Amidst the whirlwind of José Mourinho at Real Madrid, the somewhat human play of Barcelona, and the managerial change in Sevilla, Villarreal’s impressive start to their La Liga campaign has gone mostly unnoticed. Villarreal had a chance to top the table for the first time in its history with a win against their Valencian neighbors Hércules on Monday night. Six prior instances, Villarreal controlled their own destiny and failed to take the top spot, and in their seventh attempt, the result was the same, as they could only draw an entertaining match 2-2. César Muñiz Fernández’s heavy hand changed the course of that match with three red cards, one for Hércules and two for Villarreal, but nevertheless, Hércules wrecked another top team’s quest for three points.
Villarreal will garner the spotlight for the first time this season as they play their first glamor team of the season, Atlético Madrid, at home in El Madrigal in the late Sunday kickoff. Of Villarreal’s seven matches thus far, the highest ranked team they have faced was against sixth-place Espanyol, whom they clobbered 4-0, but Espanyol has only earned three points out of twelve away from home, and few would consider Espanyol a threat for a Champions League berth come the end of the season.
Both Villarreal and Atlético Madrid will clash on equal footing in terms of preparation because they both played and won on Thursday in the UEFA Europa League at home. If history has any bearing come Sunday, this matchup could become an instant classic.
Villarreal and Atlético Madrid faced each other in the same round at El Madridgal nearly two years ago to the day, October 26, 2008, and after Atlético raced out to a 0-2 adavantage, referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco sent off Éver Banega, back in his more petulant youth days, for a second offense seven minutes before halftime. Villarreal controlled territory and possession prior to Banega’s second yellow card despite falling behind two goals, but when Atlético went down to ten men, the Yellow Submarine went into full propulsion mode as they tallied four goals in a span of twenty minutes in the second half to salt the match away. Man of the match Simão Sabrosa would not let his team feel sorry for themselves, and in the last ten minutes, Simão scored and provided the assist for the 4-4 equalizer and cap an enthralling match.
Other noteworthy matches this weekend include Sevilla hosting Athletic Bilbao in the other matchup of two top-ten clubs, Hércules travelling to Almería in a game pitting two smaller clubs that play excellent football, and Osasuna, the most dour team in La Liga, welcoming Málaga, a team that will equally score and concede goals at a high rate, to the Reyno de Navarra.
Apparently, Racing de Santander’s manager Miguel Ángel Portugal, will not endorse their match against Real Madrid as a noteworthy match when, in his Friday press conference, he bluntly stated that his team’s chances against Real were “minimal.”
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.
Real Zaragoza vs. FC Barcelona – 11:55 AM on Gol TV HD
Real Madrid vs. Racing de Santander – 1:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Valencia vs. Mallorca – 3:55 PM on Gol TV HD
Getafe vs. Sporting Gijón – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 477
Osasuna vs. Málaga – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 478
Espanyol vs. Levante – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 479
Almería vs. Hércules – 10:55 AM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Sevilla vs. Athletic Club – 12:55 PM on Gol TV HD
Villarreal vs. Atlético Madrid – 2:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Unfortunately, the Monday night football match between Real Sociedad and Deportivo La Coruña at the Estadio Anoeta will not be shown on US TV.