With El Clásico in the rear-view mirror, La Liga continues forward with a mid-week round that will help shape the European and relegation battles.
For Real Madrid, a mid-week match should be good for them so that they can move on quickly from a mentally and physically draining edition of El Clásico. With Barcelona holding a three-point lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker over Real Madrid, Los Merengues know that any slip-up in their final seven matches will spell certain doom if they have any aspirations of reclaiming La Liga from Barcelona. They journey to Andalucía and encounter an Almería side that were played off the pitch by Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
Despite that setback, Juan Manuel Lillo has led Almería to a second-half renaissance and sit a comfortable eleven points above the drop zone. He will have to right his defense that were dizzied by Athletic Club to counter an angry Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuaín, and their teammates will want to prove a point that they have not given up on the season, and Manuel Pellegrini knows that if he does not win out, the axe will likely fall on him.
A few weeks ago, the teams involved in the fight for the final Champions League spot and the two Europa League berths mired in mediocrity, as none of them seized the race by the throat. Those same teams will regret not taking advantage of the previous situation because they now are all playing well with the season peaking to its climax.
Villarreal and Getafe currently stand as the first two teams outside of the final Europa League place, and they meet in the late Tuesday kickoff in a critical match that could eliminate the loser from European contention. Getafe has only lost one of their last seven matches with a 3-3-1 record. Getafe has adjusted well without Roberto Soldado as their lone striker. Miku continues to deputize for Soldado, and Manu and Pedro León have stepped up to share the scoring load with Miku in Soldado’s absence.
After Real Madrid obliterated Villarreal 6-2 in late February, the Yellow Submarine has sailed smoothly in La Liga. Villarreal has played even better than Getafe recently, losing only one of their last eight matches with a 5-2-1 record. Juan Carlos Garrido shifted from Ernesto Valverde’s 4-2-3-1 to a more attacking 4-3-3, and their recent results speak for themselves. The forward trio of Joseba Llorente flanked by Nilmar on his right and Giuseppe Rossi on his left has given stability to an attack that sputtered throughout the majority of the season.
Villarreal has only won twice in fifteen away matches this season, but they won their most recent away trip at Real Valladolid. While Getafe is light years ahead of the supine Pucela, Villarreal’s confidence remains at a season high, and it will be the jobs of Derek Boateng and Fabio Celestini to disrupt Villarreal’s passing football in the midfield.
Athletic Bilbao, in opposition to Getafe and Villarreal, control their own destiny in terms of European qualification. Two points ahead of Villarreal for the final Europa League spot and three points behind Sevilla for the final Champions League place, Joaquin Caparrós’ squad looks poised to return to Europe next season. At this point of the calendar last season, the only objective was the Copa del Rey final because they were well behind the European spots as well as far enough above the relegation zone to be secure in the top flight.
Athletic Bilbao travel to the Mestalla on Thursday night to face a Valencia club whose seemingly inevitable third place finish has suddenly come into question. Gutted by their elimination from the Europa League by Atlético Madrid, Los Che were a shell of themselves on Sunday when they lost to Mallorca 3-2, a score that hid their deficiencies that night. Sevilla and Mallorca are only five points behind them for automatic qualification into the group stage of the Champions League, and Valencia cannot continue to dwell on their continental dismissal.
Valencia’s defense took another injury hit when Hedwiges Maduro was forced to leave the Mallorca game early, and when midfielder Manuel Fernandes filled in for Maduro in central defense, the results were horrific. Already missing Bruno Saltor, Carlos Marchena, Jérémy Mathieu, Ángel Dealbert, and Miguel Monteiro, Valencia cannot afford to add Maduro to the training room staff’s responsibilities.
Although Éver Banega has apologized for his petulant behavior following his substitution in the second half of the Mallorca game, that ugly episode is an instance of the growing frustration in the Valencia squad over their recent poor play, and if they do not significantly improve by 10:00 PM local time on Thursday night, Athletic Bilbao will roll past them and give Sevilla and Mallorca a chance to move within two points of Valencia.
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.
Note: ESPN 360 has rebranded itself as ESPN3.
Real Valladolid vs. Sevilla – 1:45 PM on DirecTV channel 456
Getafe vs. Villarreal – 3:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Racing Santander vs. Espanyol – 1:45 PM on DirecTV channel 456
Osasuna vs. Málaga – 1:45 PM on DirecTV channel 457
Atlético Madrid vs. Xerez – 1:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Mallorca vs. Real Zaragoza – 1:55 PM on Gol TV
Barcelona vs. Deportivo La Coruña – 3:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Almería vs. Real Madrid – 1:55 PM on Gol TV
Valencia vs. Athletic Bilbao – 3:55 PM on Gol TV
Unfortunately, the Sporting Gijón – Tenerife match at El Molinon will not be shown on US TV.