Andy Mitten

  • Returning star Higuain gives Mourinho selection headache

    With a historical record of one win in every five
    games against Real Madrid, Espanyol's fans must have known what was coming at
    the weekend.

    10pm on a Sunday night is no time for a game of
    football to kick off, but Espanyol's biggest crowd of 2011 nevertheless
    congregated in the bars on the narrow streets of the barrio close to their new
    home in Cornella in fine voice. Barça fans would not have appreciated the
    songs, not that these supporters of their city rivals would care.

    Espanyol have been restricted to winning just four
    domestic cups in their history and an appearance in the 2007 UEFA

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  • Spain really does rule the world

    Monday night
    saw a leading Spanish radio station broadcast live from Manchester, where David
    de Gea, David Silva and Pepe Reina were the guests. The programme started at
    midnight and while that might seem late, that's the culture in Iberia where
    late night radio shows with big name players have always been popular.

    Spain may be
    European and world champions and most of the national team play for Barcelona,
    but a significant number of top Spaniards play in England.

    Spanish footballers
    haven't always travelled well. Fernando Morientes' experience in Liverpool was
    a chastening one, while the

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  • Levante run captures imagination

    One of the most engrossing aspects of sport is when David
    slays Goliath. There have been countless one-off upsets in football matches,
    it's one reason we love it. Who expected Hercules to win at Camp Nou last
    season? Or third tier Leeds United to beat Manchester United in the FA Cup at
    Old Trafford?

    When David goes on an even more sustained run it becomes
    more gripping. Stories like 'The Miracle of Castel di Sangro', the team from a
    mountain village of 5,000 in central Italy who went up and up until they found
    themselves in Serie B playing - and beating - the likes of Genoa away were so
    good

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  • Spain bemused by Scotland away following

    La Liga may be on a two-week sabbatical because of international football, but there's plenty happening in Spain.

    So much for being a fan-owned democracy which represent a panacea for football's ills - the bewildering politics of Barca have spilled into the courtroom, with former president Joan Laporta accused of acting more than a little dishonestly in Barca's dealing with that country famous for footballing glory, Uzbekistan.

    Laporta, who still enjoys great popularity with influential figures such as Pep Guardiola and Johann Cruyff in Catalonia, could even face further legal action for

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  • Barcelona braced for derby

    The
    loudest noise at Camp Nou during Sunday's 5-0 thrashing of promoted Real
    Sociedad didn't come when Lionel Messi scored two more wondrous goals. Nor was
    it when a banner was unveiled objecting to Barça's recently announced shirt
    sponsorship deal with the Qatar Foundation - though the banner won
    approval. 

    Of
    course the 74,000 crowd purred in appreciation as Barca completely dominated
    their opponents, setting a record for the number of passes in a football match
    for the second time in a week. Barca made 971 against Rubin Kazan last Tuesday
    and 938 against Sociedad. Such statistics have only

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  • Cesc set for Barca bench role

    Sir
    Alex Ferguson joked last week that he should cut his weekly press conferences
    to once a month.

    When
    he arrived at Old Trafford, the United manager used to give his local newspaper
    team news every morning. Now he sees all the media once a week, unless he
    decides that he doesn't want to, like if he's irked by the reporting of a
    particular incident. It's on Ferguson's terms and that's how he likes it. He
    holds all the power and knows it.

    When
    it was pointed out that Bayern Munich have a daily press conference he laughed
    away. As he would if he saw how Spanish clubs deal with the media.

    I

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  • Silly season nearly over in Spain

    Spanish cities almost shut down in August as the country takes a holiday. Most shops close for a month and those fortunate enough to be in employment stop work and head for the coast.

    In football, training sessions are rescheduled to early morning and late afternoon to avoid the hottest part of the day. Barca and Real Madrid may have thought that they were escaping the heat with their American pre-season tours. Instead, they experienced a heat wave.

    At least Barca's third and final game was in the air-conditioned bliss of Dallas's stunning Cowboys Stadium. It was the only time a much-changed

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  • Kempes likes look of Valencia

    Mario Kempes laughs when he is asked how Barcelona can be beaten. The Argentina legend, who scored two goals and set up the third in the 1978 World Cup final against Netherlands, is in Washington DC to watch the Catalans take on Manchester United in a sell-out friendly that will be watched by a local record crowd of 81,807.

    "It's not impossible to beat this Barca side," says Kempes, now 57 and living in Connecticut. "Nothing is impossible in football, but it's very, very difficult. They really know how to play because so many of them have played together for so long and share the same

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  • Alexis fits the bill for Barca

    A 500-strong
    crowd, many of them waving Chile flags, press against the security fences close
    to the Camp Nou. "Alexis!" they holler when they spot Barca's new
    signing from a distance.

    The Chilean arrived
    the night after playing in Copa America. He spent his first day in Barcelona working
    through a medical before putting his name to a five-year deal and meeting the
    media. The smiling Sanchez is a man of few words, but what he says wins nodding
    approval.

    "I'm here to
    learn from the best," he says modestly. Few doubt that he can become one of
    the best players in the world - that is why both

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  • Mourinho’s Madrid may match Barca

    Ever
    the showman, Cristiano Ronaldo indulged in four stepovers as he dribbled his
    way through the LA Galaxy defence before striking an unstoppable shot past
    their goalkeeper. Such box office moments kept the 56,000 crowd happy in the
    Los Angeles Coliseum on Sunday night as Real Madrid beat LA Galaxy 4-1 as part
    of their pre-season tour.

    The result means little in the greater scheme
    of things. Madrid had only returned to pre-season training five days earlier,
    but there were indicators of Madrid's health as they seek to overcome Barca
    this season and win a first league title in four years.

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