The marquee matchup of the weekend is the late Saturday kickoff between top four teams Real Madrid and Sevilla. The reverse fixture in early October was one of the matches of the season, and while Sevilla’s title chances faded away during the dregs of mid-season, they still lie fourth in the league, they have the away-goal advantage in their Champions League tie with CSKA Moskva, and they made it to the final of the Copa del Rey. Their second leg with CSKA will not commence until March 16, whereas Real’s second leg with Lyon occurs on Wednesday, four days removed from this important La Liga match. Real will likely field their strongest eleven against Sevilla, but how that will affect their performance against Lyon will be unknown until Wednesday night.
Another compelling match this weekend pits Atlético Madrid visiting Aragon to face Real Zaragoza at La Romareda. With their glamorous conquests of Barcelona, Valencia, and Galatasaray comes their disappointments against Málaga, Almería, and Racing Santander, all within the span of one month. Where Zaragoza has something for which to play (top-flight survival), Atlético’s hunger in La Liga waned eons ago. A true iconoclast of conventional thought, however, Atlético Madrid may just play at the level they perform against top teams to show the doubters that they do not play to the level of their competition (Logic with this team does not work, so any maniacal theory fits in this situation).
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.
Deportivo La Coruña vs. Tenerife – 11:55 AM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360
Almería vs. FC Barcelona – 1:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360
Real Madrid vs. Sevilla – 3:55 PM on Gol TV
Espanyol vs. Villarreal – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 456
Mallorca vs. Sporting Gijón – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 457
Osasuna vs. Getafe – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 458
Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Valladolid – 12:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360
Real Zaragoza vs. Atlético Madrid – 2:55 PM on Gol TV
Valencia vs. Racing Santander – 2:55 PM on Gol TV
Unfortunately, the Málaga – Xerez matchup at La Rosaleda will not be shown on US TV.
UEFA Champions League
Staring elimination in the first knockout round for the sixth consecutive season, Florentino Pérez and Real Madrid did not assemble this second galáctico generation to bow out unceremoniously yet again. A 1-0 deficit to overturn at the Santiago Bernabéu hardly constitutes as an overbearing chore on its own merit, but the expectations set by the Madridistas, the board, and the players’ own internal goals have Los Blancos in a more anxious situation than all of their past five Champions League failures combined.
Barring any injury in this weekend’s top-four clash with Sevilla, Real Madrid will have a nearly full squad from which to choose against Lyon. The only significant injury issue for Los Merengues is Karim Benzema’s hernia. Although he most likely would not start ahead of Gonzalo Higuaín, he can be a great option off the bench if Madrid still needs a goal with half an hour or less remaining.
Although it would be pusillanimous to blame Manuel Pellegrini should Real Madrid fail to advance to the quarterfinals, there would be little surprise if the generally capricious nature of the Real Madrid brass decided to fire him at the end of the season, regardless of his results in La Liga.
Real Madrid vs. Olympique Lyonnais – 2:30 on Fox Soccer Plus (5:00 PM on delay on Fox Soccer Channel)
UEFA Europa League
With Wolfsburg and Anderlecht enervating what little vitality Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao contained in their respective second legs, Atlético Madrid and Valencia will have to carry the torch for La Liga in the Europa League. Romelu Lukaku, the Anderlecht 16-year-old wunderkind, torchered the Bilbao defense throughout the match, the pinnacle of his contributions being the fourth minute goal that gave his side the edge in the tie. Unsurprisingly, he caught the eye of some top European clubs, including Barcelona and Real Madrid.
For Atlético Madrid, the wave trajectory continues, as they head up their highest amplitude this season. Wins over Barcelona, Valencia, and Galatasaray within the past few weeks gear Los Colchoneros into their most important matches of the season. They will not reach any of the top four spots in La Liga to secure a Champions League berth, and with Sevilla virtually guaranteeing themselves a spot in European competition next season, Atlético Madrid will grab a Europa League spot due to reaching the final of the Copa del Rey. Thus, the Europa League is Atleti’s most important objective until the Copa del Rey final, whose date is still up in the air.
Atlético Madrid’s opponent in the Round of 16, Sporting CP, can commiserate with Los Rojiblancos because their season has not met expectations as well. Although they stand fourth in the Portuguese Liga, they are nine points behind FC Porto for the final Champions League place with only nine matches remaining. Like Atlético, however, their most impressive results occurred in the past few weeks, with their victories over Everton in the Europa League and a shock 3-0 depredation of FC Porto. A team with Miguel Veloso, João Moutinho, and Liédson can never be underestimated despite their uneven results in their league.
Valencia had to break through one of the great goalkeeping performances in recent European history when they finally blasted Stijn Stijnen’s brick wall in extra time to defeat Club Brugge in the Round of 32. With the lineup of teams in the Europa League Round of 16 nearly as strong as the final 16 in the Champions League, Valencia’s tie with Werder Bremen is one of the star attractions of this round. It matches the third-ranked attack in La Liga versus the third-ranked attack in the Bundesliga. With both teams having the affinity to play better in the counter-attack, it will be interesting to see which team decides to take the majority of possession and how they react to this responsibility.
Atlético Madrid vs. Sporting CP – 12:45 PM on DirecTV channel 462 (462-1 for HD) (8:00 PM on delay on Gol TV)
Valencia vs. Werder Bremen – 3:00 PM on DirecTV channel 462 (462-1 for HD)
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