The thrilling race at the top of La Liga came to a head last weekend, when Barcelona dropped two points at surging Almería, and Real Madrid fought back from a 0-2 deficit to win against Sevilla in the second minute of stoppage time 3-2. Now the two exemplars of Spanish football are tied for the lead on sixty-two points, fifteen points of third-place Valencia, who could only manage a 0-0 draw at home against struggling Racing Santander on Monday night.
Barcelona will play with two minds, as they play in the glamor match of the weekend against Valencia on Sunday while worrying about their second leg in the Champions League against Stuttgart three days later. With Real Madrid only focusing on La Liga at this point, Barça cannot afford to drop points at this juncture of the season, even against a Valencia team that outplayed them in the 0-0 reverse fixture in October.
As for Real Madrid, the postmortem of their dismissal from the Champions League continues, as everyone has chimed in about Madrid’s performance against Olympique Lyonnais, from the players involved to the manager, the owner, and former players. The Madrid press labeled their loss as an embarrassment, while the Barcelona press echoed the same sentiments in a more gleeful manner.
Although Real has a right to blush about being knocked out in the first elimination round of the Champions League for the sixth consecutive year, the media and the team has completely belittled the stellar performance by Lyon and the second half adjustments by Claude Puel to seize the result in the Santiago Bernabéu. Of course no one will deny that Real should have scored twice more in the first half, especially Gonzalo Higuaín’s open-netter that hit the post, but a team that is worthy of winning Europe’s most prestigious competition converts those chances, and Real Madrid did not.
Los Blancos visit Real Valladolid in the late Sunday kickoff, and if Madrid is not careful, their Champions League hangover could filter into this match against a team fighting for top-flight survival.
The other two intriguing matches of the weekend include the late Saturday kickoff between Sevilla and Deportivo La Coruña, where they are two of the four teams fighting a battle royale for the fourth Champions League spot, and the traditional 5:00 PM Sunday kickoff between Almería and Málaga, two teams that have turned their seasons around from certain relegation to relative mid-table security.
The times listed are Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) 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.
Extra note: the main ESPN channels will carry their first La Liga match in over a month with Barcelona against Valencia, so catch this important clash on ESPN2 in high definiton.
Extra extra note: the United States will go into daylight savings time on Sunday, but Europe will not go into daylight savings time until March 28, so for the next couple of weeks, the US times for these matches will be one hour later than normal.
Getafe vs. Mallorca – 11:45 AM on DirecTV channel 456
Sporting Gijón vs. Athletic Bilbao – 1:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360
Sevilla vs. Deportivo La Coruña – 3:55 PM on Gol TV
Almería vs. Málaga – 11:45 AM on DirecTV channel 456
Racing Santander vs. Real Zaragoza – 11:45 AM on DirecTV channel 457
Villarreal vs. Xerez – 11:55 AM on Gol TV
FC Barcelona vs. Valencia – 1:55 PM on ESPN2 HD/ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360
Real Valladolid vs. Real Madrid – 3:55 PM on Gol TV
Atlético Madrid vs. Osasuna – 3:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360
Unfortunately, the Tenerife – Espanyol match at the Heliodoro Rodríguez López will not be shown on US TV.
UEFA Champions League
The ramifications from Real Madrid’s elimination are still being felt throughout Spain, but there are still two La Liga teams in the tournament that have a chance to carry the flag for Spain. Stuttgart bested Barcelona through many parts of the first leg, but despite that, Stuttgart conceded the away goal and face avoiding a negative result at the Camp Nou on Wednesday evening. Barcelona hopes this will be déjà vu all over again because last season in the first knockout round, they scrapped their way to a 1-1 draw at the Stade de Gerland against Lyon before convincingly ousting them in the second leg at home 5-2. Knowing that they have a legitimate shot to defend the trophy at the Bernabéu, the blaugrana will have all the motivation they need to succeed on Wednesday.
Sevilla will encounter a similar situation to Barcelona, as they play a crucial domestic league match against Deportivo La Coruña before battling CSKA Moskva on Tuesday. Los Nervionenses are the betting favorites to proceed to the quarterfinals, and the fitness of CSKA will be tested on Tuesday because they sent out their best eleven against FK Amkar Perm on Friday in their first Russian Premier League match of the season. CSKA midfielder Mark Gonzalez will be sure to get the rudest of ovations in the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán since he scored the equalizer in Moscow, but more pertinent to the Sevilla fans, he was a Real Betis player.
Sevilla vs. CSKA Moskva – 3:30 PM on Fox Soccer Channel (Sevilla 1-1 CSKA Moskva after the first leg)
FC Barcelona vs. Stuttgart – 3:30 PM on Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Español (FC Barcelona 1-1 Stuttgart after the first leg)
UEFA Europa League
Atlético Madrid and Sporting Clube de Portugal played to a drab 0-0 draw at the Vicente Calderón on Thursday, but there were a couple of flash points, as two Sporting defenders, Leandro Grimi and Tonel, received red cards and will not be available for Sporting in Lisbon next Thursday.
Los Colchoneros had a man-advantage for more than an hour and a two-man advantage for the final few minutes, but as they are wont to do this season, they do not perform well when circumstances fall their way. Now they face the cauldron that is the Estádio José Alvalade in Lisbon in the second leg, but Atleti can take comfort knowing that they were able to win at Galatasaray to advance to this round, one of the most fearsome teams to play at home in all of Europe.
Valencia’s match at the Mestalla vs. Werder Bremen had every ingredient of an enthralling match; beautiful, flowing football, offensive aggressiveness from both teams, controversial calls, multiple yellow cards, a red card, wonderful saves, and golden chances spurned. All of this equaled a 1-1 draw that gives the advantage to Werder Bremen as they return to the Weserstadion on Thursday. Juan Mata and David Villa uncharacteristically flubbed on significant opportunities, and just like Real Madrid did in the first half of their second leg against Lyon, those missed chances could come back to haunt Los Che by the end of this tie.
Werder Bremen vs. Valencia – 1:45 PM on DirecTV channel 463 (463-1 for HD) (Werder Bremen 1-1 Valencia after the first leg)
Sporting CP vs. Atletico Madrid – 4:00 PM on Gol TV (Sporting CP 0-0 Atlético Madrid after the first leg)