There will be a Spanish team in a European final, but it is not the team that many expected. Atlético Madrid completed their strange and wonderful trip to the Europa League final with an extra time goal by Diego Forlán against Liverpool. As per usual, Atlético did not win the second leg of their Europa League semifinal against Liverpool, losing 2-1, but for the third consecutive round, Los Colchoneros progressed on the away goals rule. Normally, if a team only wins twice throughout its whole European campaign, it has a million to one shot of advancing to a European final.
Who better than the 2009-10 Atlético Madrid team to defy any logic.
Only receiving the parachute from the Champions League to the Europa League with a last matchday group stage draw against APOEL Nicosia, Atleti completed the Champions League group with zero wins and three draws. Their only two wins in the Europa League knockout phase came against Galatasaray with a Diego Forlán goal at the death and against Liverpool with another Forlán late show goal.
Although standing a mediocre tenth in La Liga, Atlético looks forward to their hectic May schedule with two cup finals scattered among their final four league matches. The 2009-10 Atlético Madrid team is reminiscent of the 2000-01 Liverpool team that won the UEFA Cup, the FA Cup, and the League Cup but only finished third in the Premier League. Atlético would have certainly taken third place in La Liga, but cup triumph is in the forefront of their minds, and they will likely be a shell of themselves when they face Sevilla on Sunday afternoon. Atlético has nothing for which to play in the league, and Sevilla continues to fight Mallorca and Villarreal for the final Champions League berth.
Do not be surprised if Sevilla runs over Atlético Madrid with ease.
Then there is that other Spanish team that competed in a European semifinal. Barcelona failed in its attempt to win consecutive European Cups since the AC Milan teams of Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten completed the double in 1989 and 1990. The vaunted attack could not break through Inter Milan’s brick wall, and now they have seventy-two hours to recover from their Champions League hangover to encounter a Villarreal outfit that has enjoyed a renaissance under their second trainer of the season, Juan Carlos Garrido.
After their disastrous start to the campaign, Villarreal has climbed to within four points of Mallorca for the final Champions League place, and while they have recently done well on their travels, Villarreal relies on its solid home record, earning thirty-nine of their fifty-two total points at El Madrigal. Because they dug themselves such a cavernous hole early in the season, they cannot afford to lose any of their last four matches if they have any inkling of joining Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Valencia in the Champions League next season.
Barcelona could only muster a draw at the Camp Nou at the beginning of the new year against Villarreal because of an inspired performance by the Yellow Submarine, David Fuster in particular, so the question arising from this match is if Barcelona can recover and regain their wits about them to focus on their slim one point lead over Real Madrid in La Liga, or will Villarreal derail the already faltering Barça train with their new-found confidence and panache.
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.
Málaga vs. Sporting Gijón – 11:45 AM on DirecTV channel 456
Real Valladolid vs. Getafe – 11:45 AM on DirecTV channel 457
Tenerife vs. Racing de Santander – 11:45 AM on DirecTV channel 458
Deportivo La Coruña vs. Real Zaragoza – 11:55 AM on Gol TV
Espanyol vs. Valencia – 1:55 PM on Gol TV
Villarreal vs. FC Barcelona – 3:55 PM on Gol TV
Sevilla vs. Atlético Madrid – 10:55 AM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Real Madrid vs. Osasuna – 12:55 PM on ESPN2 HD/ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Athletic Bilbao vs. Mallorca – 2:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Unfortunately, the Xerez – Almería match at El Chapín will not be shown on US TV