Barcelona and Real obsessed with strengthening their defences

By Duncan Shaw, DPA

Madrid : Barcelona and Real Madrid are renowned the world over for splashing out prodigiously on forwards, wingers and attacking midfielders.

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Already this summer Barca have signed Thierry Henry and Yaya Toure, whilst Real are interested in Arjen Robben, Cesc Fabregas, Arjen Robben and, as always, Kaka.

But the twin giants are also obsessed with strengthening their defences, something that is raising eyebrows across Spain.

The Big Two normally spend very little on their back-line, confident that their offensive power will be enough to pull them through.

But that is no longer the case.

Both of them flopped in Europe last season due to letting in silly goals, Barca against Liverpool and Real against Bayern Munich.

In addition, Barca threw away their "Liga" crown by conceding sloppy late goals in crucial matches.

And Real snatched the title from them despite their own defensive frailties. So now the twin giants are obsessed with shoring up their defences.

Real have already signed up Christoph Metzelder, at the end of his Borussia Dortmund contract. But the signing of Metzelder is not enough for the whites: The same as Barca, they also want Cristian Chivu.

Barca seemed to have the Romanian signed and sealed a week ago for around 16 million euros ($21.8 million) – until Real muscled in with a higher offer.

Two days ago Real reached agreement with AS Roma to pay around 18 million euros for Chivu. But the deal then stalled due to the insistence of Chivu's agent, Giovanni Becali, on a five million euro annual salary for the player.

Barca, meanwhile, have turned their attention to Zaragoza defender Gabriel Milito, who was controversially turned down by Real in 2003 on health grounds.

Catalan sports papers Mundo Deportivo and Sport are both very confident, on Friday, of Barca signing "The Marshal", as he is known.

Mundo Deportivo says that Milito is the "most necessary" signing, in order to strengthen a defence, which sagged alarmingly at the end of last season.

According to Mundo Deportivo, Barca sporting director Txiki Begiristain on Thursday offered 15 million euros for the defender – who is currently playing for Argentina at the Copa America in Venezuela – plus unwanted players Thiago Motta and Santi Ezquerro.

Zaragoza are not interested in the players and are holding out for at least 18 million for Milito. Last Monday Zaragoza rejected a 17 million euro offer for Milto from Juventus.

Both Sport and Mundo Deportivo are confident that Milito wants to come to Barca and that everything will be resolved next week. Just in case things go wrong, though, they claim that the alternatives to Milito are Porto's Pepe and Jorge Andrade of Deportivo Coruna.

Madrid papers AS and Marca, in contrast, are no longer so confident about the Chivu deal going through.