Clasico final could have far-reaching implications

Posted by Graham Hunter

Carlo Ancelotti Real Madrid vs BarcelonaGettyImagesIn his debut season at the Bernabeu, Ancelotti is chasing his first silverware as Real Madrid manager.

Good luck, in particular, to those Barcelona players whose careers are either at or coming to an end and, as always, may the better team win.

But I can't deny the impression that it would be the more positive result were Real Madrid to win Wednesday's Copa Del Rey final.

Barcelona fans will never (can never) fully see it that way.

It's too stark a prospect.

And I'd not be surprised if some Camp Nou warriors, be they Gerard Pique, Xavi or Andres Iniesta, choose to chide me for my view over the next few weeks of the season or during the World Cup. Continue Reading...

Spain's 'others,' Valencia and Sevilla, fight back

Posted by Sid Lowe

Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty ImagesValencia's resurgence vs. Basel was stunning given recent turmoil.

A week is a long time in football. Last Thursday ended with Valencia's players standing defeated and depressed before 75 people, a ban for Basel providing an appropriately empty stadium for a sad backdrop as they trudged silently to the dressing room, their season as good as finished. This Thursday ended with Valencia's players standing before 1,000 fans looking out from the first tier at Mestalla, an improvised balcony for an unexpected celebration. On the street below supporters jumped and cheered, their season resuscitated. Continue Reading...

Burning Questions about Barca's impending ban

Posted by Graham Hunter

Josep Lago/AFP/Getty ImagesFans show their support at the Camp Nou -- "Don't touch La Masia."

So far, the whole Barcelona ban episode has taught us almost as much about the football news machine as it has about FIFA's Article 19 (Protection of Minors) in the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players.

When this bomb dropped last Thursday, there can't have been anyone outside FIFA HQ who wasn't stunned.

The most successful and venerated club on earth over the last decade caught and given a swinging, exemplary ban for malpractice in precisely the area that has given their trophies an extra sheen over these ten years. Continue Reading...

Is youth the future for bruised Barcelona?

Posted by Sid Lowe

Courtesy of Sid LoweThe La Masia building in Barcelona.

At one corner of the Camp Nou, wedged in between the northern end of the stadium and the maternity hospital and dwarfed by the buildings around it, stands La Masia. A little Catalan farmhouse, built in 1702 with a green lawn neatly kept, a tiny oasis of resistance in the big city; since 1979 La Masia was a residence for children who came through FC Barcelona’s youth system.

Inside, there was a school, a kitchen and bunk beds from where these hopefuls could see the stadium towering over them, as well as the small first team training pitch that used to be positioned immediately alongside. Continue Reading...

Small-town Eibar to be punished for their success?

Posted by Sid Lowe

Josep Lago/EuroFootball/Getty ImagesTiny Eibar is enjoying a superb season, albeit one that could be ruined by forces well beyond their control.

At Ipurua, the mist rolls down the green hillside, across the roofs and right over the pitch. The town of Eibar has a population of 27,000 people and sits halfway up the valley of the River Ego in the Basque Country, northern Spain.

At the top of the town, up steep streets, stands Ipurua, the picturesque home ground of Second Division club Eibar. It is surrounded by mountains to the north and south and the best view may just be the one from the two blocks of flats that tower over the stand. Continue Reading...

La Liga's race for fourth heats up

Posted by Graham Hunter

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty ImagesAfter back-to-back ninth-place finishes, Sevilla are aiming to qualify for the Champions League.

Over the years, Hollywood and television have sold us the image that the only ways to deal with high pressure are through suave nonchalance (James Bond, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, "North By Northwest" or "The Sting") or testosterone-fuelled dollops of all-out-action (Jack Bauer in "24," Indiana Jones, "Mission Impossible").

Not many screenplays would have been sold based on the official reactions from Barcelona and Real Madrid's websites on Monday morning after the latest Clasico result -- 4-3 to Barcelona -- set up one of the tensest, pressure-filled and, hopefully, fun La Liga crescendos in recent memory. Continue Reading...

Food for thought after a fabulous Clasico clash

Posted by Graham Hunter

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty ImagesIt's been a tough year but Martino's clasico double stands out.

If you watched it, you'll never forget it.

Ninety minutes seared on your consciousness, the memory of which will keep you warm on cold nights and bring colour to a month of humdrum days.

Unless you wear one of these two club's colours, let's set the result -- a 4-3 away win for Barcelona -- aside for a minute.

Football was invented for a night like this. Bravery, brio, technique, showmanship, nerve, fun, fear, fury -- goals, goals, goals.

For my taste, neither side left the arena other than with its reputation enhanced. Continue Reading...

Three Things: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona

Posted by James Tyler

Denis Doyle/Getty ImagesLionel Messi starred as Barcelona grabbed a vital clasico victory.

Lionel Messi scored Barcelona's first hat trick at the Bernabeu as the visitors tallied an epic 4-3 win to pull themselves back into the title race. Here are three thoughts from another wild, unforgettable Clasico ...

1. Living up to the hype

Sunday's latest duel needed little introduction but given Real Madrid and Barcelona's recent form in La Liga, there were more storylines than usual. Barca's uncharacteristic league hiccups in 2014 -- a 1-1 draw at Levante, defeats vs. Continue Reading...

Homegrown stars to the fore in this clasico

Posted by Graham Hunter

Getty ImagesAlba and Carvajal are set to go head-to-head at the Bernabeu on Sunday.

For Real Madrid, this has been a week where any tension over the clasico has been defused by a huge outpouring of sympathy and support for Jese, their home-bred tyro whose damaged ligaments will rob him of the next nine months.

Spain is a very different footballing culture from Scotland and England where I grew up and began my journalistic work.

It's not that people don't care about injuries in the UK, but when I was younger it was notorious that Bill Shankly, building an irresistible Liverpool empire, would simply stop talking to his injured players and treat them as if they'd deliberately spited him by breaking a leg. Continue Reading...

Clasico could end an era for Barca legends

Posted by Sid Lowe

David Ramos/Getty ImagesThere might never be another Barca defender as brilliant as Puyol.

An epoch is defined every few months. As one Barcelona player puts it: "Madrid-Barça is the game of the century every time, even though there are four a year."

On Sunday night the biggest rivals in world sport will meet for the 18th time in the past three-and-a-half years and in less than a month, they will meet in the final of the Copa del Rey, too.

Yet there's still something about the clasico that feels definitive, at least until the next time. Like the frontier between one age and the next. Continue Reading...

Top Tenner: Lionel Messi's Barcelona goals

Posted by Dermot Corrigan

Lionel MessiGettyImagesMessi made his full debut in 2004 and became the youngest player ever to score a league goal for Barca at only 17 years, 10 months and 7 days old.

Lionel Messi has now scored 371 goals for Barcelona. Here are 10 of the best:

1. First goal vs. Albacete, May 1, 2005

A 17-year-old Messi came on as a substitute for Samuel Eto’o with the time almost over and Barcelona on the way to a victory that would help close out a first title win in six seasons under Frank Rijkaard. Even though the score was still only 1-0, Ronaldinho (as he had earlier promised) concentrated on trying to provide an assist for his little protégé and quickly sent him clear in area. Continue Reading...

From humble beginnings, Messi makes history... again

Posted by Graham Hunter

AllsportMessi celebrates his first Barcelona goal in May 2005.

I must admit I consider myself very fortunate to have been present for Lionel Messi's first Barcelona goal. Both of them.

Please forgive the grammar; it's not really an error.

Back on May 1, 2005, in a game vs. Albacete, the world got a taste of “Lionel Messi, the scoring genius” for the first time. Sent on as a substitute for Samuel Eto’o with a couple of minutes left, Messi took a delightfully clever assist pass from Ronaldinho and lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Raul Valbuena. Continue Reading...