Andy Mitten

  • Jimenez leads Zaragoza revival

    The huge silhouette of the 18-storey Miguel Servet hospital appropriately dominates Real Zaragoza's La Romareda stadium.

    For much of this season, Real Zaragoza have been the sick man of the Primera Liga and with just two wins from 16 league games by the turn of the year were adrift at the bottom with fans in uproar protesting against their president Agapito Iglesias.

    He runs the club like his fiefdom and is being investigated for alleged financial wrongdoing including pocketing transfer fees. No club in Spain has seen so many players come and go as Zaragoza — there have been 39 this season

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  • Relentless Ronaldo saps Barca hope

    Barcelona fans packed the bars close to Camp Nou before Saturday's late game against the Basques of Athletic. They crowded around screens, raffish types near Collblanc, families and tourists on the other side of the stadium near Diagonal.

    They hoped that an in-form Osasuna side who'd lost just two of their 15 home games could stop Real Madrid winning. Jose Mourinho's side had started to wobble, dropping points against Malaga and Villarreal which allowed a relentless Barça to reduce Madrid's lead from 10 to six points. There was a fair chance that they would fail in Pamplona against a side

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  • Spanish stadiums don’t match the football they house

    Barcelona's brilliance deserves an unobstructed viewInterested countries were formally invited to enter their bid to host Euro 2020 last week.

    The deadline isn't until May, but Spain hasn't registered an interest. A country in the middle of a severe economic crisis has more pressing issues than hosting a sporting event in eight years time, especially considering the cost of Madrid's failed bids to stage the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and Spain's failure (in a joint bid with Portugal) to land the 2018 World Cup.

    Many of Spain's football stadiums last saw significant redevelopment for the 1982 finals, 30 years ago this summer. Then, Camp Nou got an

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  • Grand old club Athletic on verge of greatness

    The famous old photoA crestfallen Sir Alex Ferguson spoke in the shadow of an astonishing old photo in Bilbao.

    Athletic Club had beaten Ferguson's English champions and the United manager was facing the media deep in the bowels of the old stadium last modernised 30 years ago. A huge photo of a victorious Athletic team sailing up the River Nervion through the city, surrounded by an armada of boats and thousands of delirious people on the river bank, dominated the room.

    Ferguson was full of praise for the Basques.

    "I wish them well," he said. "They have a cause. It's a wonderful thing to see, using such incredible

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  • Glazer’s United lack Rayo heart

    Left-wing club Rayo have surprised manyOne Manchester United fan had mixed feelings after Athletic Bilbao blitzed his team at Old Trafford in the Europa League last week. The Basques were outstanding, fully exploiting the space given to them by a United side whose European form has been dire this season.

    David Bergin, 30, bet against his team. Originally from England's north west, Bergin watched United home and away, week in week out, before the 2005 Glazer takeover. Life for him was never the same after that and he's not been to Old Trafford since 2005. Many United fans feel the same.

    Instead, he started watching Rayo Vallecano,

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  • Is Gerard past his Pique?

    Gerard Pique leaves the pitch after being sent off against Sporting GijonGerard Pique's greatest problem was that he didn't have one. Life has been kind to the Catalan. Unlike most footballers, he enjoyed a privileged upbringing in a wealthy Barcelona barrio. His neighbours were Barça stars, his granddad a vice-president of the club.

    Pique became a rising star in Barça's junior sides alongside Cesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi. A good looking, confident lad, he lived life to the full, even when he moved to Manchester at 16.

    Other youngsters might have struggled with the move. Jordi Cruyff, the previous player to have left Barça for United, hated Manchester, but Pique

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  • Athletic ripping United fans off

    Athletic Bilbao fans at the San MamesJose Mourinho was satisfied with his side's single-goal win at Rayo Vallecano last weekend and he had every right to be. Madrid remain 10 points clear of Barcelona with just 14 games to play and in Mourinho's eyes, he's done what he's been asked and toppled Barcelona.

    Well, nearly, but even Pep Guardiola conceded that Barça "won't win the league." Madrid have won 21 of their 24 league games and scored an astonishing 80 goals with just 21 conceded, but Mourinho made another point after the game which caused considerable debate.

    He complained that only 300 Madrid fans had made the trip across

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  • Barca fans show their love to try to keep Guardiola

    Pep Guardiola Pep Guardiola There were only seven minutes left on the Camp Nou scoreboard during Sunday's 5-1 rout over Valencia when Barça fans aired a song that is far from usual.

    "Guardiola, Guardiola, Guardiola," they hollered from the sud o del nord. It didn't sound quite right, like the word had too many syllables. The usual chants of "Messi, Messi, Messi" or "Xavi, Xavi, Xavi" are easier on the tongue, but the Barça fans wanted — needed - to make their point to their brilliant coach. Needed to show him that they love him.

    Guardiola had looked tense and distracted. Despite his side coming from behind to win 5-1 and

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  • Villarreal set for a renaissance

    You can walk from one side of Villarreal to the other in 25 minutes. From the tiny, two platform, train station to the sprawling CF Villarreal's cuidad deportivo, fitted around fields growing oranges, on the other. You walk past the town's solitary hotel and by houses clad in ceramics so garish they'd work as a set for Balamory. They're a reminder of the main local industry and the reason why Villarreal benefactor Fernando Roig made his money.

    The tallest building in the town of 51,000 is the new stand which is used to house away fans at the El Madrigal stadium. It towers over the rest of the

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  • Atletico get a kick out of Simeone

    Diego Simeone, new Atletico Madrid boss

    Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone rose from the bench to urge his team forward in the final minutes of Sunday's league game at home to Valencia. Atleti's Argentinian new chief was hoping to see his side register a fourth successive win to continue their surge up the league table. No winner came, but there was a sixth consecutive clean sheet, more evidence that the man famously kicked by David Beckham in France '98 has sorted out their defence.

    Fans of Spain's third best supported club (average crowd 41,105 last season) have long learnt to expect the unexpected. Their club has been renowned

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