad’s Sergio Boris in a very optimistic mood, before their eventual 2-0 defeat.

“I reckon we are going to be made to suffer, until the very last minute” - Joaquin again with more words of doom and gloom.

“There’s no way that I’m worth 150 million euros, but football has gone a bit mad” - Valencia’s David Villa considers the buy-out clause of his new contract.

“In football, there's verbal and physical violence, but none of a racist or xenophobic nature...making animal noises is just for putting players off. In my opinion, it’s not a display of racism” - Nonsense from Alfonso Solaris Solaris, president of Real Zaragoza, whose fans were found guilty of racially abusing of Samuel Eto’o in their recent clash with Barca.

“It’s the first time that three guys on the bench have lost a game of football” - Real Madrid’s Michel Salgado comments on accusations that he was to blame for February’s defeat at Mallorca, after he was caught on camera failing to celebrate his team’s only goal.

“We will keep going until the last possible moment” - Real Madrid manager, Juan Roman Lopez Caro, has not given up on the league, even though his players apparently have.

“It’s a miracle that we are still in the Champions League places, with our scoring record” - Valencia coach, Quique Flores, bemoans his side’s 'David Villa-dependency'.

“It’s nothing new. Hector Cuper brought the team to two Champions League finals and left without proper recognition; the same happened to Rafa Benitez when he won the league and UEFA cup...Valencia is different” - Valencia ‘keeper Santi Canizares is unsurprised by the recent criticism aimed in the direction at Quique Flores.



Best Keeper So Far

Valdes (Barca)
Casillas (Real Madrid)
Molina (Depor)
Aoaute (Racing Santander)

Marca’s team of the season...

Pinto (Celta Vigo)

Alves (Sevilla)
Puyol (Barca)
Pablo (Atletico)
Pernia (Getafe)

Navas (Sevilla)
Ronaldinho (Barca)
Aimar (Valencia)
Nene (Alaves)

Villa (Valencia)
Eto’o (Barcelona)


In tomorrow’s La Liga Loca - standby for a very rare, midweek match preview.....


All web blog content copyright of La Liga Loca 2006

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Essential Weekend Selection

Round 28

Sunny all week in Spain - the weekend comes and it starts to rain. Again. Still, plenty of good football to watch. Expect the complete opposite to happen in each of the ties previewed below...enjoy.


Getafe (10th) DLDWW v Deportivo (9th) WDWLL
May a plague of locusts descend on the Depor side for making La Liga Loca sit through the abject tedium of their Copa Del Rey semi on Wednesday night - a match that saw them battle for dreadful 0-0 and tumble out of the competition. Good. That’s what happens when you leave your top scorer, Diego Tristan, on the bench. On Saturday, they take on a Getafe side, just needing three more points to achieve safety in the top flight for the season. And they should get them, with any luck. Home win.

Real Sociedad (14th) LLLLW v Barcelona (1st) LWWWL
Such are the expectations on Barca’s broad shoulders that last week’s defeat to Osasuna has kicked off speculation that they may be in the process of ‘doing a Milosevic’ by having a dramatic and unforeseen collapse. Nonsense of course. Barca could lose every single one of their remaining games and Valencia and Real would still never get near them - especially with Ronie on penalty duty at Madrid. As their record of four losses in five shows, Real Sociedad are not exactly in good form either - especially, as their one win was against Depor and therefore only counts as half. La Liga Loca expects Barca to bounce back in style. Away win.

Villarreal (7th) LWDWD v Atletico Madrid (8th) WWWLW
The Darkness v Arctic Monkeys, almost - the former used to big, but not anymore. The latter are the latest thing - but everyone is watching to see if they can maintain their momentum - or will be found out as one trick ponies. It is also a big match in the Braveheart style battle for Europe, that is developing in La Liga. As their form reflects, Villarreal are a bit iffy at the moment and hard to predict, whereas Atletico, despite being a tad lucky last Sunday, are on a veritable roll. Draw.


Sevilla (6th) WWLWL v Mallorca (15th) DWWDD
On paper, Sevilla should be able to sweep aside their opponents, like Silvio Berlesconi with a corruption charge. They are fresh from a famous 2-0 victory over Lille in the UEFA cup - a performance that their manager described as the best of the season - that has put them into the last eight of the competition. Can they continue this momentum against the Lazarus team of La Liga? Yep. If they fail, the entire team should all be made to walk home on their knees - backwards. And then listen to an Il Divo cd all weekend. Home win.

Cadiz (19th) LLLWL v Alaves (17th) WLDLW
Oh dear. La Liga Loca is starting to fear the worst for Cadiz. The giant footballing curtains in the sky are starting to be drawn on their battling campaign to stay in the top flight. All, in all, it is a shame. They have been entertaining fare and are the only team to have fans who actually bother going to away games. But, perhaps Sunday’s match against fellow relegation certainties will be one last swing at the punch bag of survival? Home win.

Espanyol (12th) LLWLW v Osasuna (4th) DWLLW
On Wednesday night, Espanyol finally saw light at the end of the dark tunnel, that has been their season, and fortunately, it wasn’t a train. The successful negotiation of their midweek Copa Del Rey semi that sees puts them into their ninth final, will either see the side sitting on their laurels for the rest of the season, or giving them boost they need to pull away from the relegation battle. Osasuna will no doubt play their usual game - beat the crap out of their opponents - but will do so missing five first team players through inevitable suspensions. Home win.

Racing Santander (13th) WLDDL v Valencia (2nd) WWDDD
A Everest-sized game for Valencia on Sunday night. Fail to win this and a whole galaxy of criticism will be flying in the direction - and rightly so. Three draws in a row, that have allowed Real to pull up on their shoulder, as well as Barca escape at the top, is testament to their recent bottling form. Can David Villa, who has been valued by the club at 150 million euros find his tiny scoring boots again? Well - anything can happen at Racing, the team with the worst home record in the league - but one that enjoys taking on the big cheeses of La Liga. More disappointment for Valencia on the way. Draw.

Malaga (20th) LLLDD v Zaragoza (11th) DDLWL
With Zaragoza’s president claiming, during the week, the monkey noises aimed by the club’s fans at Samuel Eto’o, last month, were nothing more harmless than animal impressions - it is probably too much to hope that him and his nasty club will be banished to the second division for a spell. Instead, that fate will almost certainly fall on Malaga, who are now rooted to the bottom and three points from the nearest team - still, they do still seem to have a bit of fight left in them. Draw.

Real Madrid (3rd) WWLWD v Betis (18th) LLWLD
The good news for Real, during the week, was a new injury to Ronaldo that sees him relegated to the bench, at last. Raul and Baptista are set to start up front - the latter starting to show flashes of his Sevilla form - whilst Becks returns from injury, but may well be keeping Ronie company as a sub. Their opponents, have just been thrashed 3-0 at home in the UEFA cup by Steaua Bucharest and are, to be blunt, utter crap. The game itself should be a walkover - but what will be more interesting on Sunday night, is to see the crowd reaction to president Fernando Martin - the man who reportedly wears ear plugs to games and who refuses to call early elections. I predict a riot. Home win.

Celta Vigo (5th) LLLWL v Athletic Bilbao (16th) LWDLW
After experimenting with tactics last weekend, that saw his team playing like a bunch of girls and losing 2-0 to Espanyol, manager Fernando Vasquez will be looking for a quick victory against struggling opponents who really are making life hard for themselves this season - but in a very entertaining fashion indeed. Home win.


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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Deportivo's Last Stand

Victory or Bust in La Coruna

Whilst Real Madrid’s leadership take time away from their various luncheon engagements to continue their search for a new sporting director, manager, squad, tea lady and club hamster and Barcelona realise that they really do need to find a replacement for Spain’s answer to David James, Victor Valdes, La Liga Loca has dug around to see what else is going on, this week - and as it happens, quite a lot - starting with the small matter of a cup semi final.

At long last, this year’s seemingly eternal Copa Del Rey competition takes one step nearer completion tonight, with Espanyol and Deportivo finally getting together to play their second leg semi final - the first match having taken place back in 1987. Well, not really, but it feels like it.

A combination of the quarter final tie between Depor and Valencia needing a replay and Espanyol’s prolonged run in the UEFA cup, saw both clubs thumbing through their diaries, like two corporate types in Starbucks, trying to find a ‘window’ to finish this particular match off. In fact, if Depor had had their way in court (yes, really), then this game would have taken place next week - perhaps under the assumption that the team would be slightly less useless than they are now.

The encounter itself is finely balanced with Espanyol taking a 2-1 lead to Depor’s Riazor stadium, however, home advantage may be worth squat as La Coruna have not scored in their own ground for one month, nor won there in three. In fact, Deportivo have been a bit of a disaster as of late - they have slipped well out of contention of a Champions League place, with Sunday’s loss to Sociedad being the latest capitulation and are rapidly running out of players due to injuries to key players like Valeron.

Tonight’s match is perhaps the most important of the season for them - a victory and they would still have some small way of salvaging yet another disappointing season. A defeat, and manager, Joaquin Caparros may well be becoming very familiar indeed with, this summer.


Suits You Sir !

A truly breathtaking photo in today’s Marca sees the entire Atletico Madrid squad lining up for a full team photo in the most appalling grey shiny suits imaginable - bad even by Spain’s sartorial standards. Whilst at first, it seemed that fashion god, Fernando Torres had been put in charge of the team’s outfits, (but sadly, not haircuts) it turns out that the club had signed a sponsorship deal with ‘Hugo Boss’ and were very happy about it, indeed.

Delighted club president, Enrique Cerezo, sounding like he had perhaps had an early start on the corporate hospitality, was in full flow and will surely enter next year’s Guinness Book of Records for stretching a metaphor further than anyone has ever managed before. “In these suits, we can beat Villarreal”, proclaimed Atletico’s head, beaming proudly, as he considered his team’s next opponents, “the design is elegant, simple, comfortable and practical - just like us!”.

La Liga Loca feels that a partnership deal with H&M would have been more suitable in representing the club - guaranteed to fall apart in just two months.


“Contrato de Crack”

No, it is not a story about a clause in Kate Moss’s new modelling contract, but ‘Marca’ reporting second place Valencia’s announcement that their star striker David Villa has signed a new deal, keeping him at the club until 2013 - well beyond the date of the apocalypse, currently due in 2008.

Villa, who was bought from Real Zaragoza in the summer for a now trifling 12 million euros, has managed an impressive 15 goals this season and has forced his way into Spain’s starting line-up - although his competition has been the less than prolific Morientes and Raul.

His new buy-out clause is a startlingly large 126 million euros - a price that will almost certainly scare off potential suitors such as Chelsea and Exeter City - whilst, Villa himself stands to earn a tidy 10 million euros over the next seven years. Beers are on David in Valencia - music to Patrick Kluivert’s ears.


In Other News...

The weekend’s “Referees Day’ was an outstanding success in raising the profile of poor, much put upon match officials. A flurry of cards and appalling decisions has lead to twenty seven players, one manager, and a club doctor being banned for next weekend’s round of matches.

Sevilla have the chance to save their season, by losing to visitors Lille, in their second leg UEFA cup tie. They are already half way to their goal and 1-0 from the first encounter. Should they manage the same score or something worse, they can then look forward to qualifying for a proper competition, by trying to finish in the top four.

Athletic Bilbao president, Fernando Lamikiz has reportedly lost 10 kilos in weight from the stress of managing Javier Clemente and his struggling side, as well has fighting off a supposed boardroom revolt. Ronaldo is said to be interested in taking over the post, should Lamikiz want to step down.


A UEFA Cup Preview

Thanks again to James Walker-Roberts for all you could ever need to know about this weeks UEFA cup games, featuring Sevilla and Betis - and some predictions. I hope the La Liga Loca curse, does not spread. Take it away, James...

Whilst Barcelona are blazing through Europe in the Champions League and Villarreal are progressing almost unnoticed it should not be forgotten that some sides do not have the luxury of chasing such prestigious silverware.

For tonight and tomorrow it will not be Madrid or Barcelona or even Valencia under the spotlight but instead all eyes will be turned to Seville where Sevilla and Betis will try to book quarter final places.

Sevilla, currently sitting in sixth in La Liga and vying for fourth spot, already trail their French visitors to the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán tonight by a goal to nil. Lille who are third in Ligue One behind Lyon and Bordeaux at
the moment are unlikely to prove a pushover either as they showed in the first leg where they dominated for much of the game.

The only worry for the French team is that they have already played forty-two games this season and
tiredness is becoming a factor as shown by the absence of Acimovic and Hicham Aboucherouane in tonights squad.

The hosts though are without keeper Antonio Notario, whose misjudgement on a corner gave Lille the goal last
time around, but coach Juande Ramos believes his team ‘will score’.

The problem for them though is that Lille rested numerous players at the weekend and rather than sit tight their coach thinks the best plan is to try and
score goals. Prediction: Draw (1-1)

Betis in complete contrast to Sevilla are the surprise package of La Liga for all the wrong reasons. They are currently third from bottom and in danger of relegation – this is a team who gained qualification for the
Champions League last season and then beat Chelsea in their group.

Despite the poor league form though they have to be favourites against Steaua Bucuresti tomorrow night. The Romanians maybe travelling with a fully fit squad but they after drawing their last two home league games
confidence is not sky-high in the camp.

Betis achieved a 0 – 0 in Romania without the likes of Assuncao, Capi and Angel and with the latter set to return the UEFA Cup could still prove a shining light in a dark season for Los Pepinos.
Prediction : Home win ( 2-0)


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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Chase for Europe

Crystal Ball Time

With Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia looking fairly snug and secure in the top three places, La Liga Loca rates the chances of a cluster of teams who are all in with a shout of a fourth place finish - and with it, the often poisoned chalice of Champions League qualification.

Osasuna: current position - 4th, points - 49

Javier Aguirre’s rather thuggish outfit have been the surprise package of the La Liga this year. Throughout the first half of the season they were nearly unstoppable and won all nine of their home games and, at one point, lead the league table for three straight rounds, before eventually being overhauled by Barcelona.

However, since the start of 2006, Osasuna have been a very different team. A combination of losing momentum, a small squad and the prolonged absence of key players either through injury (Milosevic) or African Cup of Nations duty (Webo) lead to a period of poor form which dropped the side from second, to fourth and after a 2-0 defeat at Celta two weeks ago, in danger of falling out of the top places altogether.

But last Sunday’s knee-crunchingly violent victory over Barcelona was Osasuna returning to their snarling best and could well give the players the confidence they need to push on for the rest of the season. They are in possession of a useful four point gap over their nearest challengers and have all their key players such as Raul Garcia returning to form.

Next weeks tie at Espanyol, when they have five men suspended could be key - a defeat would see them losing their advantage, but a victory would continue to put pressure on everyone else. Ultimately, the fourth place is Osasuna’s to lose and other’s to win.

Celta Vigo: current position - 5th, points - 45

Their rather rubbish performance at Espanyol last weekend, where they lost 2-0, may well give a clue to the side’s real aspirations this season, despite talk of having a bash at a CL spot. La Liga Loca has the feeling that the further away from the initial 40 survival point target the team goes, the less effort the players that the players will put in - and who can blame them? The Celta squad has worked its metaphorical socks off this season and could well be ‘doing a Charlton’ and already planning their summer holidays.

Should they decide to give Europe a bash (and not in the vacationing sense), then they will be relying heavily on their solid defence, as the strikers can sometimes be a little profligate, despite creating lots of chances. If something ‘unfortunate’ were happen to Joao Baiano, (injury-wise, not a Goodfellas style incident) then the odds on Celta making fourth would drop substantially, such is his importance to the team. Overall, La Liga is a marathon not a sprint, and Celta are more Linford Christie than Paula Radcliffe.

Sevilla: current position - 6th, points - 44

Until last weekend, Sevilla looked a very good bet to overhaul Osasuna. They had won three from their last five and were certainties for another victory against lowly Alaves on Sunday - but they lost. Unfortunately, for Sevilla the main problem that they have had this season, stems from the success of last year, when they qualified for the UEFA cup - a competition that they are still in. But only just.

The management and players have confessed that all the travelling this season that has seen them taking their packed lunches and sickbags on exotic midweek trips to places as diverse as Moscow and Bolton has been taking its toll on the squad - and this was clearly reflected in last weekend’s lethargic defeat.

The best thing that Sevilla could do, is lose this week’s UEFA cup second leg tie with Lille (where they are currently 1-0) down and focus on the league. If they do this, then strikers Freddie Kanoute and Saviola also need to pull their fingers out and provide more league goals - they have managed only nine between them this season.

Combine a more prolific attack with an already solid defence and no more European excursions, then Sevilla are in with a decent shout.

Villarreal: current position - 7th, points 43

The supposed Champions League ‘minnows’ are in a similar situation to Sevilla. A superb European run is interfering with their ability to perform consistently in the league. For this reason, they are simply not as strong in La Liga, as the side of last year, where Diego Forlan was a revelation and Juan Roman Riquelme was inspired. This season, they have been very flat and drawing far too many of their games.

Their chances of a 4th place finish, this time round, depend on two questions. How long their CL run continues - they have at least two more ties to play - and if Riquelme can continue playing such a punishing schedule with an ongoing back problem - especially with a beady eye on the summer’s World Cup. At the end of the day, as Alan Shearer would say in his monotonous drone, Villarreal could well be victims of their own success and miss out.

Atletico Madrid: current position - 8th, points 41

If you are looking for a dark horse to sneak into fourth at long odds, then Atletico is for you - but I really recommend not putting any money on it, whatsoever. The world’s unluckiest team have a remarkable ability to stuff things up, often from seemingly unassailable positions. If they went into their last three games, only needing two points - they would manage one.

Nevertheless, they are currently going extraordinarily well under the leadership of the fastest talker in the land, Pepe Murcia. Atletico have won seven out of their last eight (their predictable defeat at Real being the only aberration) and goals are coming in a constant supply from all areas of the pitch - a situation that many of their challengers do not share.

However, keeping up this kind of form will be tough for Atletico, especially with a gap of eight points of Osasuna to close and just eleven rounds to do it.

So, La Liga Loca’s fairly worthless prediction is...

4th - Osasuna
5th - Sevilla
6th - Atletico

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Monday, March 13, 2006

The Curse of Maradona

Quotes of the Week....

"Are you f**king mad!?" - Iker Casillas berates his centre back, Sergio Ramos, for picking up the ball in the penalty area, thinking he had heard the referee's whistle.

“I am convinced we will beat Arsenal” - former Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez, shows that he has not lost the ability to talk absolute bollocks.

“In wanting to win, we lost” - Athletic Bilbao coach, Javier Clemente, again displays his sharp footballing brain, that has continues to keep his team in the frame for relegation.

“The team will save itself through its own merits...and because there are worse ones than us” - more words of wisdom from Javier Clemente.

“At first, things did not go so well, but I kept on working, and I never lost hope” - a relatively upbeat Freddie Kanoute reflects on his less than prolific early days at Sevilla.

“People stop me in the street to tell me that Cesc mustn't go to Madrid” - Papa Fabregas, on how his life could get considerably more difficult should his son swap Highbury for the Bernabeu. Mr Fabregas owns a building firm just to the north of Barcelona.

“You can’t ask for anymore. He has scored more than a hundred goals in three years” - Valencia’s Pablo Aimar backs fellow member of the striker’s union, Ronaldo.

"I feel sorry for Ronaldo, I don't like it when people criticise someone with his quality" - Aimar's teammate Canizares joins in the support for the Brazilan. Perhaps he shouldn't have saved his penalty, if he cares so much!

“Too many kilos, too many years” - Michel Platini is less supportive of poor old Ronie.

“Catalonia is Not Spain” - The wording of a sign allowed into Nou Camp that is going to land Barca in a whole heap on trouble with UEFA, having broken their no politics in football stance - racism is fine though.

“Everyone in Spain, wants Cadiz to stay up!” - Cadiz’ Abraham Paz temporarily discounts the fans of Malaga, Mallorca, Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Betis in his heart warming declaration.

"Our home record is worth crying about" - Deportivo coach, Joaquin Caparros laments losing six games at home this season. Muy mal.

A Special Guest

To kick off the new week, James Walker-Roberts, looks at the why being the 'new Maradona' may be more a curse than a complement.

Mercurial Messi maybe better off without ‘new’ Maradona’s tag

by James Walker-Roberts

When a player is compared to Diego Maradona or is acclaimed to be the ‘new’ Maradona they usually have to be a little bit special – especially when it is the great Diego making the comparison.

The latest to warrant the claim has of course been the young Barcelona star, Lionel Messi. Maradona said of him that ‘ he is different to the rest…he seems to have an extra gear, a sixth speed…. he’s a leader and he’s offering classes in beautiful football for anyone who cares to watch’ and then claimed ‘ I’ve seen the guy who is going to inherit my place in Argentinian football and his name is Messi’. Hearing this young Lionel must have thought his future was there for him on a plate, however if he has done his research he will know praise from Maradona sometimes comes at a price…

One of the first players of the modern era to receive acclaim from Maradona was Pablo Aimar before the 2002 World Cup of whom Diego said, ‘ He’s my natural successor because he plays for fun…he could be our winning card’. Now, whilst it did appear that most of the Argentine team failed to turn up in Japan or Korea, Aimar was one of the most noticeable in front of goal - failing to hit the back of the net once despite being on the pitch for over two hours. Since then he has managed a measly 26 goals in four seasons for Valencia and is no longer a starter in the national first team.

The next Argentine to be applauded by Diego and understandably so was Juan Roman Riquelme who was said to be ‘sensational’ and was an idol at Boca. With these comments in mind possibly he was including in the senior national side at the age of 20 only to find that he was unable to hold a place down. Indeed, once he left Boca after a family kidnapping and financial difficulties and moved to Barcelona he failed to settle in and was swiftly loaned out to Villareal. He has finally prospered at the ‘ Yellow Submarines’ though and has been rewarded by becoming the focal point, deservedly so, of Pekerman’s Argentine team.

The other two players branded with the ‘new Maradona’ tag are D’Alessandro and Carlos Tevez. The former is currently standing out like a fish out of water at Portsmouth whilst Tevez is arguing with teammates at Corinthians – the South American Chelsea. Now whilst there is no doubting their qualities - D’Alessandro is full of tricks and bursts of speed whilst Tevez couldn’t be anymore like Maradona with his low centre of gravity, size and sharp moves - neither of them has really blossomed as of yet. D’Alessandro is already 24 and hasn’t held a place down in the national team whilst Tevez has still got time at the age of twenty-two but must sort his temperamental attitude out.

Maradona did give Messi advice which he presumably gave no other though; ‘ Don’t pay attention when journalists compare you with me’, pretty rich coming from the man who seems determined to make sure all Argentines end up with a ridiculously low centre of gravity and perform enough step-overs to make an audience dizzy.


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Sunday, March 12, 2006

A Sunday Rant

Turkeys Vote Against Christmas

Whether it is because I have seen ‘Goodnight and Good luck’ and ‘Syriana’ in quick succession and it is perhaps provoking a new found sense of righteous indignation, but there is something very dodgy indeed going on at Real Madrid.

When, two weeks ago, Florentino Perez resigned from his position as president of Real, it was assumed by many that it would lead to elections to find a permanent successor - which were due in 2008 - being brought forward, such is the criticality of the next few months to the club.

However, Fernando Martin, who was recently appointed by the Real board to take over from Perez, has declared that elections will not be taking place for another two years - according to the schedule.

Legally, Martin and the board have the right to follow this path. Morally, though, it stinks and they are both displaying a breathtaking lack of respect to the club’s members, who deserve their right to have their say in the future of the team - 82% of the side’s fans, who were recently polled, would agree.

As MARCA pointed out last week, in leading the call for fresh elections, there are a lot of crucial decisions that have to be taken over the next few months within the club, ranging from the choice of the new coach, to the type of players that will be brought into the side, as well the names of those who will be shipped out.

Nevertheless, Martin, when he made his announcement, declared that holding elections straight away would be ‘irresponsible’ and ‘not in the interests of the club’. The immediate replies to this statement would be - ‘who are you decide what are in the interests of the club?’ and ‘why would calling elections be be irresponsible?’

After all, the next few months are set to be fairly quiet, now that the team has been eliminated from Europe and looks fairly likely to secure a top three finish in the league. It would seem to be the perfect time.

Martin also claimed that a new manager would be appointed in May - with Capello as the preferred candidate - and that all the in’s and out’s of the team would be decided by the end of June. That sounds fine - but why not let the club’s hundreds of thousands of members decide if they support that approach?

The answer to this was made self evident on Saturday night during the 0-0 draw at Valencia. Sitting in the box, surrounded by identical looking men in expensive suits and puffing away on cigars, was Fernando Martin - and looking very comfortable indeed.

Why would he want to risk the chance of losing the whopping salary, the chauffeur driven car, and all the the wining and dining that being the head of one of the biggest clubs in the world entails? Just for the sake of a few pesky supporters?

As misguided as Perez’s final few years now look - in striving to make Real the biggest footballing brand in the world by packing the squad with star names - he had the democratic mandate to do so.

Fernando Martin has no such justification, other than being the best mate of the previous guy in charge. Nepotism still reigns in Spain, it seems.

Talking nonsense again? Please e-mail or use the comment box.


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Friday, March 10, 2006

The Very Large Weekend Preview

Seconds Out, Round 27

Six correct predictions for La Liga Loca, last week and it could have been seven, hadn't pesky Valencia decided to give up on the Barcelona chase and draw with Malaga - still, a considerable improvement from previous weeks' lamentable efforts.

Round 27 in La Liga - 12 matches to go. At the end of this weekend, one team will be out of the hunt for the league title, another could be missing out on Europe qualification, whilst at the bottom - a new team could be slipping into the drop zone.


Espanyol (13th) LLLWL v Celta Vigo (5th) WWLWW
A very bad week indeed for Espanyol - possibly worse than that of Real Madrid's. Or perhaps not. The club appears to be unraveling fast with all kinds of bust ups and bickering leaking from the side to the outside world, in regards to the direction of the club. The future of manager, Lotina, is in doubt, whilst the form of the team has been erratic to say the least. Despite a relaxing day out at a spa on Thursday, in an attempt to distract the players a little, there can only be one result against the very excellent Celta, for whom, a Champions League spot is now a realistic goal. Away win.

Deportivo (8th) LWDWL v Real Sociedad (17th) WLLLL
This is very much a 'must win' for Depor. Not only are they slipping away from the Champions League places, but they are also fading from contention for a top 6 finish. However, they have been very unlucky with injuries in recent weeks which is partly the cause for their inconsistency. Fortunately for Depor, their opponents on Saturday are a complete shambles. Real Sociedad have managed to lose four games in a row and are conceding goals at an incredible rate - even La Coruna's Diego Tristan will fancy his chances against them. Home win.

Valencia (3rd) WWWDD v Real Madrid (3rd) WWWLW
For some reason, this match is being described in the Spanish press as 'decaffeinated' - perhaps meaning that the match does not really matter - and they could be right. Both teams should remain in the top three for the rest of the campaign and at ten points behind Barca, both are out of realistic contention of catching them. However, a defeat for one of them on Saturday night and a win for the league leaders, will make this certainty. We all know how Real are doing. Badly - and to make matters worse, they will be facing Valencia without Beckham, a player they have been constantly fielding, despite being injured. Valencia have disappointed many recently, by not making a better fist of the title chase and now seem content in aiming for a second place finish at the end of the season. Home win.


Real Betis (15th) LLLWL v Malaga (20th) WLLLD
When you are in a relegation battle, it really cannot help when you have to go traipsing off to Romania midweek - something that Betis have had to do, in a UEFA cup tie against Steau, although they did manage a creditable 0-0 draw. It is quite probable that, without this distraction, they would have pulled away from the drop zone some time ago. Visitors on Sunday are a team in deep do-do, although their flagging spirits may have been lifted by a fine 0-0 draw against Valencia last week - but not enough to win. Home win.

Zaragoza (10th) WDDLW v Getafe (11th) DDLDW
Two teams looking for those final few victories to make 40 points and probable safety for another year. Not much else to say really. Home win.

Athletic Bilbao (18h) LLWDL v Cadiz (16th) DLLLW
If you like your football mean and messy, then this the tie of the round - a real humdinger, as the Americans would probably not say. Bilbao are back in the relegation zone where they have spent most of the season and cannot seem to get out of it for anything longer than a week. Athletic's Luis Prieto has called this game the most important since he has been at the club and who can argue with that. Home win.

Alaves (19th) DWLDL v Sevilla (6th) LWWLW
Despite being in sixth place and doing fairly well in Europe, La Liga Loca still cannot work out Sevilla and if they are genuine contenders for a CL finish, or will be content with another UEFA cup spot. They were beaten, 1-0, away at Lille on Thursday night and may not fancy a trip to a feisty Alaves, who have shown recently that they know how to score goals - although defending is still a bit of an issue. A shock perhaps? Home win.

Mallorca (14th) LDWWD v Villarreal (7th) DLWDW
Probably a good time to play Villarreal. They are in a very happy place indeed at the moment, having reached the final eight of the Champions League with their draw against Rangers. For this reason, their metaphorical eye may not be on the ball when it comes to Sunday night's visit to the Balearics. Mallorca, themselves, are doing very well at the moment under Gregorio Manzano who has transformed them from relegation certainties, to a team who look quite capable of beating the drop. Home win.

Atletico Madrid (9th) WWWWL v Racing Santander (12th) LWLDD
This match is perhaps the last chance saloon for Atletico's tenuous UEFA cup hopes - a win and the team can still dream of a top six finish, whereas a defeat will drop them back into the midtable pack, where they have spent most of the season - coincidentally, alongside their opponents, Racing, who still continue to defy all predictions. Home win.

Osasuna (4th) WDWLL v Barcelona (1st) LLWWW
A tantalizing tie to finish off the weekend's action. Osasuna are somehow hanging onto fourth place, but only just. Ever since renaming their stadium to the King of Navarra at the end of last year, the team have failed to win in the league there - having won all nine of their home games in the 2005 leg of the season. It is difficult to know what kind of Barcelona they will be taking on - probably a similar one to the team that ground out their 1-1 draw with Chelsea. Draw.


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Thursday, March 09, 2006

"This is The End..."

Real Madrid Call Last Orders

Dearie me. It’s all doom and gloom in MARCA this morning, after Real’s defeat at Highbury and to be fair, with good reason. The paper leads with the proclamation that the Florentino Perez era is officially over and that the death knell of the galactico age has been rung.

Such is their unhappiness with the Real performance and ‘unusual’ team selection, that the paper is taking the bold step of demanding that the club call immediate presidential elections to allow the fans to have a say in the future direction of the team, rather than allow the current incumbent, Fernando Martin, to continue to 2008 - which he is entitled to.

For once, MARCA have a point - there were many unanswered questions from Wednesday’s defeat. Why were Robinho, Cicinho and Baptista left sitting on the bench until the latter stages of the game, when, quite frankly it was too late for them to make any impact? Why was Beckham playing, when he was clearly hampered by injury? When is Roberto Carlos going to learn to track back? Why was the defence so disorganised?

Now that the club is out of Europe in the early stages, for the second year running and seems to be rudderless, MARCA is calling for answers to the following questions.

Who is going to be the new trainer?
Which players will be shown the door in the summer?
Who will be coming in?
How should the club be structured?

All good questions, but it remains to be seen, if the club will listen to any of them.


Villarreal, Champions of Europe

As the kids of today would perhaps say, it is time to ‘big up’ the fantastic performance of Villarreal in progressing to the quarter finals of the Champions League - a superb achievement from a small town club with few stars in the team. In fact, their European record for the whole season has been incredible - 10 matches unbeaten - and quite frankly the team deserve a lot more respect that many writers and commentators are giving them, with many a British paper claiming that they would be a pushover for some of the bigger names in the last eight.

Tuesday night saw a titanic struggle between the home team, who did not play at all well and Rangers, who impressed all with their gutsy play and ‘never say die’ attitude. However, in the end, it was a very relieved Villarreal who left the pitch, victorious - but only just. As AS remarked - “Nobody said it was going to be easy”.


In Other News....

Things seem to be going from bad to worse for Deportivo on the injury front. First, Carlos Valeron was ruled out for the season, then Jorge Andrade was waylaid for six months in last week’s clash at Barca. On Wednesday, striker Sebastian Taborda joined the sick list with a muscle problem and looks set to miss the next two months of the season.

The Spanish FA have decided that this year’s Copa Del Rey final will take place on the 12th April, in Real Madrid’s Bernabeu stadium - the nearest the club are going to get to any silverware this season. The final leg of the remaining semi final takes place next Thursday, 16th March, between Depor and Espanyol - the winner to face Real Zaragoza in the capital.

UEFA cup action tonight sees both the Spanish sides, still in the competion, playing their away legs, with Sevilla at Lille and Betis taking on Steua Bucharest.

The Last Word....

Thanks to Andy who emailed in to and who makes some fine points on the state of play at Real Madrid. In tomorrow’s edition - the famous weekend preview.

After watching the boondoggle that is Real Madrid go down to Arsenal in the Champions League today, a surge of hubris overtook me. I realized the proper Real Madrid configuration for winning titles.

It was a configuration that they would never have the guts to play...but that they should play. The main thing it required was courage...courage to leave Raul off the field.

So here's my system: it's a 4-3-3 (a la Frank Rijkaard)
Robinho -- Ronaldo -- Cassano
Zidane -- Baptista -- Beckham
Carlos -- Ramos -- Woodgate -- Cicinho

Robinho: Can you really afford to keep him on the bench, with all that speed and skill. Sure he's green, but he's getting better. I'd take him over Raul.

Ronaldo: They say he's fat and unmotivated. But I wager that if you put the big man up there with some players worthy of his talent, you'll see him come alive. I think that's why he loves playing for Brazil.

Cassano: The guy's in his early twenties for Christ sake and scored a ton for Roma. He'll get fit on the pitch.

Zidane: The maestro's getting slower...but still the maestro.

Bapista: I'd put him on over Graveson. He'll speed up the game...he can tackle...and he's courageous.

Beckham: Dead ball specialist. I would push him up higher where he can see the goal.

Carlos: Another dead ball specialist...runs like an 18 year old. Saved Real from embarrassment today.

Ramos: Best purchase of the season.

Woodgate:Actually a tremendous defender...if he can stay on the pitch

Cicinho: He's a basket of tricks this one...true he doesn't defend much...but he's got the heart of a lion.

Its time to give the young horses a chance.
You really must start Robinho, Cassano, Baptista, Cicinho.
Its not that these guys get it right all the time.

Arguably Baptista needs more work...but you really have to let the young horses start the game. Its ridiculous how tired Real looked today (except for Roberto Carlos).

Baptista and Robinho could run all day. And Cicinho (the reluctant defender) just has too much talent to leave off
the pitch.

I'd surround a fat Ronaldo with these guys and get results every week.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"It Doesn't Matter To Me If He Plays or Not..."

Warm words from Real Madrid's Fernando Martin

You have to feel a little bit sorry for Ronaldo these days - as hard as it is to have sympathy for a millionaire, World Cup winning, playboy footballer - but he really is being hung out to dry by the Spanish footballing press and seeing as the most its participants are quite blatantly in the pocket of his galactic club, one has to wonder whether there is some dastardly spin campaign going on somewhere - not that Real would ever stoop to that level, of course. Not for one moment.

True, Ronaldo did not exactly help his situation when, the previous week, he publicly complained about feeling unloved by the Bernabeu crowd and was unsure as to whether he would be staying on at the club at the end of the season. However, the Brazilian, despite missing most of the season injured, is still the side’s top scorer and his playing style - which can charitably be described as languid - has not changed one iota since he arrived at the club. So what gives?

Well, ever since Florentino Perez’ resignation, just one week ago and his subsequent condemnation of ‘poorly educated’ players in the team, it became apparent that a scapegoat was going to be needed to take some of the heat off the club leadership and make the new prez, Fernando Martin look tough - and it has come in the shape of the rotund rocket, Ronaldo.

Yesterday, MARCA speculated to some length on whether Ronaldo should be in the starting eleven against Arsenal, having been dropped for Saturday’s derby - a subject that would have been unthinkable, just two weeks ago.

They even cite an example of his evil influence in the club by publishing a photo of one of the Real youth teams mimicking his infamous (and rather rubbish) cockroach goal celebration. Overall, there is something fishy going on. It is either a genuine campaign to force him out of the club, or a series of bluffs, designed to make Arsenal believe that he will be watching the game from the stands - either way, we shall see.


Trouble in the Basque Country - Football Trouble that is

Things are not going too well in the wilds of Euskadi - as the locals call it - with the region facing the very real threat of not having a footballing representative in the top flight for the first time in the league’s 128 year history.

Athletic Bilbao Real Sociedad and Alaves are three teams having dreadful seasons and it would not be a great shock if all were to lose their respective relegation battles. Alaves and Athletic are currently second and third from bottom respectively, whilst Sociedad have managed to lose four games in a row to end up perched just two points and one place above the drop zone. The big debate, currently raging in the consonant obsessed Basque country is what exactly has happened to this former footballing powerhouse?

Well, for Athletic, their policy of only recruiting locally born and bread talent to the team means that their ability to compete with the other sides of the La Liga is making life harder and harder for the club, as their opponents are able to spread their nets far and wide and bring in players from all four corners of the world.

Bilbao, in contrast, have a catchment area of about 3 square miles. The fact that they have a manager, Javier Clemente, who spends most of his time insulting journalists and boasting of his previous achievements, rather than attending to the team, does not help a great deal.

Alaves and Sociedad? Quite simply, neither can defend to save their lives and they do not even have the same handy excuse as their neighbours in Bilbao, as both are happy to field players from wherever.

All three teams have twelve more games to save their skins but with other sides such as Malaga, Mallorca, Betis and Cadiz also in the mire - the odds are that at least one club will continue to represent their homeland in next season’s league. But which one?

Have Your Say...

In response to the Saturday rant, concerning Real Madrid’s new president and how he offers nothing new to the club - a great post from Andy, out there in the internet ether. Thanks Andy.

“Real's problem is very simple and has much to do with the powerlessness of the coach. The president needs to let the coach run the policy of buying players. They also need to commit to a coach that fits the overall goals of the club and to commit to a long term project with that coach.

I've always said that Real Madrid is a victim of its past success. Everyone at Real feels compelled to repeat the mantra of Real being a "Great Club” as if hypnotised by the club's past successes. The Real board also seem addicted to short-term success and seem unwilling to commit to a long term project. Its like buying high-priced players is a drug and they don't want to give up the high.

These guys won't face reality. In today's world all clubs have access to the latest technology and techniques when it comes to playing football and developing players. It therefore takes many years of sustained effort to build and nurture a championship team. Also most players on winning teams are relatively unknown and are cultivated by a coach and system. Note how Wenger is painstakingly constructing the new Arsenal with many unknown players.

Note how Rijkaard has created stars out of overlooked players like Eto’o. See how Real Madrid cultivated Raul into an icon.
The present Real Madrid board does not seem to understand this and you are right when you say that the new president will not be any different.

All of the many coaches they hired in the past two years were very good managers. They just never gave them a chance. At the slightest hint of trouble, they were dropped. Then the board marvels at the disunity in the players. How can the players be united when the board will not rally around their manager.

Ronaldo is not the problem. Sure he has issues. But the Real Madrid leadership must look within themselves and let the coach deal with Ronaldo, Raul, Beckham, etc...”

Anything you want to get off your chest? Just send it through to or use the comment box......(if it works!)


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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"Translator of **** !"

The Battle of Britain - Part 2

At last, all the talking, ranting, raving and all round nonsense of the last two weeks is nearly over and Barcelona and Chelsea can get on with the business of actually playing a game of football. By now, the extraordinary friendly welcome by the good people of Barcelona to the modest and ever-popular Jose Mourinho has been broadcast around the world for all to see.

Quite frankly, it was general mayhem in the Catalan capital - eggs thrown by the fans, taunts of "translator of shit ! translator of shit !" (in reference to his previous role at the club, where he was Bobby Robson's assistant) - and may more things that would even make potty-mouthed Bryan Robson blush.

The local Barca sporting paper, imaginatively titled "Sport", has a full edition dedicated to how much they hate Chelsea, the manager and their style of playing, which they delicately refer to as "different" and "direct". Their headline screams "100,000 against 11...and Mourinho" - a rallying call to the sometimes deathly quiet Nou Camp faithful, although their silence often has more to do with those in the upper tiers having frozen to death, rather than a lack of passion.

While Barca go into the game as clear favourites, it remains to be seen if Jose has a trick or two up is sleeve to turn the game around. The home side looked very dodgy indeed on set pieces on Sunday, having conceded two goals from them and Van Bronckhorst (or Gio as he is known in Spain, where is name is more or less unpronounceable) has always been a little suspect at left back. Can Chelsea exploit these chinks in the Barca armour? Let's see.

Villarreal, down the road a bit, are more concerned about legions of ticketless Rangers fans descending on their small town, just to the north of Valencia. However, should they turn their attentions to tonight's game, they can be fairly optimistic of passing through to the quarters with patched up Juan Roman Riquelme in good form and Diego Forlan finding his scoring boots again.


Espanyol Looking Over their Shoulder

Worrying times for the long suffering and baldy Espanyol coach, Miguel Angel Lotina, who appears to be losing more and more hair by the day and is having the same problem with football matches. After finishing 5th last season, his team have been fairly hopeless this year and have spent much of it flirting with the relegation zone, whilst an exhausting UEFA cup run was ended recently, with a 3-0 home thumping from Bundesliga outfit Schalke 04.

Interviewed this weekend, Lotina was fairly frank about his future (or lack of it) at the club and how it hinged on two matches - the weekend clash at Cadiz and the second half of their Copa del Rey semi with Deportivo La Coruna, due to take place on 15th of March, where they hold a 2-1 advantage but must play away in La Riazor.

Well, a disappointing 2-0 defeat at Cadiz spells big trouble for the Espanyol coach, who cannot seem to get any kind of consistency out of his team - the previous weekend saw a 5-0 thrashing of Sevilla - and he is just as baffled as the club'’s supporters at their lacklustre performance on Sunday afternoon, "we were never better than them (Cadiz), not for one single moment"

Espanyol are an ambitious club and their recently re-elected president, Daniel Sanchez Llibre will perhaps now only accept a Copa del Rey victory, as a way for Lotina to continue in his post for another year.

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