Andy Mitten

  • Mourinho knocks Pep off his perch

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    Real Madrid didn't think they'd have to wait another four years as Barcelona formed the guard of honour to welcome them as champions of Spain, onto the rain lashed Bernabéu pitch. It was May 2008 and Madrid were feted by their main rivals before destroying Barça 4-1. The Catalans looked shot, their coach Frank Rijkaard a forlorn figure after the game.

    The travelling media didn't grill him because they knew he was dead man walking. Instead, they felt sympathy for him. Rijkaard was not a bad coach, he'd been a great leader who delivered consecutive league titles and a second European Cup to

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  • What now for Barcelona?

    Pep Guardiola was late down to the press room deep in the bowels of the Camp Nou main stand. Very late. It was over an hour after the final whistle and the Camp Nou was empty.

    The 4,800 ecstatic Chelsea fans had been the last to leave, singing "We're going to Germany" as they climbed the hundreds of steps down from the third tier. They'd had a great day and night, their pre-match confidence and chants of "Who needs Messi when we've got Kalou?" upheld by the defensive quality in their side on the biggest stage.

    The home fans had left on the whistle, not whistling or booing their heroes, but by

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  • Spanish success comes at a price

    "Scotland in the sun" was the dismissive sobriquet given to Spain's Primera Liga by those who saw a predictable two-horse race and little else to get excited about.

    With five Spanish clubs occupying the final eight berths in the Champions League and Europa League this week, you hear less mocking. Spain could provide all four European finalists.

    There's a whole lot happening below Spain's big two — who meet in a vital league game on Saturday at Camp Nou after Barca have faced Chelsea and Real Madrid have met Bayern Munich.

    Nobody is pretending the Barca-Madrid duopoly is healthy. Atletico

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  • 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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