Spartans cause stir in Valencia

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The Independent Online

Barcelona's need to sign a Robinho-type player will be underlined tonight when they travel to Valencia without injured Thierry Henry and with Leo Messi still jaded from two World Cup qualifiers in South America.

Robinho admitted this week that Barcelona tried to sign him in the summer and despite the noises coming out of Eastlands, the Spanish champions have done nothing to water down their sporting director's comments describing the player as an interesting option who can play in the Champions League.

Yesterday there were even suggestions in the Catalan press that negotiations that came to nothing in the summer have been ongoing, with Barcelona president Joan Laporta even raising the subject when he ran into Manchester City's owners at a wedding in Israel at the end of last season. Nothing can happen until January and with Henry out for 10 days with a calf strain Messi is set to line up in attack alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic and youngster Pedro. Barça face a Valencia side who will wait until just before kick-off to decide whether David Villa will be fit to start.

The Spain forward, whose dream of signing for Barcelona in the summer was ruined by the club's unwillingness to meet Valencia's asking price, before spending €40m plus Samuel Eto'o on Ibrahimovic, has passed himself fit but Valencia are desperate for him not to come back too soon and will give him a late fitness test before tonight's kick-off.

Villa's desire to play is matched by the club's desire to put one over on their rivals although Spain's committee for anti-violence made Valencia remove an inspirational video posted on the club's website by the team's sponsor, Unibet. The production showed images of the film 300 – which recreates a Spartan triumph against the odds – and showed one too many old clips of Valencia players clattering into their Barcelona rivals in previous encounters. The governing body said the video was likely to incite violence and with inspired sarcasm, Unibet replaced it with a video of Heidi, the Swiss orphan girl whose adventures were adapted for television in both Spain and England in the Eighties.

Unibet added: "We have always defended clean play; we were just demonstrating with 300 that sometimes an underdog can win." A 300-like display from Valencia and a win over Barça could see Real Madrid move back to the top of the table if they can beat Valladolid at home tonight. They will have to do so without Cristiano Ronaldo who will be out for three weeks.

The Portuguese winger will be replaced by the veteran Raul in an attack that will still boast €80m worth of talent in Karim Benzema and Kaka. Ronaldo has a few offers to look over while he recovers from his ankle injury. Millionaires in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates have all invited him to play games in their country. Real already have a game planned in Saudi Arabia on 22 December which should see them make around €3m and other dates could yet be added.

Spotlight on... Ronaldinho's mysterious award-winning performances

Proof that the Premier League is never far from Jose Mourinho's mind – no one had mentioned the English top flight to the Internazionale coach but to defend his record in Italy, the Portuguese coach said: "[Rafa] Benitez has not won a league title in six years at Liverpool but continues to be their manager. [Arsène] Wenger hasn't won so much as a Carling Cup for six years."

Mourinho is under pressure to keep Inter on top in Serie A and with both first-choice strikers, Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito, out injured, he could do without the tough trip to Genoa tonight. The home side have Hernan Crespo up front keen to put one over his old manager.

Milan play Roma tomorrow with coach Leonardo still fighting for his job. Two weeks ago it was Ronaldinho who stayed the execution with a late equaliser. Ronaldinho won the Golden Foot this week and could start up front against Roma. The prize awarded to the world's best over-29 left many fans wondering just what part of last season clinched the award for the Brazilian. Roma could have their own golden oldie involved with 33-year-old Francesco Totti close to recovering from his knee injury.

They're all talking about... Referee Gonzalez eyeing up the Premier League

Spanish referee Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez has admitted he would consider working in the Premier League if he was asked. One of La Liga's best referees has to quit at the end of the season because of the age limit of 45 in Spain. Officials in England can continue till they are 49. "In England if you score with your hand you're a cheat. Here you're considered smart even though you have cheated," he said when asked about the differences in the leagues.

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