Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Chunky Weekend Preview

Round 34

First up before the weekend preview, a short update on the late night goings on at Real Madrid. As has already been announced to the watching world, Fernando Martin was forced to step down from the post of club president, after a club board voted 15 -1 against his leadership continuing.

Taking over, on a temporary basis, is 83 year old Luis Gomez-Montegano who will be the club’s third president of the season, but this keeps things in line with the current revolving door policy of the club that has seen four directors of sport and mangers appointed, this year. In fact, looking at the photo of the old timer, it would not be a surprise if president number four was needed, sometime soon.

Fernando Martin, after he shuffled off into the distance, muttering and cursing, vowed to stand in the next presidential elections, which are expected to be held either in June or July.

If anyone out there is considering participating in them - think again. The rules of the club say that any candidate must be Spanish, a Real Madrid member for at least 10 years and completely loaded.

Seconds Out - Round 34

Four games to go and things are getting a little tense in La Liga, with everyone harping on about ‘four finals’ being left - everyone except Zaragoza that is.

Who can escape from the relegation mire? Will Osasuna sink strife torn Real Madrid? And can Getafe really qualify for the UEFA cup? All this and more....


Real Betis (14th) WWDLL v Athletic Bilbao (15th) DWDDLD
A victory for either of these two hopeless cases would probably be enough to secure safety for the season, but it is questionable if they are capable of achieving it. Betis, after a decent run last month, have lost the plot a little in recent games and had the embarrassment of being rolled over by Espanyol, of all teams, last weekend. Bilbao, on the other hand completely blew it in the last ten minutes of their encounter with Valencia and allowed David Villa to knock in a hat trick in just ten minutes. Quite impressive really. Neither side are exactly prolific, but Betis should just have the edge through home advantage, but Athletic can be tricky to break down when they want to be - unless your name is David Villa, that is. Home win.

Deportivo (7th) LWDDD v Celta Vigo (5th) WWLWW
On Saturday night, Depor are suddenly going to have a lot new fans in the city of Madrid. Their opponents, Celta are just five points off the Galacticos, having been on an incredible run with four victories in five, and a starting to finally believe that a previously unlikely Champions league spot is very doable. A victory for Celta would see this dream, one step closer, whilst a defeat would probably spell the end. Deportivo have had a lousy season, are lousy now and it is a minor miracle how they are still in contention for a top six finish, considering they have only won a single match in the last five. Draw.

Barcelona (1st) WDDDW v Cadiz (19th) DLDWD
With their minimalist performance against AC Milan on Wednesday night that carried on the recent tradition for dull as ditch water CL semi’s, Barca can now refocus on securing the league title, now that their place in the final has been sorted out. Theoretically, they could have it all wrapped up on Saturday night, should they beat Cadiz (which they will) and Valencia lose their match, the following day. In recent weeks Frank Rijkaard has taken to resting the big names in the league, but this weekend, he should be playing all the big guns against opponents who could well be in for a rough ride at the Nou Camp. Home win.


Valencia (2nd) LWWWW v Alaves (18th) DDLDL
For a while there, everyone was a little worried about Valencia. A good first two thirds of the season, looked like being spoilt by a very iffy spell in March, when the club had started turning on each other - as so often happens in the Mestalla. Luckily for all concerned, they have been superb in recent weeks - mainly down to David Villa managing to find his metaphorical shooting boots again. Relegation threatened Alaves, can be obstinate opponents but have little attacking threat to worry Valencia. Home win.

Real Zaragoza (11th) DLDLL v Espanyol (13th) DDDLW
And so the living footballing corpse that is Real Zaragoza shuffles back into another weekend of action, like a zombie in Silent Hill. Since losing the Copa del Rey final in such spectacular fashion a couple of weeks ago, they have lost both their subsequent encounters. The fact that they have been safe in mid table with absolutely nothing to play for, has not helped their predicament. However, they are a decent side under all that indifference and they will have to wake up at some point. Home win.

Real Sociedad (12th) LWDWW v Sevilla (6th) WWLDD
When Mark Gonzalez was signed by Liverpool from Albacete - a crap heap with a club not that much better - most people thought that Rafa Benitiez had lost the plot, however, the Chilean midfielder is the man that has single-handedly saved Sociedad from relegation, since his loan spell in San Sebastian started. His four goals in a row have pushed Real into mid table safety, although one more victory is needed to make extra, extra sure. They should get it against war weary Sevilla. Home win.

Getafe (9th) WWWDW v Villarreal (10th) LWDLL
Well, well, well. At the start of the season, all Getafe wanted was 40 points to secure another year in the first division, then it was a strong finish to see how far up the table they could get. However, four wins in five has given them a realistic chance of a UEFA cup place, if they can carry on their form until the end of the season. If they manage it, they would fully deserve a party around Madrid’s Cibeles roundabout - it’s not as if Real are going to be using it anytime soon. Difficult to know what kind of Villarreal Getafe are going to face, after their cruel CL knock out at the hands of Arsenal. Down in the dumps, or strong and determined? A bit of both, perhaps. Draw.

Malaga (20th) DLLDL v Racing Santander (16th) DLDLL
A less than tantalising tie between two of the worst teams in the league at the moment. No matter what Malaga do on Sunday night, they look set to be relegated, with much grumbling and cursing from manager Manolo Hierro as he blames everything but himself and the team for the demise of his side. Santander, who ditched their own coach last weekend are in a big whole and may only survive this season, through a number of other teams being considerably worse than them. Which is really saying something. Malaga to go down with a whimper. Draw.

Atletico Madrid (8th) DLDWW v Mallorca (17th) DLLDL
Let’s look at the evidence for this tie. Theoretical hot favourites, Atletico have won their last two matches, club captain Fernando Torres is expected to return to the side, they are back in with a shout of a top six finish and are playing opponents who have not won a game in what seems like years, cannot score and may well be relegated. Mmm. Away win.

Osasuna (4th) LLWDW v Real Madrid (3rd) WDDDW
Real Madrid really won’t be looking forward to this game at all, on Sunday night. Osasuna are a team who like nothing more than beating the crap out of big name opponents, as their victory over Barca last month showed - a match where Frank Rijkaard’s men managed to have two players sent off. However, in a desperate attempt to look for some silver lining for Real in another forgettable week, they have not been defeated in the league in eight and are capable of grinding out results, if need be. Osasuna, have been in less than spectacular form of late and may not have the game, all their own way. Home win.


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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Yellow and Goodbye for Villarreal

“Goodbye Cruel Football”

“Bloody Penalties” was the headline in Marca this morning, in reaction to Juan Roman Riquelme’s last minute spot kick miss against Arsenal that spelled the end of the Yellow Submarines’ epic European adventure. Unfortunately, not even a late tip off from Liverpool’s goal keeping coach, Ochotorena, on Jens Lehmann’s penalty saving technique was enough to help them in being the first team to score against the German ‘keeper in Europe, this season.

On the whole, a number of words can be used to describe their performance on Tuesday night - plucky, spirited, gritty, feisty - but, ultimately, they should feel proud that they were able to give Arsenal a bit of scare, in front of the watching millions and get within a knat’s picnic blanket of the Champions League final. Unfortunately for Villarreal, their poor finishing let them down again - a situation that has blighted them all season, especially in Europe.

The reaction from the Villarreal camp was, as to be expected, a mixture of disappointment and frustration that can only be born out of losing through a misplaced penalty. However, Manuel Pellegrini, the Villarreal coach was quick to ensure that there was no blame to be placed at the foot of Riquelme, who, for the most part, had a very disappointing couple of games against the Gunners - “he is not to blame for us being eliminated, he took the responsibility for the penalty kick and he missed. It doesn’t matter”, said the Chilean manager after the game, “I actually blame that half wit Guille Franco, who couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo”, he probably wanted to say.

Although there were tears from Villarreal president, Fernando Roig, at the end of the match, he will soon be cheered up by the 12 million euros in prize money that will be heading in his direction, for their semi-final finish, as well as some useful cash from the sale of the tv rights.

The big question now, is how Villarreal are going to react to the defeat. Are they going to “do a Zaragoza”, who been in shocking form since their defeat in the Copa del Rey final? Or are they going to use the experience in Europe to spur them onto to a top six finish? If it is the latter, they had best get a move on, seeing as they are rapidly losing ground on their rivals for a precious UEFA cup spot.

“It’s time to leave football”

In what has been the least surprising announcement, this week, the legendary Frenchman Zinedine Zidane has decided to hang up his boots at the end of the season and retire, one season earlier than originally planned. And about time too.

For the past two seasons, apart from the odd moment of the old genius, Zidane has been hopeless and his form has mirrored that of his club - bereft of inspiration, motivation and energy.

Of course, it would be a tad unfair to simply pass judgement on one of the best players of a generation, solely by looking at the last couple of years, so for the purposes of balance - here are his medals.

World Cup 1998, Eurocopa 2000, Champions League 2002, World Player of the Year 1998, 1 La Liga title and 2 Scudettos. Not that bad really.

Au revoir et bon chance, Zizou.

Spanish FA to don Lederhosen

Finding a time to replay Sunday’s postponed Sevilla v Barcelona clash is going to be as problematical, as expected, with the end of the season beckoning and available windows hard to come by. On Tuesday, representatives of the two clubs involved and the Spanish FA got out their calendars and tried to thrash out a date when the two sides could meet, but without success.

The main cause of the problem is the ongoing success of Sevilla in Europe - should the Andalusians battle past Schalke 04 on Thursday and make it to the UEFA cup final, then the one possible date in the diary, 10th May will be impossible. For this reason, those in power in Spain and quite possibly in FIFA, will be cheering on the Germans on Thursday night, as there genuinely does not seem to be any other time when the Barca clash can take place.

This is Sevilla’s current schedule - 30 April: Sociedad (A), 3rd May: Getafe (H), 7th May: Malaga (A), 10th May: UEFA cup final?, 14th May: Real Madrid (A).

The only option left would be to play the match a week after the league season was supposed to finish, but this would lead to no end of trouble. Sevilla are in contention for a UEFA cup spot and could be left in a situation of knowing exactly what result would be sufficient against Barca. One can imagine their rivals are already having a quiet word with their lawyers.

Another barrier to this plan would be the national federations of the players featuring in the match, who would be less than happy by a week’s extension to the Spanish season.

This could get very messy, indeed. Bratwurst anyone?

In Other News...

Very, very, very late news - Fernando Martin has resigned as president of Real Madrid, after just two fun filled months in the job - a decision that will trigger new elections at the end of the season. More fallout from the Bernabeu to come over the next few days...

Good news for Getafe’s Mariano Pernia and bad news for Chelsea’s Aiser del Horno. The league’s top scoring defender, free kick wizard and Atletico bound left back has finally completed his nationality transfer and is now able to call himself a Spaniard (and an Argentinean). Pernia could now find himself off to the World Cup as his form this season has been extremely impressive and has caught the attention of Luis Aragones, the Spanish coach. As Atletico Madrid’s Antonio Lopez is the current first choice in Spain’s first eleven, Pernia looks set to do battle with del Horno to be his back up, in Germany.

Transfer Gossip...rarely used Villarreal captain, Javier Carreja, to move to Getafe...Arsenal’s Robert Pires definitely off to Villarreal, “who wouldn’t want to play here?”, he commented...Valencia coach, Quique Sanchez Flores to renew contract in next couple of weeks...Valencia’s 20 year old Alboil to Real Madrid...Liverpooj’s Mark Gonzalez to make loan stay at Sociedad permanent.


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Going Down, Going Down, Going Down?

Being relegated from La Primera is a pretty serious matter - any club unfortunate enough to drop out of the top flight faces a spell in the wilderness with little or no media coverage and visits to Malaga B and Levante - all in all, a very lonely existence.

It’s no wonder, then, that his year’s relegation battle is a such a fiercely fought one, with nearly all the teams involved fighting like mad to stay up...but three must go down, so with four games to go, it is time to sort out which of those caught in the mire will be visiting Valencia or Valladolid, next year.

The runners and riders are list here with their current league position, points total and remaining matches. Exempt from the list are Betis, Sociedad and Espanyol, who could all go down mathematically, but only need a couple more points each to stay up.

15th Athletic Bilbao - 35 points: Real Betis (A), Zaragoza (H), Deportivo (A), Barca (H)

With 40 points as the magic survival barrier in La Liga, Bilbao are going to have to dig out at least a win and a cheeky draw from these ties - and it is something they should be able to do. They were desperately unlucky on Sunday evening, in their 3-0 defeat by Valencia. For much of the game, they were the better team and it was only one man goal-keeping show from Canizares in the opposition goal that kept them from grabbing the victory. Manager Javier Clemente has ordered that the doors be closed on the club, this week, as they prepare for four games to avoid relegation for the first time in their history, but they should be ok.

16th Racing Santander - 34 points: Malaga (A), Real Madrid (H), Osasuna (H), Villarreal (A)

Oh dear. Racing are in deep, deep trouble - in really bad form and now without a manager, after the resignation of Manolo Preciado on Sunday, after their 3-1 home defeat to Getafe. Looking at their remaining games, it is difficult to know where they are going to pick up five or six points. Their opponents include three fighting for European places and one desperately battling relegation. On the bright side, relegation for La Liga’s version of Aston Villa would be the most interesting thing to have happened to the club and their fans for some time.

17th Real Mallorca - 34 points: Atletico (A), Valencia (H), Betis (A), Zaragoza (H)

On paper, the run in for Mallorca looks fairly tough with a visit from high flying Valencia sticking out like a sore thumb, however, this team are a tough bunch and are more than capable of grinding out a few draws and a sneaky win if need be. They could not have picked better opponents than Zaragoza for their final match of the season, so if they can sneak a couple of points in between, they will have a fighting chance of staying up.

18th Alaves - 33 points: Valencia (A), Betis (H), Zaragoza (A), Deportivo (A)

It may be too late for crazy Dmitri Piterman’s Alaves - despite a fine battle to avoid the drop in the second half of the season, the goals of John Aloisi - which they are almost entirely dependant on - have dried up recently and this has left the side with too much to do in the final run in, to save themselves. However, should the Australian striker return to form, Alaves may be capable of picking up a couple of victories at Betis and Zaragoza and maybe a point at Depor - but it is a long shot.

19th Cadiz - 32 points: Barcelona (A), Real Sociedad (A), Celta (H), Malaga (H)
Cadiz need to win at least three of these games and realistically, they only have a chance in one of them, Malaga. It is been a fine battle all season for Cadiz, in their attempt to stay in the top flight, but soon, it will be over.

20th Malaga - 24 points: Racing (H), Villarreal (A), Sevilla (H), Cadiz (A)
Down, down, down, down, down. Down. Probably, this weekend.

Prediction - Farewell to Malaga, Cadiz and Alaves


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Monday, April 24, 2006

Stormy Weather

More Nonsense

“If we play with the same intensity, we’ll be in the final in Paris” - Barca president, Joan Laporta, is fairly confident in victory against Milan. Especially after divine intervention gave his team an extra long rest, with the suspension of the Sevilla clash.

“You can’t say it was a great season, when you’re not in Europe” - Atletico’s Teddy Luccin is not a happy bunny.

“I’m not in the job to listen to critics” - Javier Aguirre, Osasuna’s ever excellent manager.

“An Austrian?! Couldn’t they find anyone better for the semi finals of the Champions League?” Villarreal president Fernando Roig is forced to cancel his weekend away break to Vienna, after this little post-Arsenal outburst.

“In Spain, there’s neither racism, nor xenophobia in football, nor in sport” - Martin Navarrete, head of the referee’s organisation with his finger on the pulse of Spanish society.

“We ‘re going to try to win. We’re not going for a draw” -Dmitry Piterman, Alaves coach, who actually managed neither of these two achievements on Saturday night, in their defeat to Atletico Madrid.

“Out ! Out ! Out !” - How the Alaves crowd responded to Mr Piterman’s performance.

“I’m very proud of them. I’m so happy” - Celta Vigo coach, Fernando Vasquez, with good reason to feel chuffed after his side demolished Zaragoza 4-0 - although a pub team could probably manage a similar feat these days.

“Yet again, we have lost another opportunity of getting three points” - Cadiz manager, Victor Esparrago is starting to feel the strain, after a 1-1 draw with Depor.

“Barca are the ones who have dominated the league, but we have played the best” - Getafe manager, Bernd Schuster - and who could deny him his boast?

“The next nine points are life and death” - Osasuna coach, Javier Aguirre, gets a little carried away.

“I know that I’m a candidate for the manager’s position and it’s an honour” - Bernd Schuster revealing the worst kept secret in Spanish football and says he would have to consider any offer from Real Madrid for the hot seat.


In Other News....

Racing Santander coach, Manolo Preciado, has handed in his resignation in reaction to the 3-1 home defeat to Getafe. He claimed that it was the ‘smart thing to do’ and that he could no longer motivate his team, who are slipping dangerously towards the relegation zone. No word as yet on his replacement.

Spurious gossip - Getafe president and life long Real fan, Angel Torres is considering selling his shares in the club - and possibly running for the the top job at the Bernabeu. One would imagine that Bernd Schuster would then be a shoo-in for coach.

Zizou is expected to announce his imminent retirement from football this week.....Valencia are starting to consider five different bids for the construction of the new Mestalla.....Arsenal’s Roberto Pires to start talks with Villarreal and Liverpool are set to be poking around Barca’s flying winger Giuly for a possible summer swoop.




Eto’o - 24 goals
Villa - 22 goals
Ronaldinho - 15 goals

Best Coach - (as rated by Marca)

Schuster - Getafe
Rijkaard - Barca
Aguirre - Osasuna

Team of the Season...So Far

Pinto - Celta Vigo

Angel - Celta
Puyol - Barca
Pablo - Atletico
Pernia - Getafe

Alves - Sevilla
Aimar - Valencia
Ronaldinho - Barca
Silva - Celta

Villa - Valencia
Eto’o - Barca


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Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Big Weekend Preview

This week’s famous weekend preview is sponsored by Madrid’s finest lunchtime hangout - Para Comer - The British Sandwich Shop, calle Sagasta 24.

Well, just five more rounds to go and La Liga Loca is still on a bit of a high after a whopping five correct predictions last week. Let’s see if it is a mere fluke in a weekend of action that pits the league’s two crisis clubs against each other and offers up the chance of a new player joining the chase for a Champions League spot.


Villarreal (8th) DLWDL v Real Sociedad (14th) LLWDW
Fresh from hurling themselves around the Highbury turf in vain attempts to win free kicks, Villarreal must again face the grim reality that is their league situation. A string of poor results has left Europe’s finest in severe danger of having nothing to show for their season’s heroic efforts, apart from a nifty postcard collection. On Saturday, Villarreal face a side, who for a while, looked serious relegation candidates. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of Liverpool’s Mark Gonzalez and his wonder strikes, Real are just five more points from safety. However, that is how far they will still be on Sunday morning. Home win.

Alaves (18th) WDDLD v Atletico Madrid (9th) LDLDW
Mad Dmitry Piterman, in plotting Alaves’ escape from the relegation zone, should have this game circled in red in his evil desk diary, as a definite chance for three points. Atletico have given up on their chances of Europe this season and are facing their opponents without the services of Kezman and Torres - although, judging the recent form of both of them, this may not necessarily be such a problem as it would first appear. Home win.

Celta (5th) LWWLW v Real Zaragoza (11th) DDLDL
A very, very, very, very big game for Celta. Very big. A win and a slip up from Osasuna in fourth, just five points ahead, would give Celta a reasonable chance of barging into the pack above them and sneaking a last minute CL spot. Not bad for a club who were expected to struggle in their return to the top flight. Their opponents are metaphorically moping around in their dressing gowns and watching endless repeats of Neighbours. Nothing to play for in the league, sulking from their Copa del Rey humiliation and with new doubts thrown into the viability of their planned new stadium, these are dark times indeed for Zaragoza. And they are going to get darker. Home win.


Cadiz (19th) LDLDW v Deportivo (7th) WLWDD
With their unlikely win at Zaragoza, last week - although, not so unlikely in retrospect - Cadiz gave themselves a tiny, tiny chance of surviving the drop, however, they are still three points from the edge of the relegation zone. On Sunday, they take on Depor - a club trudging along and just keeping within touching distance of the top six. A couple of poor draws in recent rounds means that Depor are going to have to go for the win in Andalusia. And they should get it. Away win.

Espanyol (16h) DDDDL v Real Betis (12th) WWWDL
For weeks now, La Liga Loca has been warning Espanyol that they had better get their act together and start focussing on the league, but have they listened? No. A series of awful, awful results has left the Copa Del Rey champions facing the serious possibility of ‘doing an Ipswich’ and participating in next year’s UEFA cup from the depths of the second division. They are expecting a very rare sell-out crowd at their delightful Montjuic stadium on Sunday, to cheer them on against opponents who need just three more points to ensure safety. However, they will have to keep waiting. Home win.

Athletic Bilbao (13th) DWDDL v Valencia (2nd) DLWWW
La Liga Loca remembers seeing a film a few years ago called “They shoot horses, don’t they?” about a marathon dance competition set in the Depression, where desperate, exhausted contestants propped each other up, just to be the last left standing to win the first prize. This is Bilbao at the moment, a team who are stumbling from match to match, desperately seeking 40 points, so they can go and lie down for the summer. Valencia, however, are not going oblige. Away win.

Mallorca (17th) WLDDD v Osasuna (4th) WLLWD
Just when you think that Osasuna have got themselves into a groove and are making the final push for a well deserved Champions League spot, they bugger it up. Last week’s example was a lamentable 1-1 home draw against Malaga - and they were lucky to get that. Their opponents are the increasingly dull Mallorca who are battling relegation by grinding out a series of painful draws. With five games left and six more points to get. They need to convert a couple into wins. And they could do it on Sunday. Home win.

Racing Santander (15th) LDLDL v Getafe (10th) LWWWD
Santander’s current flirt with relegation is the most interesting thing that has happened to the club for years - so the fans may well be enjoying the experience in a perverse way. Or perhaps not. They are still bad at home, whilst Getafe - who harbour hopes of a top six finish - are more than capable of pulling off their fourth win in five. But they probably won’t. Draw.

Real Madrid (3rd) DWDDD v Malaga (20th) LDLLD
It was a week of plot losing all round for these two teams. Off the pitch, personality blackhole and Real president Fernando Martin looks set to be ousted in a boardroom coup, whilst on the pitch the side are boring the country to death with their new craze for 1-1 draws. Malaga, on the other hand, are back to fighting each other on the training ground - a bit of a theme this season - whilst their coach talked himself into a probable fine by repeatedly referring to a linesman from last weekend’s Osasuna match as a ‘w%nker’, in an interview. With Ronaldo and Raul both missing (but Raul actually on the pitch) and Cassano still fat, Real are really struggling for goals. But they should find a couple on Sunday night. Home win.

Sevilla (6th) WWLDD v Barcelona (1st) WDDDW
This could be a bit of a flat one. At time of writing Sevilla are battling hard against Schalke 04 in the UEFA cup - with Palop in goal, stopping everything going his way - and hanging on for a very handy 0-0. Barcelona, clearly, will have half an eye on their Wednesday tie with Milan. Their handy eleven point lead at the top - which could be enough to win the title on Sunday, should results go their way - is enough to allow them to rest Ronaldinho et al, should it be necessary. Draw.


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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fernando Martin Goes On...And On..And On

More Hot Air from the Bernabeu

If there’s one thing that Spanish executive types like more than buffets, it’s the sound of their own voices. ‘La Liga Loca’ once had to sit through a Christmas dinner speech from one stuffed shirt that lasted one and half hours - with the alcohol supply cut off. Not quite Guantanomo bay level torture, but fairly close.

Over the past few weeks, rogue Real Madrid president, Fernando Martin, has shown himself to be no different to all the others who run the show in Spain. As well, as being stupefying dull when he talks - he is reminiscent of Marvin from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, reading a phone book - he has proved himself to be equally dull on paper.

To ‘celebrate’ his first fifty days in charge of the club - which he took over from Florentino Perez after his shock resignation - he published a lengthy tome on the club’s web site where he rambles on at some length about nothing in particular. Something La Liga Loca knows a thing or two about.

In summary, Fernando Martin’s endless declaration goes like this...

Part 1 - What a great privilege it is to run the club ! Ooh. Mini bar.
Part 2 - What a great job Perez did...and look how rich we are ! (more on that later)
Part 3 - I’ve had lots of meetings !
Part 4 - New elections! Are you kidding !

In truth, his short tenure has been a disaster. He has alienated the fans, who have now kicked off an ‘elections now!’ campaign; he has lost the support of a number of board members, who have openly questioned his right to the presidency; he has repeatedly undermined the authority of the manager, Lopez Caro - but most of all, he is despised by the players, who have no desire whatsoever to play for him.

Still, it looks like he is going to be in the job for another two years, unless the pressure on him becomes too much. However, he will take some shifting - “we will hold elections, when it is the right moment”, he wrote, completely contradicting his earlier declaration that “the club is for the fans”.

Current focus of attention in Madrid, however, seems to be focussing not on the increasingly poor performances on the pitch - that is old news - but on whether Real’s supposed financial health is as rude as reported by the club.

First to raise doubts was Getafe president and card carrying Real Madrid member Angel Torres - a man, one would have thought, who would have some inside knowledge. Last week, he openly suggested that the club’s debt could be a whopping 530 million Euros. This was strongly denied a few days later by Ramon Calderon, a Real big wig who advised that the figure was nearer 70 million.

But Torres is not the only one to suggest this and he will not be the last. A number of potential presidential candidates have doubted Real’s sums and have called for a full declaration of the club’s accounts to be made. Amongst them was Carlos Sainz, former president Fernando Sanz and now Martinez Laredo - former head honcho of Burgos - who declared that Fernando Martin, ‘has no idea about how to run a club’ . Or much else, it seems.

In Other News...

Barca seem to be fairly confident of dealing with Milan in their second leg tie at the Nou Camp with club president Joan Laporta declaring that “if we play with the same intensity, we’ll be in the final in Paris”. La Liga Loca thinks that the match is not over quite yet.

Latest players to be linked with Real Madrid - Luis Boa Morte (really), Ruud van Nistelroy and Ricardo Carvalho of Chelsea.

Valencia’s Aimar leaves hospital after meningitis attack.....Getafe sniffing around Real Madrid ‘s Soldado and Pavon......Real Betis captain, Juan Jose Cañas, to leave the club after 17 years due to lack of first team action........Deportivo linked with Newell’s Old Boys right back Fernando Belluschi as a replacement for the departing Victor.......Malaga striker Morales out for the season after scoring his first goal in a year, last weekend at Osasuna.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Flying The Flag In Europe

Today, a special guest joins La Liga Loca, with a very excellent preview of this week's three European ties, that all feature Spanish teams. Take it away Mr James Walker-Roberts...

Flying the Flag in Europe

Never mind the invasion of bird flu in Europe; Britons, French, Italians and Germans should be more worried about the Spanish takeover of our continent in both the UEFA Cup and the Champions League. At the semi-final stage of both competitions there are three Spanish teams lef in the draw – all with a chance of progressing even further (although Villarreal’s chances seem to have been written off by all outside Spain).

Barcelona are not only the Spanish favourites but they are also now the tournament favourites despite facing a tough test against a resolute, not-as-attractive-as-they-look Milan side. The Italians were slightly fortuitous to sneak through to the semi-finals after scoring twice in the final minutes at the San Siro against Houllier’s Lyon side. However, whilst Lyon didn’t benefit from the tie, the Catalans will have done. They will have seen how fragile the Milan defence looked at times and how a team can eliminate the creative talent like Kaka, Pirlo and Seedorf through dogged and persistent man-marking.

The tie has been billed as a massive game – and who am I to deny that – but there must be worries for both teams ahead of it. For Milan it is the defence which seems to be the trouble for at times they have looked their age and have got in each others way – which could be a dream for Ronaldinho and co. if they play to their best. However, this is Barcelona’s problem, they have been playing great football lately but with no end product – the two goals against Benfica were the first in open play for three games and only the fourth and fifth in the knockout stages of the Champions League. The key to this tie will probably be one or two players – no need to name drop here – and if they perform well or even better if the team perform really well then they should go through. It really could be a case of ‘may the best team win’.

The other, less glamourous, Champions League fixture sees Villarreal, currently sitting eighth in La Liga, face up to Arsenal who are sixth in the Premiership. The Gunners have made it this far with ultra-determined youngsters and some great individual performances from the ‘veterans’, especially Jens Lehman. They have come up against the might of Real Madrid
and Juventus – both of whom proved to be more myth than might - but now face relative unknowns in Villarreal.

Whilst so many are writing the Spaniards off, as has been done when they were in the group stages and against Inter, they do
possess a very different challenge to Arsenal. For whilst on paper the team in currant red are the better side and have the better players (with a couple of exceptions), this is not how it has been for them in their last two games. Against both Madrid and Juve they were second favourites but determination and desire meant they progressed.

They will have to be as equally charged when they are the favourites though because for Villarreal it is no change. They are again the underdogs and will go into the game with little pressure. They are a formidable side though – obviously the main threats come from the genius of Riquelme and the predatory finishing of Diego Forlan but they have many other talents. Their defence has conceded a miserly seven goals in this campaign and they are undoubtedly the backbone of the team with the full backs still sometimes finding time to fly forward. This will be the major problem for Arsenal, for it has long been known – in England anyway – that they dislike playing teams who are aggressive, tight at the back and ultimately defence minded – qualities which the Spaniards have in abundance.

The main telling point in this tie could be the result of the first leg at Highbury, for whilst it seems unlikely Villarreal will get a win there it could all depend on what deficit- if any – they take back to El Madrigal.

In the slightly less glamorous competition – although slightly more open as Middlesbrough demonstrated last week – it is Sevilla who are flying the red and yellow flag. They come up against German opposition in Schalke 04 who have had a fairly decent season if truth were told.

Despite being knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages – by a Kaka inspired Milan – they have done well in the UEFA Cup as well as in the Bundesliga. Sevilla on the other hand have been ‘o so close’ to a good season, the main problem being that their ambitions have played off against each other. Two trips to Russia against Locomotiv Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg have definitely affected their league form and they are now left off the pace for a Champions League place and with a hard battle for a UEFA Cup place. Of course, all these worries will be forgotten if they can overcome Schalke and win the competition; not an easy task. The Germans may not have played great opposition so far in Palermo, Espanyol and Levski Sofia but they have easily done enough to beat them all and must fancy their chances as the only previous winners left in the competition.

They have quality in attack with the highly rated Kevin Kuranyi, Asamoah and the Brazilian Lincoln. Sevilla look good as well though. They have a reliable defence and Kanoute, Navas and Saviola have been playing well in Europe recently despite inability to regularly score in the league. All in all this looks to be a good encounter and one which should produce some goals.


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Monday, April 17, 2006

Opening Salvoes

Wise Words

“Lotina’s a cry baby. He always wants to be the victim” - Real Zaragoza manager Victor Muñoz on his counterpart’s protestations of Espanyol being the underdog before last week’s Espanyol v Zaragoza cup final. Apparently they were good friends. Probably not now.

“I’ve never taken from Valencia and I never will” - Valencia president and construction magnate Juan Bautista Soler claims that he will not benefit at all from the proposed building of a new Mestalla.

“Raul is untouchable” - Real Madrid web site response to reports in the English press that Liverpool are considering a bid for the misfiring club captain.

“I’m still waiting for an explanation for what he did” - Getafe president and Real Madrid member, Angel Torres, is still a little upset by Florentino Perez’ walkout earlier this year.

“Next season, I still expect to be manger” - Current Atletico coach, Pepe Murcia, speculates on his future at the club. Or lack of it.

“We are strong, passionate and united in achieving our goal” - Real Madrid coach, Juan Ramon Lopez Caro, on his team’s quest for a second place finish - and two days before Getafe 1 Real Madrid 1.

“As a member, I have an opinion and will give it when the time is right” - Getafe’s Angel Torres stokes the fires again, before the weekend derby by suggesting that the Real Madrid debt is a little larger than the club is reporting.

“Aimar isn’t playing because he has meningitis, is this good news?” A rather callous AS journalist to Espanyol manager Miguel Angel Lotina before the weekend clash with Valencia.

“Do I get stressed? Only during press conferences. Never during matches” - Cool Frank Rijkaard confesses what makes him lose sleep.

“Was there something wrong with him? “ - Journalist enquiring as to why Beckham was on the bench for the Getafe game.
“Not that I know about” - Lopez Caro’s somewhat sarcastic response referring to Beck’s habit of not telling his boss when he is injured.


In Other News....

Valencia striker Pablo Aimar is set to miss the rest of the season and potentially the World Cup after contracting meningitis. Having been rushed to hospital last Wednesday he is now said to be making a good recovery. This is a further blow to Valencia’s second place aspirations especially after statistics were published over the weekend, reporting that they were the club, the most reliant on one player for their goals - David Villa, who is responsible for 40% of their strikes.

Bolton manager Sam Allardyce was in the crowd at the Copa del Rey final to watch Espanyol’s man of the match and all round top player, Ivan de la Peña.

Night-club Patrick Kluivert is rumoured to be considering a move to Turkish side Besiktas, after a less than inspiring season in La Liga that has seen just one goal and 190 minutes of play.

Atletico Madrid are reportedly making a 3 million euro move for Celtic’s 28 year old midfielder, Nakamura.

Near insolvent Deportivo have been spared from flogging the family silver with a 20 million cash injection from an English refinancing company, obviously looking to throw away some money.




Eto’o - 24 goals
Villa - 19 goals
Ronaldinho - 15 goals
Ronaldo - 14 goal

Zamora - Best Keeper (goals conceded per game)

Canizares (Valencia) - 0.8
Pinto (Celta Vigo) - 0.81
Valdes (Barca) - 0.88
Casillas (Real) - 0.91

Dirtiest Player - (Minutes in between each foul committed)

Diego Rivas (Getafe) - 26.21
Salva (Malaga) - 25.62
Astudillo (Alaves) - 25.72


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Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Weekend Preview

6 Rounds to go and yet more questions to be answered this weekend - will Barca v Villarreal be a rehearsal for the Champions League final? Can Getafe make it four in a row and beat the galacticos? Can Depor defeat Sevilla to lead the chase for Europe. Let’s see.


Barcelona (1st) WWDDD v Villarreal (8th) DDLWD
With both teams in Champions League action, next week, this tie has been moved back to Friday to give them extra recovery time - and with ties at Milan and Arsenal to look forward to, they will need all the rest they can get. However, neither side can afford to take it easy - Barca would love to end a run of three draws with three points to take one more step towards securing the title, whilst Villarreal are in danger of missing out on Europe altogether next season, unless they win the actual CL itself. Draw.


Mallorca (16th) DWLDD v Alaves (17th) DWDDD
Just about every team these days is talking about ‘six more finals’, but for these two sides, it is very true. Both are teetering on the edge of the relegation zone, but both are capable of winning their respective survival battles. Mallorca are relying on a reconstructed defence to get carry them through to the end of the season, whilst Alaves look to the goals of John Aloisi to keep them up - without him, they struggle. Should be interesting. Home win.

Real Sociedad (18th) LLLWD v Racing Santander (14th) WLDDD
Another ‘must win’ for Sociedad. Buoyed by an unlikely point at the Bernabeu, last weekend, they can feel confident about picking up a victory against opponents - who themselves are not yet save from relegation - but are far too erratic, both home and away. Home win.

Deportivo (7th) WWLWW v Sevilla (5th) DWWLD
This could be the make or break game for Sevilla this season. A defeat would probably see them drop out of the top six and it could be very hard to get back in again, especially with a two legged UEFA cup tie against Schalke 04 to manage. However, Depor are lousy at home this season and are still yet to convince, despite their recent record. Sevilla will probably pack the team with hard tackling pyschos and look to grab a point. Draw.


Valencia (2nd) LDLWW v Espanyol (15th) LDDDD
It is either a great or terrible time to play Espanyol - newly crowned Copa Del Rey champions. They are either going to be bleary-eyed and hung over, from Thursday night’s celebrations or playing with a renewed sense of purpose after their recent lethargic form. Either way, Valencia who are looking for win number three, should carry enough of a threat to pick up another three points and help keep Sanchez Flores in a job for another season. Home win.

Real Betis (12th) DWWW v Celta Vigo (6th) LLWWL
If Betis pick up the win on Sunday, they will be safe for the season - quite a relief after a problematic year, to say the least. Celta badly need the victory to maintain an occasionally stuttering charge for a place in Europe. Home win.

Zaragoza (11th) WDDLD v Cadiz (19th) DLDLD
Oh dear. One doubts whether the home team are happy campers at the moment. Nothing left to play for this season and thrashed on Thursday night in the Copa Del Rey. In theory, an away win is on the cards, irrespective of the opponents. However, one must make a special case for Cadiz, who are hopeless and bound for the second division. Home win.

Osasuna (4th) WWLLW v Malaga (20th) LLDLL
If Osasuna cannot manage a home win here, against opponents who are due to be relegated any day now, then they do not deserve to play in the Champions League, next season. Home win.

Getafe (9th) LLWWW v Real Madrid (3rd) DDWDD
My word, Getafe will be up for this one. Three wins on the trot and an outside chance of a top six finish means that Bernd Schuster’s men should be flying against opponents who received a midweek bollocking from their club president, who reminded them that the season was far from over. Ronaldo is out until May, Raul is being linked with Liverpool (unlikely) and Cassano looks terrible, so the team is in some disarray. However they will be desperate to avoid a repeat of last season’s defeat. Draw.

Atletico Madrid (10th) DLDLD v Athletic Bilbao (13th) WWWDD
Despite their mid table position, Bilbao are still two victories away from safety - and they have a worrying long injury list. Difficult to know what form Atletico will be in on Sunday - they more or less have nothing left to play for and are having a bit of a goal scoring crisis. However, a cathartic victory could well do them a world of good. Home win

Espanyol Triumphant

Instead of fleeing the city of Madrid, yesterday, like most of the population of the city were starting to do, to launch the four day Easter break, 58,000 football fans in 530 buses and 13,000 cars headed in the opposition direction - all for the chance of winning a 10.5 kilo piece of metal.

Last night was Copa del Rey night and Real Madrid’s Bernabeu hosted a cracking match between Espanyol and Zaragoza. In a boisterous atmosphere, rarely seen in a Spanish league game, Espanyol thrashed their dispirited opponents 4-1 to book a UEFA cup place next season, for the second year in a row.

The first goal came in just two minutes, when an Ivan de la Peña free kick could only be parried by Cesar in the Zaragoza goal and Tamudo darted in to make it 1-0. But, Zaragoza equalised in the 28th minute with a header from Ewerthon after a bit of a scramble. Soon after Espanyol retook the lead when Luis Garcia got on the end of cross to head home, despite being surrounded by five motionless Zaragoza defenders.

In the second half, it was end to end stuff, but Espanyol made it 3-1 with a breakaway goal from Corrominas, Zaragoza then had former Real Madrid ‘keeper Cesar sent off for reacting to a plastic bottle being thrown from the crowd and picking up a second yellow card.

Espanyol made it 4-1 late on with a long shot from Luis Garica, to score his second of the night. Although the score line was a little flattering, the win was deserved. Zaragoza certainly had their chances, but Espanyol were more effective on the counter attack and were a constant menace to their opponents defence.

And so, a tournament that witnessed Atletico’s gastro-enteritis, matches being played behind closed doors and Real Madrid being thumped 6-1 is over and it leaves its two finalists in an interesting position.

Espanyol are in serious relegation danger and will need to use the victory to spur them on to digging themselves out of trouble. Zaragoza, on the other hand, are firmly mid table but have had a bit of a disappointing season - there is a chance that last night’s heavy defeat could see the end of manager Victor Muñoz in charge of the team. It’s a tough life in La Liga.

In Other News...

Real Sociedad have had the highest number of different goal-scorers out of La Liga’s teams, with fifteen different players all finding the net - not that it has helped the relegation threatened outfit. Real Madrid are in second with fourteen where they are joined by Deportivo.

Valencia president, Juan Bautista Soler has advised in an interview that manager Quique Sanchez Flores will only have his contract with the club renewed should he make a Champions League place next season. The moustachioed overlord also denied that he had any input into transfer targets for the club and that neither himself, nor any of the board are set to financially gain from the plans to build a new Mestalla stadium, that could open in 2009. Mmm.

Real Betis’ forgotten striker Ricardo Oliveira is set to return to club on 12 August after his short spell at Sao Paolo where he is currently playing to get back to full fitness.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Fourth Bridge

The Race For Europe Revisited

With six games to go and Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia, Osasuna looking fairly comfortable in the top six positions, it is high time La Liga Loca looked at who’s hot and who’s Atletico Madrid in the chase for the UEFA cup spots.

5th - Sevilla: 52 pts
The same old story with Sevilla - the longer they keep up their impressive UEFA cup campaign, the less chance they have at making the top six. The two most recent European encounters with Zenit of St Petersburg were sandwiched by matches with Betis, which they lost and a 1-1 draw with Zaragoza, a point only picked up after an injury time goal. Without these gruelling trips behind the old iron curtain, then Sevilla would almost certainly be challenging for a Champions League place. They are still struggling to find the net on a regular basis in the league, but a sturdy defence should help keep them in the chase.

6th - Celta Vigo: 51 pts
No idea how Celta Vigo are still up here. They have only managed thirty four goals - one of the worst totals in the league - but, like Sevilla, they have one of the meanest defences which has kept them there or thereabouts in the top six all season. Their form tends to be fairly erratic with two wins normally followed by two defeats. How they will finish the season will depend heavily on luck and timing.

7th - Deportivo: 50 pts
Depor are still limping along, managing to pick up the odd win and draw to keep them in contention. However the team is unravelling fast - literally. A number of players have their contracts expiring in June and others are openly taking about moving onto new clubs, so there is some doubt as to the motivation of the squad to keep on going to the end of the road.

8th - Villarreal: 49 pts
Most neutrals in Spain are hoping that the yellow submarines will have enough left in the tank to secure at least UEFA cup football, next season, should they fail to pick up the Champions League trophy. However, they face two gruelling matches with Arsenal over the next few weeks as well as a busy league schedule. Their main worry is whether Juan Roman’s Riquelme’s flagging body can hold up to another month of action as they do not have the luxury of resting him, anytime soon.

9th - Getafe: 46 pts
With eighteen points to go - why not ! Ever since the magic forty point survival barrier was broken, the mighty Getafe have been flying and have chalked up three consecutive victories. With Real Madrid coming to town on Sunday night, there is every chance for three more points that could put them within touching distance of sixth.

Final Prediction (for what it’s worth!)

5th - Sevilla
6th - Villarreal
7th - Deportivo
8th - Celta Vigo
9th - Getafe

Very Quick News...

Despite rumours of Zidane’s imminent retirement, this summer, he has confessed that he has yet to decide on his future plans and may well spend another season lumbering around the pitches of La Liga.

Poor old Gupegui. After being royally clattered by his own goalkeeper on Sunday, the Athletic Bilbao defender will miss the rest of the season having his jawbone reconstucted.

Coming up tomorrow - the full Copa Del Rey preview: Espanyol v Real Zaragoza.


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Monday, April 10, 2006

The Morning After

Footballer’s Lives

“It was a penalty, because he blew for it. Sometimes it’s better to just leave the referee alone” - Raul gives a rap on the knuckles to Roberto Carlos for his sending off in last weekend’s derby. He will need to do the same for Guti.

“If they let me get on with the job, I would return to Madrid” - former Real coach, Jose Antonio Camacho, whose tenure at the club ended when he dared to bench both Raul and Beckham. At the same time.

“I‘m a ‘Betico’. For me, it would be a dishonour to go to Sevilla” - Betis’ Juanito dispels any rumours that he would be crossing the lines to join his deadly rivals.

“If the Ukraine match were today, it’s possible that Raul would not play” - Luis Aragones, Spanish national coach, drops a hint that his captain is not a guaranteed starter for the first World Cup game. No surprise there.

“That night, I didn’t sleep till at least five or six” - Villarreal’s Rodolfo Arruabarrena was a little overexcited by his winning goal against Inter Milan in the CL. I recommend watching any Valencia game as an excellent insomnia cure.

“The last thing I heard was...’We’re going down’ “ - Former Valencia manager and Real Madrid sporting director, Jorge Valdano, on his near fatal helicopter crash, in March.

“I apologise for not speaking in Catalan, but I don’t know if I have enough time to learn it, now” - Miguel Angel Lotina feels that his time at the helm of Espanyol may be up, this summer.

“Sure, referees have worked against us, but we’re not in this position because of them” - Atletico Madrid’s Fernando Torres, reflects on his side’s current mid table mediocrity.

“It would not be a major disappointment, as I am quite happy to stay at Getafe” - Manager Bernd Schuster points out that he has not had any offers from other clubs, despite a great deal of speculation.

“How could I say that I would not be interested in Liverpool? That would be ridiculous” - Deportivo’s Victor, set to be leaving the club in June.

“I’m not God. I didn’t know that David was in pain” - Real Madrid manager Juan Ramon Lopez Caro responds to criticism that he did not substitute Beckham who confessed to playing ‘el classico’ while injured. Like he did against Arsenal.

“I am a ‘Madridista’, but if they are interested in me, I could not say no” - Ivan Helguera, Real’s unbelievably out of favour centre back, considers a possible move to Barcelona.

“I miss being president” - Former Real head honcho, Florentino Perez starts to feel sorry for himself. He just has the job of counting his millions to keep him occupied now.

Guti has yet more time on his hands

As well have having a least one game on the sidelines after Saturday’s sending off, Real Madrid midfielder, Guti, will have another couple of months off, this summer. More time to allow him creosote his fence, get divorced / remarried or work on copying Beckham’s haircut again. He certainly won’t be going to Germany in June for the World Cup.

Although it is doubtful that he would have been there for more than two weeks anyway, judging by Spain’s past performances in international tournaments, Guti was left out of the latest 33 man squad for the national team - not a good sign.

More interestingly, the team did feature 5 new caps, who all have a late chance to sneak a place in the last 22. These are...

Gavilan (midfielder) - Getafe
Javi Venta (defender) - Villarreal
Oubiña (midfielder)- Celta
Cani (midfielder) - Zaragoza
Melli (defender) - Real Betis

For the full line up - here is the link

Coming up in this week’s La Liga Loca - a new look at the race for Europe, Wednesday’s Copa Del Rey final and all the usual nonsense.


Pichichi (Top Scorer)

Eto’o (Barca) - 23
Villa (Valencia) - 18
Ronaldinho (Barca) - 15
Ronaldo (Real) - 14
Diego Milito (Zaragoza) - 14


Ronaldinho (Barca) - 73
Beckham (Real) - 69
Petrov (Atletico) - 63
Yeste (Bilbao) - 63
Joaquin (Betis) - 60

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Friday, April 07, 2006

The Bumper Weekend Preview

31 games gone and just 7 to go. With Barcelona a few victories away from the title at the top, this weekend’s footballing spotlight centres on the battle for the remaining European places, with four clubs currently in the mix, preparing to do battle against eachother.


Malaga (20th) DLLDL v Getafe (10th) WLLWW
Hala Getafe! Not only did the team from the badlands of Madrid manage to secure another year in La Liga with nine games to go - they then topped that achievement with last week’s 4-0 pounding of Osasuna. Whilst qualifying for a European spot would be a stretch this season, Bernd Schuster’s men are now looking to see how high they can finish up the table with the luxury of playing without pressure. They look favourites for another three points against Malaga, a team that are down, down, down. Away win.

Cadiz (19th) LDLDL v Betis (12th) DDWWW
If Getafe are a team playing without pressure, then Cadiz are the antithesis. If the plucky Andalusians do not win this local derby, then they will surely be joining Malaga in the second division, next season. Although they are only four points from safety, the side with the worst scoring record in the league really needs to win its remaining home games to have any chance of survival. Their opponents, Betis are looking for win number four that should ensure enough points to stay in the top flight and help put their ‘annus horribilis’ behind them. Buoyant from their victory over Sevilla last Sunday, they will not be in the mood to help out their desperate neighbours. Away win.

Real Madrid (2nd) v Sociedad (18th) WLLLW
Eleven points from Barca and seven points from fifth, Real Madrid are in a comfort zone and for this reason, it will be interesting to see whether the players will start (or continue, depending on your point of view) resting their energies for the World Cup - in which most are involved. Sociedad will be hoping so. Still third from bottom and facing a very tense end to the season, they could well be looking to cause an upset at the Bernabeu on Saturday night against a Real team without Beckham, Zidane, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo. Home win.

Celta Vigo (6th) LLLWW v Valencia (3rd) DLDLW
Although Valencia are five points clear of Celta and won their first match in six, last weekend, they are so weird these days that it is difficult to know how they will finish the rest of the season. Although they will be pleased by the achievement of scoring five - all be it against Cadiz - they should be very worried indeed about having conceded three, all from set pieces. Celta are just as odd. They blow more hot and cold than a demonically-possessed hairdryer, but La Liga Loca fancies them to pick up a third consecutive victory. Home win.


Espanyol (15th) WLDDD v Atletico Madrid (9th) WDLDL
They really should play “Send in the Clowns” when these two hopeless teams stroll onto the pitch on Sunday afternoon. Espanyol have not scored a goal in decades and could well be more interested in their midweek Copa Del Rey final with Deportivo, than this encounter. That would be a mistake. At just two points and two places above the drop zone, the league has to be the focus for Lotina’s men. Fortunately, their visitors are Atletico, a team that has now blown the chance of a European finish with their 3-0 home defeat by Celta last week. Although Atletico are blaming referee’s for all their troubles, they need to look to a misfiring Fernando Torres and a suddenly leaky defence as the major cause of their decline. Home win.

Athletic Bilbao (13th) LWWWD v Mallorca (17th) DDWLD
Bilbao’s glaciar-like ascent up the table has not been easy on the fans with a host of last minute goals, missed penalties and desperate defending to endure. However, things are looking considerably brighter for Javier Clemente’s team, who need just two more victories to achieve survival. Their problem has been scoring goals - a situation that will not be helped by a midweek training ground injury to Aduriz. Mallorca are plodding along in their own battle against the drop, but could find it tough going in the San Mames. Home win.

Alaves (16th) WDWDD v Osasuna (4th) WWWLL
Apart from the fans of their direct rivals, most people in Spain seem to be willing Osasuna on to Champions League qualification. The Pamplona outfit which relies heavily on local talent and old warhorses has been up at the top for most of the season, but faces the real danger of falling on the home straight. It is difficult to know whether last Sunday’s 4-0 thrashing will be too much to bounce back from or perhaps spur them onto renewed efforts against feisty opponents battling the drop. Away win.

Sevilla (5th) LDWWL v Zaragoza (11th) LWDDL
The home team were lucky enough to have a midweek UEFA cup tie to help them get over their derby defeat at Betis last weekend. A 1-1 draw with Zenit continues Sevilla’s recent impressive form - last Sunday aside - and they should feel fairly confident of another victory against Zaragoza who, like Espanyol, will be focussed on the midweek Cup final.
Home win.

Racing Santander (14th) LWLDD v Barcelona (1st) LWWDD
This is a watershed moment for Racing. A decent performance against the league leaders for a side that is in very real relegation danger, could help spur them onto a renewed effort to achieve survival. A heavy defeat will thrown them into a very nervous end to the season. Despite a 2-0 victory at Benfica on Wednesday night, Barca still did not convince watchers that their recent run of iffy form is over, but they should squeeze another three points from this encounter. However, it could be close - which probably means a 5-0 victory now. Away win.

Villarreal (8th) DDDLW v Deportivo (7th) LWWLW
If Villarreal want to enjoy the accolades and praise that has bee hurled in their direction since Tuesday’s defeat of Inter Milan, for another season - then their league form is going to have to improve dramatically. If they were to lose Sunday night’s clash with Deportivo - a direct rival for Europe - then the yellow submarines could find the rest of the season tough going - especially with a double header against Arsenal to distract them. Draw.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Vaya Villarreal !

More blood, sweat and tears for the Yellow Submarines

Blimey. The little yellow team from the east coast of Spain has made its way into the semi-finals of the Champions League - a competition the club is taking part in for the first time. Last night, Manuel Pelligrini’s men played out of their skins to beat Luis Figo’s Inter Milan 1-0.

A second half goal from Rodolfo Arruabarrena - a glancing header from yet another superb Juan Roman Riquelme free kick - was enough to sneak past the Italian team on away goals. Despite some dastardly tactics from their opponents which included a horrendous elbow in the face from Materazzi on Juan Pablo Sorin - leading to the blood soaked Argentinean midfielder’s departure from the field - Inter were fairly poor and the Spanish team more than deserved to go through ahead of them.

Villarreal (pop 47,000) have now added Inter to Benfica, Everton, Manchester Utd and Rangers in their ever increasing list of scalps. They now face either Arsenal or Juventus in the last four but it remains to be seen if they will be underestimated again by yet more big cheeses of European football.

Tonight, Barca will be looking to put their recent impotency in front of goal behind them against the latest visitors to the Nou Camp, Benfica. The tie currently stands at 0-0 from the first leg - but Barca are boosted with the news that Carles Puyol has recovered from his concussion to take his place in the defensive line up.

Tomorrow night sees Sevilla take on Zenit of St Petersburg in Russia with a very comfortable 4-1 lead.

Lorenzo Sanz lets rip

Former Real Madrid president Lorenzo Sanz is clearly not bitter at all about his 2001 election defeat to Florentino Perez. In a interview in AS - where the very self-satisfied looking Sanz was pictured at his desk surrounded by trophies - Real’s former head honcho SLAMMED (this is how the Sun do it) his successor and his decision to resign from the club two months ago.

“It was irresponsible, not cowardly. If he had left with the club as European Champions, it could have been understood, but to go when all you have to hope for is second place...disappointing”.

The Soprano-esque Sanz could well be one of the leading candidates to stand against Fernando Martin in 2008, or earlier should elections be called before then. Fat chance of that though.

Another potential candidate who fancies the Real hot seat and expense account, is double world rally champion and life long Real fan, Carlos Sainz. However, not owning a construction company, being a relatively sprightly 43 and actually knowing something about sport, makes him an unlikely election winner at a club that Dan Brown would have a field day writing about.

Although he has not officially expressed his interest in going for the top job, he thinks he would stand a chance - “my youth is an advantage. In my time, I have lead teams of 400 or 500 people”, boasted Sainz. A bit like Martin Jol of Spurs then.


In Other News....

Occasional Real Madrid midfielder Pablo Garcia has accused the linesman at Saturday night’s clash with Barca, of hurling abuse at the Real Madrid bench at one point during the game. Cool.

Roberto Carlos is also still denying that he said anything bad to the ref in the first place and claims that he told the man in black, “neither of you two, should be helping such a shit” - a reference to Barca’s Mark van Bommel, who has a bit of a history of diving.

Transfer News - Atletico Madrid midfielder, Kiki Musampa will be returning to the Vicente Calderon when his current loan spell at Manchester City ends....Rangers and Denmark striker Peter Lovenkrands is set to start talks with Osasuna in regards to a possible summer move to Pamplona....

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Matters of the Mind

La Liga’s Biggest Loons

For once, today’s Marca has decided not to lead with yet more tedious and wholly inaccurate speculation as to who will be the next manager of Real Madrid or the latest superstar heading to the Bernabeu.

Instead, it has picked up on the weekend revelation from the UK media that David Beckham suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, with a front page headline that screams, “Beckham is a fusspot”. Whilst initial fears were that the coverage inside would portray the England captain as a bit of a nut job, the paper is fairly sensitive in its reporting of a very serious condition that affects 8 out of 10 Spaniards.

However, the paper cannot resist highlighting some other characters in the league, whilst not necessarily blighted by the same condition as Becks, certainly have their eccentricities.

In the spirit of education and understanding, here is the top 5 list of La Liga’s biggest wacko’s that puts the Real Madrid midfielder’s apparent refusal to stay in a hotel room containing magazines into perspective.

1 - Joaquin: Betis’ flying winger refuses to eat anything that has come from a tin can.

2 - Joaquin Caparros: Deportivo’s manager dislikes having anything yellow in his vicinity. In fact, his first act when becoming the manager of La Coruña was to have the formerly canary-coloured dressing room repainted. The away trip to Villarreal must be a tough day out.

3 - Jose Manuel Pinto: Celta Vigo’s goalkeeper does not speak to anyone the day before a game.

4 - Ruben Cousillas: Villarreal’s extremely religious assistant coach grasps rosary beads during games and kisses a picture of the Virgin Mary every time his team score a goal. Divine intervention certainly explains Diego Forlan’s form last season.

5 - Fernando Torres: Every time El Niño of Atletico Madrid runs into a spot of bad form, he changes his hair cut and entire look.

In Other News

The Spanish footballing authorities have sent out a strong message that refereeing incompetence will not be tolerated by awarding next week’s Copa del Rey final to Medina Cantalejo - the short-sighted man in charge of last Saturday’s Barca v Real Madrid encounter.

Real Sociedad’s ground La Anoeta is swiftly becoming the stadium of doom - not only because of the lamentable events on the field. During last Saturday’s encounter with Malaga, a spectator suffered a heart attack in the stands and died. Although this seems like a one-off unfortunate event, it is actually the second death in the same manner in the space of a few weeks.

In other stadium news, Getafe are looking for corporate sponsorship for their crap heap masquerading as a ground - any suitors will have to fork out 1 million euros a season for the honour. Real Zaragoza are planning to start work on their new 30,000 capacity stadium at the end of April.

Athletic Bilbao’s Aduriz - the only player in their squad who actually has the right to call himself a striker - is set to be on the sidelines for a month, after injuring his knee in training. Yes, Athletic Bilbao train.

The strain of being caught in Ronaldo’s wake in an unsuccessful pursuit of the Brazilian has left Barca’s Thiago Motta sitting out the next two weeks with a hamstring injury.

Real Madrid have again been linked with Roma’s 25-year old Romanian centre back Christian Chivu, whilst Spurs defender Michael Dawson’s name is still floating around as a possible summer signing.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Quotes of the Week - and Much More

Footballer’s Lives

“Anyone not involved in our remaining eight games, will be leaving the club” - Valencia president, Juan Baptista Soler kicks off another round of infighting at the Mestalla and also shows who wears the trousers in Spanish clubs.

“There are divisions within the team, but the main thing now is to close them” - Valencia’s occasionally used Italian defender Amedeo Carboni joins in the fun.

“I don’t see any divisions” - A swift response from Valencia coach, Quique Sanchez Flores

“The beginning of the end came when business concerns came before sport” - Brooding ex-galactico Luis Figo fires a broadside at his former club, from the safety of Milan.

“It seems that we’re selling everything, even the balls” - Deportivo manager Joaquin Caparros has one or two concerns that the club’s ambitions may not exactly be in alignment with his own, with rumours of both Andrade and Duscher being up for sale.

“We don’t have to beat Real, to win the league” - An early indication from Barca’s Deco that Saturday’s derby clash was never going to be number one priority for his team.

“I can assure you, we will pay them. There will be no strike” - Javier Tepas, league Vice President was half right. The refs did not take action, but the league did not actually get round to paying them, in the end.

“I always want Barca to lose” - Real Madrid’s Guti - honest as ever.

“Malaga is the most picked upon team for bad refereeing decisions” - Moaning Manolo Hierro, coach of relegation certainties Malaga, conveniently forgetting Samuel Eto’o’s perfectly legal effort that was ruled out in their encounter with Barca, the previous weekend.

“We’re not worried about scoring. Goals will come” - Barca’s Valdes is not too concerned with the club’s recent goal drought of just one penalty in three games.

“If 50,000 people are fed up, there must be something wrong” - Atletico president Enrique Cerezo, comments on his placard waving fans, after his side’s defeat by Celta.

“It’s impossible to win without scoring goals” - Espanyol coach is finally getting the hang of football basics, after consecutive goal less draw.


Wanted - A Decent Spanish Manager

In the same way that the English FA is having to seriously consider Sam Allardyce and Alan Curbishley as potential candidates for Sven Goran’s replacement, rather then using their c.v’s as drinks coasters, a similar situation has arisen in Spain, where a lack of home grown managerial talent is starting to cause concern.

Apart from a few notable exceptions, La Liga’s top managers tend to be from abroad - a not dissimilar state of affairs to that found in the Premiership, where none of the managers of the clubs currently occupying the top six places are English. As can be seen below, the best managerial talent in Spain is definitely not local.

Barcelona - Frank Rijkaard - Dutch
Osasuna - Javier Aguirre - Mexican
Villarreal - Manuel Luis Pelligrini - Chilean
Getafe - Bernd Schuster - German

This is not to say that there are no Spanish managers out there in La Liga being given the chance - there are - but few are achieving the kind of success managed by their colleagues from abroad.

Juan Roman Lopez Caro - Real Madrid: Basically, a dead-man walking in charge of the one of the biggest clubs in the world. Needs to move to a smaller team at the end of the season and gain more experience, before thinking about a return to the limelight.

Valencia - Quique Sanchez Flores: In only his second year managing in La Liga - his first at Getafe - he is certainly one for the future, but his lack of experience is currently telling as his club are currently caught in an awful run of results that he seems unable to stop.

Sevilla - Juande Ramos: One of the few successes of the season. He has certainly been about a bit with clubs such as Rayo, Espanyol and Betis on his cv, but this year is the closest he has been to really challenging the established order in La Liga. One to watch.

Deportivo - Joaquin Caparros: After five years at Sevilla, Caparros thought he had found a club to take his career to the next level. Sadly, things have not gone well for him this season and he looks likely to be packing his bags at the end of the year. Whether it will be voluntarily remains to be seen.


‘Zamora’ - Best Keeper

Cañizares - Valencia
Pinto - Celta
Valdes - Barca
Casillas - Real Madrid

‘Pichichi’ - Top Scorer

Eto’o - 22 goals
Villa - 18 goals
Ronaldinho - 15 goals
Diego Milito - 14 goals
Ronaldo - 13 goals
Torres - 12 goals


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