This weekend, the focus will be on those teams who will play in European competition in the following midweek. The question of domestic vs. European responsibilities remains an individual club decision, but for some teams, choices become more plentiful than others.
Real Madrid faces Xerez at El Chapín, but Los Blancos have the capability to send out a relatively weakened side and rest some of their regular starting eleven. Valencia also has a deep squad, and playing against a Sporting Gijón side that has lost four consecutive La Liga matches, do not be surprised if Nikola Zigic or Alejandro “Chori” Domínguez receive starts for Los Che in the early Saturday kickoff.
The Villarreal – Athletic Bilbao clash at El Madrigal will be the most intriguing match of the weekend because both continue to fight for the final Europa League places. Necessity will force both of their hands, as a loss at this point of the season may come back to haunt them at the end of the season. Expect strong starting elevens to play both this match and their respective European encounters.
Atlético Madrid, with their 6-3 aggregate win over Racing Santander in the semifinal of the Copa del Rey, booked their place in the final on May 26. They will face Sevilla, who used their catenaccio tactic in the second leg as they did against Barcelona in the Round of 16, to win 2-1 on agggregate over Getafe. The winner of the Copa del Rey receives a place in the Europa League, but if that team has already qualified for Europe, the runner-up is awarded that spot. Sevilla looks assured to finish in the top six, so Atleti, virtually out of the running for a Champions League spot, has a booked spot for next year’s Europa League.
They do not have the same urgency as Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao, and others hovering around sixth place in the league, but the leaders Barcelona visit Los Colchoneros in the late Sunday kickoff, and Atlético boasts a decent record against the champions in the Vicente Calderón. Even though they will host Galatasaray on Thursday, there is no way that the fans will allow their team to field a less than full strength side against their Catalunyan rivals.
The times listed are Eastern Standard Time (EST) and include the pregame pleasantries, although sometimes the matches on the DirecTV La Liga specific channels may not go to match coverage until right before kickoff.
Sporting Gijón vs. Valencia – 11:55 AM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360
Xerez vs. Real Madrid – 1:55 PM on Gol TV
Villarreal vs. Athletic Bilbao – 3:55 PM on Gol TV
Real Valladolid vs. Real Zaragoza – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 456
Getafe vs. Almería – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 457
Racing Santander vs. Málaga – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 458
Espanyol vs. Deportivo La Coruña – 10:55 AM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360
Sevilla vs. Osasuna – 12:55 PM on Gol TV
Atlético Madrid vs. FC Barcelona – 2:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360
Unfortunately, the Tenerife – Mallorca match at the Estadio Heliodoro Rodríguez López will not be shown on US TV, the first Monday night football match in La Liga for many years (twelve years to be exact).
UEFA Champions League
Barcelona and Sevilla will not play the first legs of the Round of 16 until the next Tuesday and Wednesday, so all of the Spanish eyes will lay upon the kings of the European Cup, nine-time champions Real Madrid. Los Merengues, however, have been dismissed from the competition in the first knockout round for five successive years. This season, they will hope to move past Olympique Lyonnais, the perennially tough French club, as Karim Benzema faces his previous club for the first time. They last met in the 2006-07 Champions League group stage, where Lyon won their home match 2-0 and drew at Madrid 2-2. Lyon would finish top of the group with Real finishing second.
Even though the major summer signings were signed in part to dethrone Barcelona from the La Liga pedestal, Florentino Pérez recruited them mainly for the Champions League. Real Madrid sees their record in the Champions League in the past few years as an embarrassment, and with the Santiago Bernabéu hosting the Champions League final in May, they would want nothing more than to play and compete as hosts.
AC Milan vs. Manchester United – 2:30 PM on Fox Sports Net HD (5:00 PM on delay on Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Español
Olympique Lyonnais vs. Real Madrid – 2:30 PM on Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Español (5:00 PM on delay on Setanta Sports) (For those who do not have access to Fox Soccer Channel in high definition, certain Fox Sports Net outlets will show the Lyon – Real Madrid match in high definition at 8:00 PM. As of right now, these stations include MSG+, Fox Sports South, and Fox Sports Pittsburgh. For those out west, Fox Sports Arizona and Fox Sports Northwest will show this match in high definition at 11:00 EST, 8:00 PST)
FC Porto vs. Arsenal – 2:30 PM on Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Español (5:00 PM on delay on Setanta Sports)
Bayern Munich vs. Fiorentina – 2:15 PM on Setanta Sports (5:00 PM on delay on Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Español)
UEFA Europa League
Not to be overshadowed by the Champions League, Thursday will provide sixteen matches in the Europa League as it also starts their first knockout round. A rare Spain vs. Belgium double will occur as Valencia visits the Jan Breydel Stadium against Club Brugge, and Athletic Bilbao invites Anderlecht into the San Mamés.
Atlético Madrid, having taken the parachute down from the Champions League as a third-place finisher in their group, will play Galatasaray at the Vicente Calderón. When these teams fall from the Champions League into the Europa League, they feel as though it is a huge letdown. Shakhtar Donetsk was the exception last year as the won the UEFA Cup, but generally, the Champions League teams generally lose in the first couple of rounds of the knockout stage. Atlético will try to emulate Shakhtar and use their frustration from the Champions League to spur them on through the Europa League.
The best matchup of the four Spanish teams will be Villarreal against Wolfsburg. Both teams have underachieved mightily, with the defending German Bundesliga champions mired in twelfth place and the consistent top five Spanish team hovering in mediocrity at tenth place. Both love to attack and also leave holes in defense, so if goals are your flavor, this is the match to witness (as this is said, both legs will be 0-0 dour affairs).
Club Brugge vs. Valencia – 12:45 PM on DirecTV channel 464 (464-1 for HD)
Villarreal vs. Wolfsburg – 12:55 PM on Gol TV
Athletic Bilbao vs. Anderlecht – 3:00 PM on DirecTV channel 467 (467-1 for HD)
Atlético Madrid vs. Galatasaray – 3:00 on Gol TV