La Liga heads down the home stretch with five matches remaining, and Jornada 34 is littered with matches between the top and the bottom of the table.
FC Barcelona hosts Xerez at the Camp Nou in the early Saturday kickoff, and both teams are running opposite of their position in the standings. Despite propping the ladder and laying six points away from relegation safety, Xerez has only lost one of their last seven contests, and they are playing with a vigor and desperation that has inspired a group of players that seemed resigned to dropping to the Segunda División as late as a couple of months ago.
As for Barcelona, Espanyol frustrated them in El Derbi Barceloní 0-0 last weekend, and then Inter Milan struck them with an unexpected upper-cut on Tuesday with a 3-1 upending of the current European champions. Normally, the discussion about a Barcelona – Xerez matchup would center on how wide the final margin would be in favor of Barça, but the excellent form of Xerez combined with the “stumbling” and possibly unfocused Blaugrana side with the second leg of the Champions League semifinal in mid-week should create an intriguing juxtaposition between two drastically different teams.
Barcelona’s championship rivals Real Madrid travel to Aragon and encounter a Real Zaragoza team that needs to earn a few more points to disassociate themselves from the relegation fight. Los Blancos took advantage of Barcelona’s slip at Espanyol when they defeated Valencia 2-0 at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, and they sit one point behind the Catalans, prowling the landscape like a hungry wolf spying on its prey. They cannot take Zaragoza lightly, however, because they have shared the points with Zaragoza in their last three matches at La Romareda, and if Real does not win their final five matches, any hope of snagging La Liga from Barcelona will be in vain.
Real Zaragoza comes into their match with Real Madrid in decent form, losing only one of their last five, including two draws against Athletic Bilbao and Mallorca and a 3-0 drubbing of Valencia. Six points away from the magic forty point tally, José Aurelio Gay and his band of winter signings have turned Zaragoza’s fortunes around in the second half of the season. Zaragoza gave a late scare to Barcelona at La Romareda in March, nearly overcoming a 0-3 deficit, and adding their anger from their 6-0 humiliation at Madrid earlier in the season, revenge will be in the forefront in the minds of the Zaragoza players on Saturday night.
Of all the teams in the relegation scrap, Málaga has done the least to ascend from the fight. Winless in their last six matches, they visit the fortress known as the ONO Estadi on Sunday afternoon to meet a confident Mallorca side. Mallorca continues to battle Sevilla for the final Champions League spot, and their fourteen for sixteen haul at home has been the surprise package of La Liga this season. With Tenerife playing an Atlético Madrid team that could care less about their five remaining La Liga fixtures, Málaga will likely find themselves in the bottom three unless they can pull a monumental upset in Mallorca.
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.
FC Barcelona vs. Xerez – 11:55 AM on Gol TV
Real Zaragoza vs. Real Madrid – 1:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Valencia vs. Deportivo La Coruña – 3:55 PM on Gol TV
Almería vs. Espanyol – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 456
Mallorca vs. Málaga – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 457
Racing de Santander vs. Villarreal – 10:55 AM on Gol TV
Atlético Madrid vs. Tenerife – 12:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Getafe vs. Sevilla – 2:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Osasuna vs. Athletic Bilbao – 2:55 PM on DirecTV channel 456
Unfortunately, the crucial bottom of the table clash between Sporting Gijón and Real Valladolid at El Molinón will not be shown on US TV.
UEFA Champions League
Barcelona finds itself requiring a multi-goal win over Inter Milan to advance to the UEFA Champions League final in Madrid on May 22. José Mourinho’s team made Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernández look pedestrian, and Inter took advantage of Barça’s normally efficient and effective back four.
As per usual after a loss, Barça had plenty to say about the referee and their opposition after the match. This trait mars a truly historical team, who does not need to fall into this blame game nearly every time they fail to win. Pedro Rodríguez complained how referee Olegário Benquerença interrupted the match with too many fouls, Sergio Busquets claimed that Barcelona dominated the match despite the scoreline, and the leader of the excuses, Xavi, reportedly shouted at Mourinho how Inter’s win was partly due to Benquerença’s bias for Mourinho since they are both Portuguese.
Excuses aside, Barcelona will feel confident inviting their Italian adversaries to the Camp Nou on Wednesday evening. Even though they will expect Mourinho to keep the match at 0-0 for its entirety, the power of the Culés in the massive 98,000 stadium and Barça’s constant offensive pressure will test Inter Milan’s nerve and resolve to its outstretched ends. The fate of Serie A in the Champions League for future years rests on Internazionale.
The German Bundesliga is on Serie A’s tail in the UEFA league coefficient, and with Bayern Munich and Hamburg fighting for European finals in the Champions League and the Europa League, the Bundesliga has a decent chance of replacing Serie A as the third-ranked league in Europe, thus earning four Champions League berths. Serie A will lose one of their Champions League places if the league falls in the ranking to fourth, so not only the Inter die-hards of the Curva Nord will support Inter but all of Italy.
Olympique Lyonnais vs. Bayern Munich – 2:30 PM on FSN HD and Fox Sports en Español (Lyon 0 – 1 Bayern Munich after the first leg)
FC Barcelona vs. Inter Milan – 2:30 PM on Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Español (Barcelona 1 – 3 Inter Milan after the first leg)
UEFA Europa League
Atlético Madrid threw in the towel in La Liga many weeks ago, so their focus gazed upon their domestic and European cup exploits. Atleti will face Sevilla in the final of the Copa del Rey, and through the first leg of the Europa League semifinal, they hold a tenuous 1-0 lead over Liverpool as they travel to Anfield on Thursday evening.
The volcanic ash spewing out from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland forced Liverpool to recreate their own version of the Steve Martin and John Candy comedy Planes, Trains, and Automobiles to reach Madrid, and while the Reds made no excuses about their journey to the Spanish capital, their ponderous and lethargic performance against Atlético Madrid would suggest that their travels directly affected their play.
Luckily for Liverpool, Atlético could not capitalize on most of their chances. Los Colchoneros felt the absence of Sergio Agüero due to suspension, as even Diego Forlán’s goal was a product of a mishit from a few yards away. Former Atlético players Maxi Rodríguez and native son Fernando Torres were unable to play for Liverpool, the former cup-tied and the latter due to knee problems, and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard created little inspiration as the match flew by with little consequence at either end of the pitch.
How typical for Atlético Madrid. If they had won by two or more goals, it would have denied their fans, Los Colchoneros, to self-loathe and pessimistically look to the future. Bottle the angst of the pre-2004 Boston Red Sox fans and the “lovable loser” moniker of the Chicago Cubs fans, shake it up with fury, and the football piety of Atlético Madrid supporters fizzes out. And they would not want it any other way.
Liverpool vs. Atlético Madrid – 2:55 PM on Gol TV (Liverpool 0 – 1 Atlético Madrid after the first leg)
Fulham vs. Hamburg – 2:45 PM on DirecTV channel 461 (461-1 for HD) (8:00 PM on delay on Gol TV) (Fulham 0 – 0 Hamburg after the first leg)