La Liga Preview: Espanyol – Real Madrid

Real Madrid are coming to town and the city of Barcelona is buzzing with anticipation. However, it is not FC Barcelona that the visitors will face, but a Clasico of a slightly different nature as Espanyol prepare to open their brand new stadium, the Estadi Cornella-El Prat, for official competition.

The match has all the hype of the more famous Clasico though, as confrontations between Espanyol and Real Madrid tend to be, this could well be one of the most competitive fixtures that La Liga has to offer during the course of the season.

In this encounter, the ‘Floren Team’ of Galacticos inaugurate the new Perico stadium, providing added incentive for Espanyol to treat their fans, who will have paid a pretty penny (or more precisely, centavo) for tickets and the team hopes for a memorable beginning to a new era.

Besides the a star-studded Madrid coming to town, the match has earned a good deal of international attention, especially in Japan, as Japanese superstar Shunsuke Nakamura makes his home debut for the Blanquiazules. Days in advance of the match, Barcelona has been bouncing with members of the Japanese media and the Saturday’s duel will be broadcast live in Tokyo as fans in the Far East are to be treated to a mouth-watering combination of their idol, top-class Liga football, and a world-renowned Real Madrid.

Finally, Espanyol fans will be given to chance to christen their new stadium by paying tribute to the fallen Dani Jarque after the former captain tragically died of a heart attack during the team’s preseason tour to Italy. A minute of silence will precede the match, but one can be sure that the following 90 minutes will be anything but silent and the new stadium will likely shake in its foundation as fans drive their team on.

Stars Return to the Galaxy

After a week-long international break of World Cup Qualifiers, which left the Madrid training pitch in Valdebebas with only 11 first-team players, Los Blancos could have some problems with fatigue in matching up against a Catalunyan side that has had far more time to prepare.

Thus far, Los Merengues have performed well, having looked strong throughout the pre-season and fighting with admirable zeal to defeat bogey team Deportivo La Coruna in the Liga opener. But in the hiatus of international matches, the Spanish press has had time to develop storylines analysing the team’s new stars, with most popular headlines being speculation over the amount of time it will take for Cristiano Ronaldo to adapt to the style of Liga football.

Unable to provide a convincing performance to lead a lacklustre Portugal to an emphatic victory in the week’s World Cup Qualifying matches, CR9 will be anxious to recover the form of his Manchester United days and a goal from a free kick would serve as a way to begin recovering this confidence.


RCD Espanyol

29/07/2009 Preseason Palafrugell - Espanyol 1-2
02/08/2009 Preseason Espanyol - Liverpool 3-0
05/08/2009 Preseason Napoli - Espanyol 0-0
22/08/2009 Preseason Girona - Espanyol 1-2
30/08/2009 Liga Athletic Bilbao - Espanyol 1-0

Real Madrid

7/08/2009 Preseason D. C. United-Real Madrid 0-3
15/08/2009 Preseason Real Sociedad-Real Madrid 0-2
19/08/2009 Preseason Borussia Dortmund-Real Madrid 0-5
25/08/2009 Preseason Real Madrid-Rosenborg 4-0
29/09/2009 Liga Real Madrid - Deportivo 3-2


RCD Espanyol

Espanyol coach Mauricio Pochettino is set to employ his ‘Barcelona recipe’—a high-pressure system of play in which his team pursues the ball well into the opposition’s half of the pitch; it is this strategy that saw Espanyol beat a seemingly invincible Barca by a 2-1 scoreline at the Camp Nou last season and Madrid showed problems coping with such advanced pressure last year.

Morale is high in the Espanyol camp as the squad is intent upon paying tribute to Dani Jarque and players like striker Luis Garcia have shown confidence that they will beat Madrid to open their new stadium. Pochettino is likely to repeat the same starting XI that played last week against Athletic Bilbao with the hope of achieving a different result than the 1-0 defeat last week at the San Mames. Ivan de la Pena will likely see action off the bench; the aging 'Buddha' tends to play very well against top-class competition and Saturday should be no different.

Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Kameni – Pillud, Forlin, Pareja, Chica – Moises, Verdu – Luis Garcia, Ivan Alonso, Nakamura – Raul Tamudo.

Real Madrid

The big news in Madrid has been the recovery of Sergio Ramos after the player spent over two-and-a-half months out with tendonitis. However, the Sevilla youth product has been left out of the squad for the trip to Barcelona, instead, according to coach Manuel Pellegrini, to debut in next week’s match. Also not making the trip are Rafael Van Der Vaart, who again seems not to fit into Pellegrini’s plans, and Fernando Gago, who has been given a cold shoulder since the Chilean coach arrived at the helm. Pepe also continues to be out, serving the last four matches of a ten-match suspension.

Those that have been included in the squad have been Ruud van Nistelrooy and Mahamadou Diarra who have both recovered from their long-term injuries and are fit enough to play. Both could see extensive action in Saturday’s highly anticipated affair.

Probable Starting XI (4-2-2-2): Casillas – Arbeloa, Albiol, Metzelder, Marcelo - Xabi Alonso, Lass - Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo; Raul, Benzema.


RCD Espanyol

Former Real Madrid youth product Luis Garcia is a player of exceptional talent and is due to have a season similar to the one that saw him earn a call-up to the Spanish national side two years ago. In goal, Kameni will likely see a barrage of shots come down on his net and the Cameroonian goalkeeper will be called upon more than once to pull out the spectacular saves he frequently makes. Finally, Ivan de la Pena will come off the bench in the hope of adding new life to his team’s attack in the second half. Against Barcelona last season, the Buddha was pivotal in leading Los Pericos to victory.

Real Madrid

After a brilliant showing with Brazil in the World Cup Qualifying match against Argentina last week, Kaka will be looking to continue his awesome form against an Espanyol side that will not easily back down. Cristiano Ronaldo will also be worth one’s eye as the Portuguese will be looking to score his first free kick for Los Blancos. After inexplicably playing only 17 minutes total in the World Cup Qualifying matches with France, Karim Benzema will be fresh and ready fire away at Kameni’s goal. Raul also has a penchant for scoring against Espanyol and it would not surprise if the captain were to find the back of the net again. Finally, the return of Van Nistelrooy and Diarra to official competition could be noteworthy—the former single-handedly won matches for Madrid last season and the latter was an absolute rock in defence before going down with an injury.


Security is high and tensions are even higher as Madrid come to Barcelona to take on Espanyol in their new stadium’s inauguration. With a minute of silence in honour of Dani Jarque, the ambiance surrounding this encounter has the makings of a real classic.

Espanyol will likely come with everything they have and should Madrid’s expensive star power falter in La Liga, the press will pick up on the story and the pressure will mount. Thus far, Los Blancos have performed well and while, despite the international break, there is no reason that should change, Los Pericos could surprise.

Tottenham's storming start to this league campaign, which has seen them win all four of their games, couldn't be more different to the abject opening sequence they put together in 2008/09, under the ill-fated leadership of Juande Ramos.

Most of the credit for this new-found swagger goes to manager Harry Redknapp, who has instilled a team spirit into a group of players that previously had failed to gel. Up front, Jermain Defoe – ever the confidence player – is showing the sort of sharpness that makes you wonder why he was ever less than first-choice at Spurs, while the other senior strikers – Robbie Keane, Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko – offer a useful blend of physiques and playing styles. The sense of balance is just as obvious in midfield, where Aaron Lennon and Luka Modric flank the engine room of Wilson Palacios and Tom Huddlestone/Jermaine Jenas; the unfortunate loss of Modric, who broke a bone in his leg in the 2-1 win against Birmingham, is a huge blow to the club's momentum. Thankfully, the emergency signing of Niko Kranjcar from Portsmouth should paper over that crack nicely.

There are, however, still question marks about this Spurs side, most notably about the frailty of its central defenders – stand up Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate, if you can – and the mental state of goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, for whom the phrase 'a rush of blood to the head' was invented.

Still, there are many more positives than negatives. Having soundly beaten Liverpool at White Hart Lane in their first game of the season, Spurs will not fear a visit from Manchester United. But as the season goes on, and injuries take their toll, I wonder how much longer they can survive near the summit of the league.

Intimidating track record

Manchester United have stuttered in the early stages of this campaign, as they seek to win an unprecedented fourth straight title. But Alex Ferguson will be comforted by his team's exemplary record against Tottenham. They have not lost to the north-London side in their last 16 league meetings, a run that dates back to May 2001, when Spurs won this corresponding fixture 3-1. Of course, such runs don't last forever, and Ferguson is wary of a Spurs team that has improved almost beyond recognition since the opening matches of last season.

Recent history apart, also in United's favour is the fact that many of their stars were not called upon during the international break, including Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Michael Owen and Anderson. With so many players either rested or returning from injury, United won't be able to blame fatigue if they leave White Hart Lane without a point.


Tottenham Hotspur

Aug 29 Tottenham 2-1 Birmingham
Aug 26 Doncaster 1-5 Tottenham (League Cup)
Aug 23 West Ham 1-2 Tottenham
Aug 19 Hull 1-5 Tottenham
Aug 16 Tottenham 2-1 Liverpool

Manchester United

Aug 29 Man Utd 2-1 Arsenal
Aug 22 Wigan 0-5 Man Utd
Aug 19 Burnley 1-0 Man Utd
Aug 16 Man Utd 1-0 Birmingham
Aug 9 Chelsea 2-2 Man Utd (Community Shield; Chelsea won 4-1 on penalties)


Tottenham Hotspur

Centre-back Sebastien Bassong has recovered from a knock he picked up on international duty for Cameroon, and should start against the Premier League champions.

New signing Niko Kranjcar, who made little impact for Croatia in their 5-1 defeat by England at Wembley on Wednesday, is expected to replace compatriot Modric on the left side of midfield.

Ledley King's famously dodgy knees are not the problem this time – the fragile defender strained his groin against Birmingham – but he's tipped to start at the back alongside Bassong.

In goal, Carlo Cudicini will continue to deputise for the injured Heurelho Gomes.

Last starting XI: Cudicini, Bassong, Corluka, King (Hutton 46), Assou-Ekotto, Huddlestone, Lennon, Palacios, Modric (Crouch 49), Keane, Defoe (Pavlyuchenko 80).

Manchester United

Versatile Irishman John O'Shea is out with a calf strain and is set to be replaced at right-back by Gary Neville. United's club captain proved his fitness in a reserve game last week and will be desperate to return to the first team.

Rio Ferdinand suffered a thigh strain in the Community Shield in August and hasn't played since. But the English defender is back in training and will partner Nemanja Vidic as usual, subject to a late fitness test.

Last starting XI: Foster, Evra, Brown, Vidic, O'Shea, Giggs (Berbatov 85), Carrick, Nani, Fletcher, Valencia (Park 63), Rooney.


Tottenham Hotspur

With his revelatory, man-of-the-match performance for England against Croatia on Wednesday, Aaron Lennon proved that he is one of the most-improved players in England. His raw pace and skill were never in question, but now there are welcome signs of maturity in the winger's overall play. Already this season, he has shown much greater intelligence in his use of the ball, especially in choosing when to cross – a glaring weakness in the old Lennon – and when to run at defenders. That said, if any full-back can keep him quiet, it's United's Patrice Evra. It should be a fascinating duel between two of the quickest performers in the league.

Manchester United

It's something of a football clich̩ that ex-players always return to haunt their old clubs, but that's exactly what Sir Alex Ferguson will hope Michael Carrick does at White Hart Lane tomorrow. Carrick's 'Marmite' status means he will always have his critics, but there's no doubt that the former Spurs star is now a key component in United's team. He is not a showy player but his range of passing and positional sense are both first-class Рhe has that rare ability to keep a team ticking over, even if many fans choose to ignore such an attribute. As Harry Redknapp searches for the best partner for Wilson Palacios in the heart of his midfield, no doubt many Tottenham supporters will spare a thought for the playmaker they once called their own.


Spurs made light work of Liverpool at home on the opening weekend of the new season and their confidence will be high as they look to scalp another of the so-called 'big four'. Crucially though, there is now a Luka Modric-shaped hole in the hosts' midfield. The Croatian has been vitally important for Spurs so far this season, and although the pace of Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe will no doubt cause United problems at times, Modric will be sorely missed. In light of United's excellent record at Spurs, and with Rio Ferdinand back at the heart of their defence, I expect United to be good enough to take three points from what should be a very tight contest. No one would be surprised if it's Tottenham old boy Dimitar Berbatov – rather than Wayne Rooney, who ran his socks off for England on Wednesday and must still be slightly jaded – who gets the winning goal for the visitors.

Turning Point

It's been a strange old start to the season for Liverpool. They headed in with sky-high expectations after taking home the silver medal in last season's Premier League race, but the mob from Merseyside have lost two and won two in their first four games of 2009-10.

And it could have been worse - for when the half-time whistle blew in their last outing against Bolton Wanderers, it looked like the Reds would go into the international break with three defeats under their belts. However, Steven Gerrard struck late to secure what was a morale-boosting victory.

Spirits have been alarmingly low at Anfield over the early stages of the season, with questions continuing to mount as to whether Rafael Benitez's Xabi Alonso-less squad can match, let alone exceed, the standards set in the last campaign.

The manager has acknowledged the problem but believes the gritty win at the Reebok could prove a turning point for Liverpool.

"When you are not doing well you always need character - and the players showed character against Bolton," Benitez told the press on Thursday. "We controlled the game and although we conceded two goals, we scored three and came from behind to win. That is very positive and hopefully it will be a different situation for us now."

Upsetting The Odds

It is Burnley who visit Anfield this weekend, and recent events indicate that the promoted club could cause their out-of-sorts hosts any number of problems.

The 3-0 drubbing by in-form Chelsea last time out was something of an anomaly for the Clarets, who have sent out warning shots to their doubters with shock wins against Manchester United and Everton.

Thus, although situated three places back in 10th, Owen Coyle's men stand level on points with their upcoming opponents, whom they famously ousted from the FA Cup in 2005.

And while both Burnley's wins so far this season have come at Turf Moor, they head to Liverpool confident of competing. Veteran defender Graham Alexander said recently: "It's an amazing spirit we've got, the gaffer instils it and breeds it that we can beat anyone on our day."

Early trends suggest that away form could be the Lancashire outfit's undoing, as they have yet to pick up a point - or score a goal - on the road this term.



Aug 29 Bolton Wanderers 2-3 Liverpool (Premier League)
Aug 24 Liverpool 1-3 Aston Villa (Premier League)
Aug 19 Liverpool 4-0 Stoke City (Premier League)
Aug 16 Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Liverpool (Premier League)
Aug 8 Liverpool 2-1 Atletico Madrid (Friendly)


Aug 29 Chelsea 3-0 Burnley (Premier League)
Aug 25 Hartlepool United 1-2 Burnley (League Cup)
Aug 23 Burnley 1-0 Everton (Premier League)
Aug 19 Burnley 1-0 Manchester United (Premier League)
Aug 15 Stoke City 0-2 Burnley (Premier League)



Five of Benitez's first-team players featured over the international break, including England heroes Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson, but all appear to have reported back to Melwood unscathed.

In some good news, Fabio Aurelio is available for selection after recovering from a freak knee injury sustained duting the summer. Young Emiliano Insua has impressed at left-back in the Brazilian's absence.

Alberto Aquilani (ankle) and Daniel Agger (back) remain sidelined with long-term problems.

Possible Starting XI: Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Insua; Mascherano, Lucas; Kuyt, Gerrard, Benayoun; Torres.


Manchester United product Richard Eckersley is back in the frame after completing a suspension, giving Coyle an extra option in defence.

At the other end of the pitch, David Nugent could make his league debut for the Clarets. The one-time England striker - who began his career in Liverpool's youth team - recently moved from Portsmouth on loan.

Nugent has impressed his new manager in training and is an outside chance to start ahead of Martin Paterson, who played in Northern Ireland's midweek defeat by Slovakia.

Possible Starting XI: Jensen; Mears, Bikey, Carlisle, Jordan; Elliot, Alexander, McCann, Blake; Fletcher, Paterson.


Glen Johnson (Liverpool)

The dashing wing-back has made a superb start to life at Anfield since his summer move from Portsmouth, yet his defensively suspect performances for England continue to draw criticism. Thus, he will be hoping to bounce back with another dynamic display in red.

Robbie Blake (Burnley)

In a career that has been spent largely in the lower divisions, this man has often been touted as the best player outside the Premier League. The wily 33-year-old has already shown his class this term with a magnificent strike against Man United - could he undo the other giants of the North West?


It's always tough to judge what will happen immediately after an international break, but Liverpool seem to have developed a 'flat-track bully' mentality that will serve them well against an impassioned Burnley outfit. Still, they'll have to fight - so a narrow win to the hosts.

Real Madrid have been named as the best club of the 20th century after an exhaustive study by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS).

The Spanish giants finished out in front of Juventus, who were second, while Barcelona, Milan and Bayern Munich completed the top five in the historic record books.

In recent seasons the IFFHS have judged clubs in order of merit, but have only done so in the Club World Ranking that began in 1991.

Demand was high for a ranking based on titles won, placings in competitions and other factors over the entire 20th century, and now the IFFHS have explained how they reached their conclusion.

"For some years now, the IFFHS has been asked by clubs, sports journalists and fans to determine the clubs of the century for the individual continents but on a realistic basis without imaginary values and subjective influences," the statement on the IFFHS website explains.

"The rankings published so far have been based on the number of titles won or placings or marathon tables in competitions.

"Because the Club World Ranking (by IFFHS) has been determined monthly only since January 1991, it cannot be used as the basis for determining the club of the century.

"The IFFHS has decided these continental clubs of the century and with it continental rankings of century to determine exclusively on the base of individual match results of the continental club competitions.

"The national competitions are merely a prerequisite to qualify for the continental club competitions. Intercontinental club competitions were not taken into consideration."

A point system saw clubs rewarded for their performances in the Champions League, UEFA Cup, European Cup Winners' Cup, Mitropa Cup, Copa Latina and the European Super Cup.

Below are the top ten clubs of the 20th century:

Points Club
563.50 Real Madrid
466.00 Juventus
458.00 FC Barcelona
399.75 AC Milan
399.00 Bayern Munich
362.00 Inter
332.75 Ajax
300.25 Liverpool
299.00 Benfica
231.00 Anderlecht

Espanyol face Real Madrid in the Primera Division on Saturday, and their captain is puzzled by the criticism that los Merengues' Portuguese star has received from some quarters.

"Cristiano Ronaldo doesn't have to prove anything," Ivan de la Pena stated in an interview with AS.

"I saw him play against Deportivo La Coruna and I liked him. The fact is any Real Madrid player can turn a game: [Karim] Benzema, Kaka, Cristiano, Raul...

"Xabi Alonso gives the team a lot of options," the 33-year-old added.

While the 'Little Buddha' was full of praise for Saturday night's opposition, he is also quietly confident that Espanyol could find a result against their illustrious opponents.

"We must be ourselves and play our football. If we are able to play a good game, we will get a good result. We want to play a part," he declared.

Scolari Needs A Left-Winger At Chelsea

Chelsea need a left-winger who is left-footed, according to manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, before they can even think about regularly partnering Didier Drogba with Nicolas Anelka up front.That lack of a genuine left winger is what is preventing the Brazilian switching his 4-3-3 formation to a 4-4-2, despite the Blues' form, especially at home, suggesting that change is needed.

Scolari feels that out of his current squad Florent Malouda, currently sidelined with injury, is the only player who can fill the left-wing position adequately, despite the Brazilian having Joe Cole at his disposal.

Cole has played on the left wing for England on many occasions, and has performed well in the role, but Scolari doesn't feel that he can do an effective wide job in a 4-4-2 formation. Another option would have been Wayne Bridge, who can occupy a role further forward than his usual left-back position, but he was sold to Manchester City yesterday.

"I will play 4-4-2 when I have a winger who can play on the left and with his left foot," Scolari said in the London Evening Standard. "When you don't have players with these characteristics it is difficult to adapt one player to play in 4-4-2.

"Florent Malouda is the only player who can play with his left foot and he is injured. Everyone else is right-footed."

Chelsea have won only three of their last ten games and take on Manchester United at Old Trafford this weekend.

In the long-term absence of perma-crocked Czech Republic star Tomas Rosicky, and the four month lay-off of young playmaking captain Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has been linked with a replacement who can pull the strings while the former two ensure the club's physios earn their wage.

Despite reports to the contrary suggesting the buy would be too flambouyant, confirmation has just this moment arrived that Arsenal are indeed in talks with Zenit St Petersburg over Russian attacker Andrei Arshavin. A Zenit chief today told Sky Sports: "We have been in discussion with Arsenal now for some time.

"They are hoping that a deal will be concluded within the next ten days to two weeks."It is no secret that Zenit value the Russian international at £20 million, and if Arsenal were to pay the full amount, then it would smash the club's record.

The Gunners paid £13 million for Sylvain Wiltord in August 2000. In the winter window in 2003- 04, the fee paid for Jose Reyes was initially £10 million, but could have risen to £17 million due to top ups, but was unlikely to dwarf the transfer for Wiltord.