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La Liga Preview and US TV Listings for Jornada 23: Feb. 20 – Feb. 22

Snow-capped El Teide in Tenerife, the highest point in Spain and the highest point in the Atlantic Ocean.

The obvious surprising result of the previous round was Atlético Madrid’s 2-1 victory over Barcelona to hand the Catalunyan champions their first loss in La Liga this season.  If analyzed deeper, however, Barça’s defeat at the hands of Los Colchoneros becomes less of a shocker.

Historically, Atleti had a respectable record against Barcelona in Madrid, the boys from the capital play to the level of their competition (which frustrates their fans when they get blown out by lower clubs like Málaga and Recreativo Huelva), and Barcelona was ravaged by injuries and suspensions to the point where Josep Guardiola employed winger Jeffren Suárez at right back. The blaugrana were never going to march through the whole season without a loss, and losing at place where they always struggled would be better than falling to a team they own.

Real Madrid cares not a single iota about Barça’s injury problems, as their less than impressive performance against Xerez still profited a 0-3 road victory.  They climbed to within two points of their eternal rivals, but in the late Sunday kickoff, Los Blancos face a Villarreal club that is hard to predict.  Much like Atlético Madrid this season, the Yellow Submarine plays with a sublime nature in one game, as they did against Barcelona at the beginning of 2010, and in another match, the Villarreal “B” team, who currently lies sixth in the Segunda División, deserves to be playing in the top flight over the senior team.

The most important match of the weekend in terms of final placement will occur on the island of Mallorca.  Mallorca hopes to extended their 100% home record in La Liga when they host Sevilla in the late Saturday kickoff.  Both continue to tussle for the final Champions League spot, and with Sevilla winning their first meeting in September 2-0, Mallorca needs to win by a higher margin to overtake Sevilla in the tiebreaker should they be equal on points at the end of the season.  Unlike in some leagues, where goal difference over the whole season is the first criterium in settling a tie in points, La Liga uses the head-to-head tiebreaker to determine who lies ahead in the table.

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.

Feb. 20

Deportivo La Coruña vs. Xerez – 11:55 AM on Gol TV

FC Barcelona vs. Racing Santander – 1:55 PM on Gol TV

Mallorca vs. Sevilla – 3:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360

Feb. 21

Athletic Bilbao vs. Tenerife – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 456

Málaga vs. Espanyol – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 457

Real Zaragoza vs. Sporting Gijón – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 458

Almería vs. Atlético Madrid – 12:55 PM on Gol TV

Real Madrid vs. Villarreal – 2:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360

Feb. 22

Valencia vs. Getafe – 2:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360

Unfortunately, the Osasuna – Real Valladolid match at El Reyno de Navarra will not be shown on US TV.

UEFA Champions League

Real Madrid’s performance against Lyon on Tuesday was not poor, but give credit to the Ligue 1 side, who tactically and strategically played the match to perfection.  Real maintained possession more than 60% of the time, but the chances they created were few and far between, whereas Lyon had many fewer opportunities, but those they fashioned were of high quality, highlighted by Jean Makoun’s Champions League goal of the week, a thirty-yard missile to the top left corner of the goal.

The other two Spanish teams left in the competition, Barcelona and Sevilla, will kickoff their first legs in the Round of 16 next week.  They will be considered heavy favorites to advance into the next round against Stuttgart and CSKA Moskva, respectively.  Stuttgart steadily improved from a disastrous start to the season, but defeating Barcelona over two legs may be a chore they are not ready to handle at this point.  As for CSKA Moskva, they have not played a competitive match since the Russian Premier League season ended in late November.  Sevilla has no idea what kind of team they will face at the Luzhniki Stadium, and CSKA may not know either.  On paper, this looks to be the least appetizing of the four Champions League ties, but the uncertainty of both teams may lead to the tightest of the four matches.

Feb. 23

Olympiakos vs. Girondins de Bordeaux – 2:30 PM on Fox Soccer Channel (5:00 PM on delay on Setanta Sports)

Stuttgart vs. FC Barcelona – 2:30 PM on FSN HD and Fox Sports en Español

Feb. 24

CSKA Moskva vs. Sevilla – 12:15 PM on Setanta Sports (5:00 PM on delay on Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Español)

Inter Milan vs. Chelsea – 2:30 PM on Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Español

UEFA Europa League

A mediocre week for all of the Spanish teams in European competitions, the four La Liga teams in the Europa League face deficits coming into their second legs next Thursday.  Athletic Bilbao surged in the second half of their match against Anderlecht and should have taken a league to Belgium, but a lack of finishing touch by Fernando Llorente and company forces the Basques to score in Brussels in order to advance to the next round.

Atlético Madrid played the most complete football of the Spanish teams in Europe this week, but when David de Gea was forced to leave the game due to injury, Sergio Asenjo, the deposed number one goalkeeper, came in and gave the shaky performance that caused him to be benched.  Hesitation cost him at his near post, as he conceded an acute-angled equalizer to Abdul Kader Keita late in the match.  As they head into “Hell,” as the Galatasaray supporters call the Ali Sami Yen Stadium, there is good news for Atlético fans in that David de Gea may be available for the second leg on Thursday, although he will likely be out for their domestic match against Almería.

Valencia and Villarreal were also average, but these two teams may be the ones that have the best chance to overturn their ties.  For Valencia, they return to the Mestalla with a mere one-goal deficit.  While they do not have a stellar home record in La Liga, they have not lost in four home matches in the Europa League, and they have the ability to score in bunches.  As for Villarreal, their inconsistency can benefit them when they travel to the Volkswagen Arena.  Wolfsburg has only won three out of eleven matches at home in the Bundesliga, and Villarreal has the experience of playing in contentious road European ties.

Feb. 25

Anderlecht vs. Athletic Bilbao – 12:45 PM on DirecTV channel 467 (467-1 for HD) (Anderlecht 1-1 Athletic Bilbao after the first leg)

Galatasaray vs. Atlético Madrid – 1:00 PM on Gol TV (Galatasaray 1-1 Atlético Madrid after the first leg)

Valencia vs. Club Brugge – 3:00 PM on DirecTV channel 465 (465-1 for HD) (Valencia 0-1 Club Brugge after the first leg)

Wolfsburg vs. Villarreal – 3:00 PM on DirecTV channel 463 (463-1 for HD) (Wolfsburg 2-2 Villarreal after the first leg)

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