28 May ~ It's been a good week for burying bad news for Spain's pro-Madrid press, and as far as Marca and AS are concerned there is no worse news than Barcelona appearing in a Champions League final. On Monday came Sergio Agüero's statement that he was leaving Atlético Madrid, prompting fevered speculation of a move across the city, and on Wednesday came Florentino Pérez's announcement that Real Madrid were dispensing with the services of technical director Jorge Valdano.
Both stories were still featuring prominently in Friday morning's issues, though Marca belatedly adopted a sense of perspective by headlining with a three-page interview with Arsenal target Karim Benzema. With Barcelona's big game relegated to the inside pages, outside of Catalonia at least, the Agüero and Valdano bombshells have given the nation's legion of experts, columnists, commentators and panellists plenty to talk about.
No panel is more belligerent than the participants on late-night TV shouting match Punto Pelota. Fielding a complaint from one of his Barcelona-based contributors about the excessive focus on Agüero and the power struggle at Madrid, host Josep Pedrerol acknowledged he had a point only to launch into yet another debate on the Valdano/José Mourinho saga. An hour later talk finally turned to Barça in London.
What coverage Madrid's big dailies have devoted to Saturday's game has been restrained in tone, surprisingly so given the acrimonious nature of last month's four clásico meetings. One man still harbouring a grudge, however, is Mourinho's No 2, Aitor Karanka, who used his Wednesday press conference to muse on what might have been: "If things had been normal, we'd be in the Champions League final."
Seemingly reluctant to heap vitriol on Pep Guardiola and his side, correspondents have been lavishing praise on Alex Ferguson and his players instead. "An amazing versatility for changing styles," panted Enrique Ortego in yesterday's Marca, lauding the ability of Ferguson's side to switch between all-out attack and a deep-lying counter-attacking game "executed with absolute precision by his players".
Barcelona's Sport and El Mundo Deportivo have been less in thrall to the English champions. "With the lid blown off the Giggs affair, the nerves are all on the Manchester United side," crowed the latter, making merry at Giggs's indiscretions, while "special correspondents" at Sport have been taking Nemanja Vidic to task. "Vidic attacks Barça with the same tactic as Mourinho," they howled, lambasting the Serb for daring to accuse the Spanish champions of gamesmanship. "Vidic's speech was as pathetic as it was false, and was totally at odds with the fair play they boast of in the 'Isles'."
Yet for lack of objectivity, few scribes can outdo Tomás Roncero of AS, who ignored Barcelona yet again on Friday to discuss his favourite subject: Raúl. "Raúl is formed of the stuff that makes him unique in his species," he gushed in response to the news that Madrid's favourite son had made UEFA.com's Player Rater Team of the Season, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo no less. Win, lose or draw for Barcelona tonight, some things will never change. James Calder