La Liga officially begins the second half of its season this weekend, and FC Barcelona has continued its stellar form with a staggering fifty-two points out of a possible fifty-seven points, a Spanish record for the opening half of any campaign. Despite this extended run of breathtaking football, Barça only has a four point lead over their eternal rivals Real Madrid. At the halfway point of last season, the Catalans held a five point edge on Real. Two blips on the radar have blemished Barcelona’s record: a home loss to Hércules and a draw against Mallorca.
As impressive as it were for Hércules and Mallorca to take points away from Barcelona, Mallorca should receive an extra star because they also shared the points at home against Real Madrid in the opening round of the campaign, the only team in La Liga to achieve such a feat. Similar to the Bundesliga and the Serie A, the second half of La Liga’s schedule is identical to the first half except that those who were home in the first half would now be away in the second half, and Real Madrid will want their revenge on los barralets in one of the highlight matches of this weekend.
Despite cruising to the semifinals of the Copa del Rey on Thursday night with a surprisingly easy 0-1 victory over an impotent Atlético Madrid to win by four goals to one on aggregate, the doom and gloom still hovers over the Santiago Bernabéu after their 1-1 draw last weekend against 19th place Almería dropped them four points behind Barcelona in the league. The leaked and alleged stories of dressing room bust-ups between Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo, Iker Casillas and Ronaldo, Jorge Valdano and José Mourinho, etc. only help to increase the pessimistic fervor among the Madridistas that are already losing hope that the championship is slipping away in the middle of January.
Mourinho has lost trust in Karim Benzema in recent matches, placing Ronaldo as a lone striker while easing Kaká into the rotation after months out due to knee troubles. The results of this tweak have not convinced, only scoring a single goal against both Almería and Atlético Madrid, and while the Real Madrid board wade in the water about acquiring another striker during the January transfer window, Mourinho has to keep the ship on track before Barcelona sails out of sight.
Mallorca will be below full strength because Pau Cendros is suspended, Jonathan De Guzman and Pep Lluís Martí are still recovering from knee injuries, and Víctor Casadesús has just learned that he will miss up to ten weeks with a thigh injury. Despite these significant absences for Michael Laudrup’s team, Mallorca’s defense has been solid throughout the season, and if they can frustrate Real Madrid and hope for an uninspiring performance from Real as what happened in Jornada 1, a merengue victory might not be such an easy bet.
Other intriguing matches this round include Valencia hosting the burgeoning squad of Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani’s Málaga club, whose latest edition is a Pablo Piatti clone, 5′ 3″ winger/striker Diego Buonanotte from River Plate, precocious Real Sociedad traveling to El Madrigal to face Villarreal, the best of the rest, and Getafe welcoming Espanyol to the southern edges of Madrid in a match of two top-eight outfits that most pundits predicted would be much lower in the table than where they currently stand.
The times listed are Eastern Standard Time (EST) 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.
Sevilla vs. Levante – 11:55 AM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
FC Barcelona vs. Racing de Santander – 1:55 PM on Gol TV HD
Valencia vs. Málaga – 3:55 PM on Gol TV HD
Real Zaragoza vs. Deportivo La Coruña – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 477
Getafe vs. Espanyol – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 478
Sporting Gijón vs. Atlético Madrid – 10:55 AM on Gol TV HD
Real Madrid vs. Mallorca – 12:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Villarreal vs. Real Sociedad – 2:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hércules – 2:45 PM on DirecTV channel 477
Unfortunately, the Almería – Osasuna match at the Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos will not be shown on US TV.