Andy Mitten

L’Hospitalet sniff Barca Copa upset

Andy Mitten

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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 fans in Hospitalet, whose fringe borders Barca's Camp
Nou.

When
Manchester United stayed in Hospitalet ahead of their 2008 Champions League
semi-final against Barca - they wanted to be out of town rather than save money
- more than one player was heard to question the wisdom that Barcelona was an
attractive city. Their view from the Hesperia Tower hotel was of brightly-coloured
but unrelenting tower blocks, more gaudy than Gaudi.

Victor
Valdes grew up in Hospitalet and had he not been called up to the Spain squad
for this Saturday's friendly against England at Wembley, the Barca goalkeeper
would have relished tonight's Copa del Rey match as his team have been drawn
against in-form third-division side CE L'Hospitalet.

The first
of the two legs has been brought forward from next month as Barca will be in Yokohama
for the World Club championship - but Barca will have to play on the artificial
pitch without the vast majority of their squad.

Cup rules mean they must field at least seven established first teamers, but with 14 players have been selected to represent Spain this weekend - Xavi, Busquets, Villa, Pique, Cesc Fabregas, Puyol, Iniesta along with Valdes are in the squad to play England at Wembley, while Bartra, Thiago, Montoya, Muniesa, Planas and new first teamer Isaac Cuenca will play for the U21s - Barca will be fielding a mixed team of first teamers and some of the U19 squad which beat Manchester City youngsters 4-1 in the inaugural NextGen league last Thursday.

Hospi coach
Jordi Vinyals is a former Barca midfielder who came through the Blaugrana youth
ranks but couldn't progress beyond the reserve team. He has been praised by
Guardiola for his team's form this season, but Vinyals is a realist who reckons
that his team have almost no chance of progressing against the European
champions over two legs. They might sniff an upset tonight, though.

Barca do
take the Copa del Rey seriously, but some of the 6,500 fans - six times Hospi's
average crowd - who have paid up to €40 a ticket might be surprised to see
Deulofeu rather than David Villa.

After praising
Cesc Fabregas for being a "breath of fresh air" for the way in which he has
integrated into the Barca dressing room, Guardiola said that he will play the
strongest side available to him. Guardiola often gets asked about the dynamics
within his squad because they can affect everything. Samuel Eto'o wasn't
Guardiola's type of personality and so he was let go. Record signing Zlatan
Ibrahimovic wasn't Messi's type of person or footballer and he too was allowed
to leave. A recent story suggested that Messi and David Villa don't get on. It
came from newspapers in Valencia where Villa once played - and still has lots
of friends, including journalists - but the Catalan press dismissed it as
another attempt to destabilise Barca.  

Some see
any criticism of the club as a clandestine, Madrid-led operation to force
cracks in the Barca edifice; others that Messi's brilliance and dominance comes
at the price of other players being used out of position. Why people
automatically assume that two work colleagues should automatically get on is a
mystery, but the duo claim there is no ill feeling between them.

Not that
you'll be able to see either tonight on the other side of the tracks by the
banks of the river Llobregat in Hospitalet.

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