La Sagrada Familia, the famous unfinished work of Antoni Gaudí, has become the symbol of the city of Barcelona.

Back from personal vacation, this weekend’s round of matches is the last one of the 2010 calendar year before the players go on their own vacations during the La Liga winter break.  To top off the end of 2010, El Derbi Barceloní headlines the round as FC Barcelona travels to the south of the city to face an Espanyol club that has won every single match at home this season.

Many of those who witnessed Barcelona’s destruction of Real Madrid three weekends ago could not help but think that Barcelona reached its zenith both competitively and stylistically; however, this period of universe-class football started a month prior to El Clásico when Barcelona dismissed a then-strong Sevilla side 5-0.  If some felt that Barcelona would suffer a letdown after El Clásico, a rugged and effective 0-3 performance against Osasuna that included a Home Alone-type panic of planes, trains, automobiles, and buses, along with a footballing 5-0 exhibition against a confident Real Sociedad squad clearly showed that Barcelona would not take any matches for granted.

Meanwhile, Espanyol flies under the radar, as they always do, and in any other season, their fourth-place standing with a week prior to the winter break would be more of a story in El Mundo Deportivo, Sport, and other Spanish sports dailies, but their city rivals have garnered more headlines than usual with their total annihilation of La Liga and their style that could possibly be the most attractive since the 1970 Brazil Seleção squad that ran rampant in the World Cup.

Espanyol had its chance to rise up to third after Getafe pulled a significant 0-1 upset against Villarreal, and after the first half against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, their 0-1 advantage looked good enough to carry them to a rare away win.  Espanyol, however, went into its shell for the entirety of the second half to hold on to their one-goal lead, and Athletic pounded Carlos Kameni’s goal until they scored twice in a span of five minutes to earn a deserved three points.  Los periquitos are much more cavalier at home while at the same time conceding the fewest goals at home, a measly two tallies.  If the last few derbies are any indication, Espanyol will bunker down in their own half despite their high confidence this season, and physicality coupled with hard and occasionally questionable tackles and challenges will rule the night.

After Real Sociedad was humbled by FC Barcelona last Sunday, they return home to the friendly confines of the Estadio Anoeta to encounter a slightly demoralized Valencia club following their poor second-half performance against Osasuna on Monday night that led to a concession of a 3-1 halftime lead to share the points unwillingly.  Both teams will want to avenge the results of the last round, and especially for Valencia, they will want this win even more because if Espanyol loses to Barcelona and Valencia squeezes out a quality road victory, they will be tied for fourth in the league with Espanyol and have the goal difference tiebreaker in their favor.

Unai Emery worked the extra hours on the training pitch with his team this week after their horrendous defensive display against Osasuna, and with the Llorente – Griezmann- Prieto triumvirate clicking, sans the Barcelona match, expect this game to be a tight, tactical affair, which would favor the more conservative Emery.

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.

Dec. 18

Levante vs. Athletic Bilbao – 11:45 AM on DirecTV channel 477

Deportivo La Coruña vs. Sporting Gijón – 11:55 AM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3

Villarreal vs. Mallorca – 11:55 AM on Gol TV HD

Espanyol vs. FC Barcelona – 1:55 PM on Gol TV HD

Real Sociedad vs. Valencia – 3:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3

Dec. 19

Osasuna vs. Real Zaragoza – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 477

Almería vs. Getafe – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 478

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

Real Madrid vs. Sevilla – 2:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3/ESPN2 HD

Unfortunately, the Monday night football match between Racing de Santander vs. Hércules at El Sardinero will not be shown on US TV.