After a less than impressive performance by the Spanish Armada in European competition, these teams return to their domestic responsibilities in order to regain their confidence. Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao traveled to Wolfsburg and Anderlecht, respectively, and became punching bags for those teams as both Wolfsburg and Anderlecht scored four goals on their visitors. They never had a chance, and both Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao exited the UEFA Europa League with a silent whimper.
The three Spanish representatives in the UEFA Champions League failed to display their prowess in Europe’s most glamorous club competition but still maintain the upper hands in their ties. Although Real Madrid faces a one-goal deficit against Olympique Lyonnais, they return to the Bernabéu in the second leg, and they have won every single match there this season.
Sevilla visited frigid Moscow and secured the away goal in a 1-1 entertaining draw. Mark González, a former rival of Sevilla when he played for Real Betis, scored the goal of the round with a wonder strike from thirty yards that froze Andrés Palop to even the score, but Sevilla still controls the tie as they return to the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán.
FC Barcelona’s attacking intimidation took a significant hit against Stuttgart because the Germans did not relegate themselves to playing with ten or eleven men behind the ball. Barcelona will always have a dominant possession edge, but the chances they created were few and far between, whereas Die Roten could have easily scored two or three more goals with a slightly better touch in the penalty box. This match is akin to Barcelona’s first leg against Lyon in the Round of 16 last year, where they struggled but managed to squeak out a 1-1 draw away from home. When they came home to the Camp Nou, they demolished Lyon 5-2 in a match that was not close as the score indicated. The Catalans hope to reincarnate those same spirits this year, but this Stuttgart team seems determined to become the giant-killers of the round and defeat the reigning European champions.
The two teams that actually played well were Atlético Madrid and Valencia, although both needed late winners to advance to the Round of 16 of the UEFA Europa League. An otherworldly performance by Club Brugge goalkeeper Stijn Stijnen kept the Belgians into extra time, but the persistence of David Villa and Pablo Hernández eventually broke the brick wall to score twice in extra time to advance to the next round.
Atlético Madrid controlled their match against Galatasaray, but the match looked prime to go into extra time until Caner Erkin received his second yellow card for a late challenge on Juan Valera. Diego Forlán converted on an ingenious pass from man of the match José Antonio Reyes in the 90th minute to send Los Colchoneros into the second knockout round. Both Atlético Madrid and Valencia will play against each other in the late Sunday kickoff, and a prediction for how Atleti will perform against Los Che is a useless exercise given their completely incomprehensible form from one match to the next.
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.
Getafe vs. Real Zaragoza – 11:55 AM on Gol TV
Tenerife vs. Real Madrid – 1:55 PM on Gol TV
FC Barcelona vs. Málaga – 3:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360
Real Valladolid vs. Mallorca – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 456
Sporting Gijón vs. Osasuna – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 457
Racing Santander vs. Almería – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 458
Villarreal vs. Deportivo La Coruña – 10:55 AM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360
Sevilla vs. Athletic Bilbao – 12:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360
Atlético Madrid vs. Valencia – 2:55 PM on Gol TV
Unfortunately, the Xerez – Espanyol match at El Chapín will not be shown on US TV.
Next Wednesday is the last international date before the end of the club season, and national team managers will use these friendlies more as a training regimen than anything else. Spain will play France at the Stade de France, and while Raymond Domenech bled some new blood in his 23-man squad, Vicente del Bosque featured little change. What is most significant is that Álvaro Negredo keeps his spot over Fernando Llorente, and Jesús Navas’ excellent play has kept his place in the squad. A winning formula over the past three years, del Bosque need not change for the sake of change.
France vs. Spain – 3:00 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360