Andy Mitten

  • Barca’s problems are not at home

    Never before in Pep Guardiola's glorious reign have Barcelona gone into a match six
    points behind Real Madrid.

    A year to the day since Barca demolished Madrid 5-0 in arguably the finest team
    performance seen in football, the Catalans took to the field at home to another
    Madrid-based side, the promoted upstarts with the three-sided stadium from the
    other side of the tracks in Vallecas. The side whose hardcore are among the
    most passionate fans in Spain, but fewer than 100 made the 1,200-kilometre round
    trip. It didn't help that the date of the game had been switched three times.

    Among them is a

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  • Alonso the man to inspire Real

    Xabi Alonso tried to read a newspaper on Real Madrid's flight back from Valencia on Sunday.

    These were important times for Spain, the early hours of a day in which the crisis-hit country would hold a general election. Alonso isn't short of a few bob, but he'll know people out of work in all social classes and possesses the intelligence to have a social conscience.

    The Spain midfielder, 29, sat next to his best mate Alvaro Arbeloa, the defender wearing those oversized headphones favoured by footballers, and a watch the size of Big Ben.

    Both wore identikit grey Real Madrid v-neck jumpers, more

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  • L’Hospitalet sniff Barca Copa upset

    Most of the
    millions of tourists who visit Barcelona won't even realise that they've seen
    L'Hospitalet. They pass through the densely-populated maze 250,000 call home on
    the way from the airport to the city centre by road or rail, but few have any
    reason to stop.

    'Hospi' is
    not the Barcelona of tree-lined boulevards and modernist architecture, but a
    city of high-rise apartments which mushroomed in size when thousands of
    immigrants moved to the city in search of a better life from other parts of
    Spain and beyond from the 1950s onwards. Thus, there are a surprisingly high
    number of Real Madrid

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  • Spain produce the goods when it matters

    Saturday's defeat at Wembley wasn't Spain's finest hour, not that the reigning European and World Champions will be too troubled. Their form contrasts markedly between friendlies and where it matters, in competitive matches.

    England, Italy, Argentina and Portugal have all beaten Spain in friendly games in the last year, while Mexico got a draw in Spain's first game after they were crowned world champions. So what?

    In competitive matches, La Furia Roja just can't stop winning. The number one-ranked team in the world  have won every single competitive home match since a 1-0 loss to Romania in

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  • Messi already among greatest ever players

    A Catalan
    family saunter up the tree-lined Rambla Catalunya in central Barcelona on
    Sunday afternoon. Dad admires the giant Audi people carrier which stops in
    traffic alongside them, while mum tries to stop her two kids from working out
    who is driving behind the blacked out windows.

    "It's
    Messi!" shouts the oldest child. "It's Lionel Messi."

    The world's
    best footballer could have shot off in his high-powered motor, but instead
    lowered the windows and posed for two quick photos with the boys, taken with
    their father's phone. Messi's long-time girlfriend in the passenger seat smiles
    and points

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  • Sympathy for the strikers

    A
    couple of years ago, I asked a Spanish footballer how he was finding life in
    England after his move to a big club.

    "You
    get paid your full wages on time," he marvelled. "There are no
    problems - the full amount of money goes straight into your bank."

    The
    player had come from Barcelona and had yet to suffer the fate of so many of his
    team mates who'd left the Catalan club. Barça were reliable payers, but his
    former team mates had horror stories of late payments, reduced payments,
    diminished bonuses or, in the worst cases, no wages at all.

    Unscrupulous
    football club owners took  advantage of

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  • If you can’t beat them, marvel at them

    The Catalan and Madrid media need to invent some fresh superlatives. So used are they to seeing their main sides win each week, the headlines focus on what they perceive as the unquestionable brilliance of Barca or Real Madrid.

    Jose Mourinho will occasionally disrupt the self-aggrandising glorification with a paranoid rant or madcap antic, but normal order will soon be restored with Madrid's media bleating about the genius of Ronaldo et al and the Catalans paying homage to the best ever team in the world/solar system/universe.

    Emphatic wins such as the 5-0 victory Barca enjoyed over Villarreal

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  • Socrates recalls ‘greatest World Cup game’ in Spain

    The great Brazilian footballer Socrates never played for a Spanish club, which was little surprise as he told Brazilians that he wouldn't play for any foreign club until his country was granted democracy.

    He'd started a democratic movement based on "justice and fairness" when he played for Sao Paulo club Corinthians, but given that democracy didn't happen until 1985, Socrates was nearing the end of his distinguished career.

    He finally went to Italy and played for Fiorentina because living in Florence appealed, though he was annoyed that he was asked to train when he wanted to see museums or

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  • Sociedad celebrate another famous comeback

    It's hard to begrudge the Basques of Real Sociedad. Two goals down at home to Barcelona after 11 minutes on Saturday, the argument that Spain's Primera Liga is woefully two-sided was holding weight. Goals from Xavi and Cesc Fabregas, who went on to be Barca's best player, put the Catalans on course for what everyone thought would be another easy victory.

    Real Sociedad were one of just two teams to beat Barca in the league last season, but that victory in April came against a fringe Barca side who had all but wrapped up the title. Historically, La Real have found points much harder to come by

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  • Liga fails to keep to script

    So much for
    the Spanish League being predictable.

    There's not
    a soul who doesn't expect Barcelona and Real Madrid to occupy the top two
    places at the end of the season, but nor did anyone anticipate the two giants
    tripping up so early in the season. Barca's 2-2 draw at Real Sociedad was
    followed by the same scoreline at home to Milan last Tuesday.

    Barca
    started with two midfielders - Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano - in the
    centre of their defence. It's something they've done before  without any
    problem, but the pair were left standing as Milan's Alexandre Pato steamed
    through to put

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