La playa del Sardinero, for which Racing Santander's stadium is name, is a popular and stunning beach at the north end of Santander that attract many tourists every year.

The final third of the season commences this weekend with a slate of matches that will likely impact European places more than the title race.  Both Real Madrid and Barcelona will face clubs at the bottom half of the table, and barring any catastrophes, they should fend off Sporting Gijón and Real Zaragoza, respectively, with relative ease.

The two most intriguing games involve those fighting for a top six spot.  Athletic Bilbao hosts Getafe at San Mamés in the early Saturday kickoff, and Los Leones‘ home record remains stellar with only three losses out of twelve and a win and a draw over Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.  The mediocre play of both Valencia and Sevilla has given a number of teams, including Athletic Club, justifiable hope that they could represent La Liga in the Champions League next season.

Athletic is only three points behind Sevilla for fourth place, and having last participated in the Champions League in 1998, their only time since the European Cup became the Champions League in 1992, they would want nothing more than to prove that their restrictive player policies can produce a team capable of mingling with the top teams in Europe.

As for Getafe, their recent poor results have caused the Madrid side to drift away from the European scrap, but their 3-0 demolition of Mallorca last weekend may have turned the corner for Míchel’s men.  Getafe is six points behind Deportivo La Coruña for that final Europa League spot, and while the gap is surmountable on the surface, the news that their ace striker Roberto Soldado will miss the next month and a half with a torn meniscus suffered in that win against Mallorca will dampen the mood within the dressing room.  Miku will likely deputize for Soldado as Getafe’s lone striker, and they will need him to fill Soldado’s sizable boots for the time being.

The other alluring match of the weekend sees Mallorca inviting Atlético Madrid into the “cauldron” that is the ONO Estadi.  Mallorca’s European hopes will be directly correlated to how they defend their home turf to close out the season.  Winning eleven out of twelve home matches is a wonderful accomplishment, but their appalling away record means that they will need a couple of victories at home over the traditional powers in Spain.  This mission starts on Sunday against an Atlético Madrid team who will take their Europa League momentum into this match.

Funny how Atlético Madrid rises to the occasion when the odds are stacked against them.  Earning a 2-2 draw against Sporting CP at the Estádio José Alvalade sent los colchoneros into the quarterfinals of the Europa League, and a domestic and European cup double is not out of the question.  Their poor away record in the league, however, combined with Mallorca’s superlative home record should equal three points for the islanders, but predicting Atlético’s performance from week to week would leave many gamblers owing their loan sharks everything they own.

Note: La Liga will have a mid-week round next week, and the preview for that will arrive on Tuesday morning.

Extra Note: ESPN will show a rare Saturday match with Real Madrid against Sporting Gijón.  Usually filled with college sports on Saturday, the start of the NCAA Tournament on CBS along with the Women’s NCAA Tournament on ESPN2 indicates that ESPN is wide open, and thus, the Real Madrid game that would be only seen on ESPN Deportes and ESPN 360 on Saturday will be available on ESPN Saturday and in high definition.

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.

Mar. 20

Athletic Bilbao vs. Getafe – 12:45 PM on DirecTV channel 456

Deportivo La Coruña vs. Real Valladolid – 12:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360

Real Madrid vs. Sporting Gijón – 2:55 PM on ESPN HD/ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360

Espanyol vs. Sevilla – 4:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360

Mar. 21

Málaga vs. Villarreal – 11:45 AM on DirecTV channel 456

Osasuna vs. Racing Santander – 11:45 AM on DirecTV channel 457

Mallorca vs. Atlético Madrid – 12:00 PM on Gol TV

Valencia vs. Almería – 1:55 PM on Gol TV

Real Zaragoza vs. FC Barcelona – 3:55 PM on Gol TV

Unfortunately, the Xerez – Tenerife match at El Chapín will not be shown on US TV.