Andy Mitten

  • Big La Liga derbies outside El Clasico

    Barcelona and Real Madrid may dominate, but Spanish football isn't only
    about their big two. The country of the European and World Champions boasts
    rivalries at every level which attract vast sell-out crowds and mean a huge
    amount on a regional basis. Here's five of the best to look forward to next
    season which have nothing to do with El Clasico...

    Elche v Hercules

    The battle for Alicante. Hercules' relegation and Elche's play-off final
    defeat to Granada mean the two biggest teams in this sunny coastal region will
    meet again in the second division next season.

    Previous games have been marred

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  • Newly rich Malaga Sheikh up La Liga

    The closest most of the Costa Del Sol's 300,000 British and
    Irish expatriates go to the city of Malaga is when they pass through its
    charter hub airport en-route to the resorts or hillside villas they call home.
    Many are aware of the existence of nearby Primera Liga side Malaga CF through
    match reports in the local English language media, but for most their interest
    remains a passing one.

    Some remain indifferent to Spanish football, preferring to
    keep in touch with British teams by watching games on satellite television; the
    proliferation of live football meaning it is possible to watch almost

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  • Fans enthused by moneyed Malaga

    Football stadiums are usually mothballed for the close season, lonely places for lonely groudsmen. Not so in Malaga.

    The Rosaleda threw its doors open again last week for the faithful to come to greet their latest signing. Over 16,000 of them braved the stifling mid-summer Andalusian heat to give winger Joaquin a hero's welcome - a higher number than recently came to cheer former Dutch international Ruud van Nistelrooy and current Dutch international Joris Mathijsen, both of whom were signed from Hamburg.

    Add to this Malaga's 10 million euro record signing, Lyon's French international

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  • Young, gifted and Spanish

    Spain's
    Under-21 internationals beamed as they walked through arrivals at Madrid's
    Barajas airport on Sunday. Fresh from being crowned European champions after
    victory against Switzerland in Denmark, most of the team were still wearing
    team shirts covered in the signatures of team mates in marker pen. The stature
    of those names is set to grow and grow.

    There
    are countless footballers who represent their country at U21 level and see
    their careers fail to fulfil the early promise, yet most of the victorious
    Spain team are already household names in their own country.

    Valencia's
    Juan Mata and

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  • Why Sanchez will end up at Barca

    So what attracts you, Alexis Sanchez, to Barcelona?  

    The opportunity of playing in the best team in the world alongside the planet's finest players? The added bonus of speaking your mother tongue in a sunny seaside climate similar to your own? It may not be the Pacific, but not many people would turn their noses up at living by the Mediterranean.

    Both Manchester clubs went for Udinese winger Sanchez and both feared the worst when Barca joined the race. City's petro-dollars can easily outspend the Catalans and even debt-laden United can compete with the side who outclassed them at Wembley -

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  • Elche hoping for the last laugh

    With players like Manchester United-bound David De Gea, Valencia's Juan Mata, Barca's Bojan Krkic, Thiago, Montoya and Jeffren, plus Milan's Didac and Athletic Bilbao's brilliant Javi Martinez, Spain's Under-21 team are favourites to win the European Under 21 Championship in Denmark.

    Yet La Furia Rojitos could win every game 15-0 and they wouldn't displace transfer speculation from the front pages of Spain's newspapers. The Madrid media have been resolutely warding off any suitors for their top players. Marca reported that Manchester United had made contact with Mesut Ozil's agent last week, a

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  • Brilliant Barca back in the market

    Barcelona is no place to be for a Real Madrid or Manchester United fan at the moment. Walk past any of the city's newsstands and Barca dominate as much as they did against Manchester United at Wembley. They've even made it to the cover of Newsweek, who ask if this Barca is the greatest football team ever.

    It's not just in news and sport. Barca even proliferate in the prensa rosa gossip magazines, with Gerard Pique's relationship with Shakira making them the Posh and Becks of the 350 million-strong Spanish-speaking world.

    The sports papers are offering commemorative t-shirts and glasses

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  • What can we learn from the Spanish way?

    Sir Alex Ferguson may still have been licking his wounds after his side were outclassed by Barcelona in Saturday's Champions League final, but the veteran manager made a pertinent point about the way elite youngsters are coached in England compared with Spain.

    "We are only allowed to coach youngsters for an hour-and-a-half but they (Barcelona) can coach every hour of the day if they want to," explained Ferguson. "That's the great advantage they've got and they have a fantastic philosophy. We hope that in years to come our coaches will be able to spend more time with young kids, to teach

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  • Volcano worries Barca more than United

    Barcelona fans seem more concerned about an ash cloud than about facing
    Manchester United. Over 25,000 will travel to Wembley, with 35 planes chartered
    along with 12 coaches, while the majority have made their own travel arrangements
    by air. All are nervous about the potential disruption from an angry Icelandic
    volcano.

    Barça's fears stem back to last
    season when their team drove 14 hours to a Champions League semi-final game
    against Internazionale. They lost.

    The players didn't want to blame the coach
    trip or their coach or even Inter parking the coach in front of heir goal, but
    several

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  • Messi represents both sides of Barca

    Lionel Messi didn't look best pleased to be left out of Barcelona's starting XI against Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday.

    The Catalans, who had been crowned Spanish champions for the 21st time a few days previously, began with just two of the 11 players who are expected to start at Wembley next week: Victor Valdes and Javier Mascherano.

    Guardiola didn't want his goalkeeper going 20 days without a game, while the Argentinian has excelled as an emergency centre-half in the absence of Eric Abidal and Carles Puyol and may well start in London. His form contrasts with that of his compatriot.

    Alarm

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