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Power is shifting back to Barcelona.

Not for a second do I expect you to sympathise with me.

But within 24 hours of getting back from Bangkok, I was off to Barcelona for last night's Champions League draw with Celtic, then on to Villareal for tonight's UEFA Cup group-stage match against Middlesbrough.

Barcelona are far and away the most exciting team I've seen in the Champions League this season, and it was not insignificant that they beat Real Madrid 3-0 in La Liga last Saturday.

The balance of power in Spain is well and truly shifting back to the Catalonian giants.

In Ronaldinho they have a real crowd pleaser, and he is well supported by the likes of Deco, Eto'o and Giuly, while international midfielder Xavi is the most improved player I've seen.

I'd like them to lift the Champions League trophy because they certainly have more flair than the last two winners, AC Milan and Porto.

If Xavi is the most improved player in Spain, then Middlesbrough are the most improved team in our own domestic competition.

Yes, I know Everton are ahead of them in the table, but I've seen a lot of Boro this time around, and they've become real entertainers.

Steve McClaren is an excellent coach and it's noticeable how much the young ones have come on at the Riverside - Downing, Riggott, Parnaby and now McMahon and Morrison.

With Bolo Zenden scoring as well as Hasselbaink, and Leeds old boy Viduka sure to have a goal spurt sometime, they must have a great chance of qualifying for Europe a second time.

It should be interesting tonight, when Villareal will have to do without Diego Forlan, who signed from Manchester United too late to beat the deadline to play in European competitions.

But come to think of it, that might not be a plus for Boro!
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Nov 25, 2004
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