La Liga 2012, Week 34 Preview And Fixtures: El Clasico, And The End Of All Things

Real-life Frodo and Sam.

I'm happy to be here with you, Liga fans. Here, at the end of all things.

Last week, I started this article with a scene from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; this week, I'm recycling the joke. But it's not because I'm Al Gore (hello, 30 Rock fans)--it's because it's kind of apt. Sam and Frodo have just destroyed the one ring, and they're rushing down the slopes of Mt. Doom as the volcano erupts. At the last second they realize that, no, they're not going to be able to run away from an already-erupting volcano, so they sit down on a rock and watch the lava flow around them. As they're about to pass out from exhaustion, Frodo turns to Sam and says, "I'm glad to be with you here, Samwise Gamgee. Here, at the end of all things."

Fans of Spanish football should understand some of the emotions in this touching scene. Exhaustion in the face of an incredibly long journey, resignation to the end of the journey, and a happy conclusion that comes from that resignation. It's exactly how I feel when I think about the Clásico on Saturday.

Look, it's never been about which players start in which formations. It's not about Mourinho's tactics or Pep Guardiola's 3-4-3. It's not about Cristiano Ronaldo's power, or Messi's genius and Xavi's improvisation. At the end of all things, this match, this season, will come down to who has the energy to see this thing out. And while we, the fans, sit by in amazement, I can only imagine the players feel a little bit like Frodo Baggins sitting at the end of all things.

Oh, and there are still a few weeks left in the season, too.

Saturday, April 21

Mallorca vs. Real Zaragoza

18:00 CET (12:00 PM EST)

GIve me Mallorca at home over still-bad Zaragoza any day. And I'm not even sure this is the 18:00 match I'd watch.

Pick: 2-0 to Mallorca.

Sporting Gijón vs. Rayo Vallecano

18:00 CET (12:00 PM EST)

Sporting fighting for their survival against a fantastic, fascinating Rayo side that might even make it into Europe this year (probably not, but I can dream)? Yes, please!

Pick: 1-2 to Rayo! Vallecas! (How many times can I write that in a season?)

Barcelona vs. Real Madrid

20:00 CET (2:00 PM EST)

My god. Let me paint you a picture: I teach about 100 Spanish kids, tutor a handfull more, and talk almost every day to a large cadre of adults related to my school. Not a single one has said that they won't watch tomorrow. If Spain were the size of the United States, I have no doubt that more people would watch this match than the Super Bowl.

Pick: 1-1 to Real Madrid. And I say that because a 1-1 draw would effectively mean a win for Real Madrid.

Sevilla vs. Levante

22:30 CET (4:30 PM EST)

I was just in Levante today (yeah, I drove for 7 hours, dammit), and I don't feel like they're doing too badly. So yeah. And they pushed this game back half an hour so that people wouldn't have to choose between watching the end of the clasico (and the post-match conferences) and watching this. Smart people.

Pick: 1-2 to Levante.

Sunday, April 22

Real Sociedad vs. Villarreal

12:00 CET (6:00 AM EST)

Another sneaky-good noon game. And another fun one to watch. Would I get up at 6:00 AM to watch it, the world asks? Honestly, no, though I do like both sides.

Pick: 1-2 to Villarreal.

Granada vs. Getafe

12:00 CET (6:00 AM EST)

If I wouldn't wake up super-early for Villarreal, do you think I would for Granada?

Pick: 0-0.

Racing Santander vs. Athletic Bilbao

16:00 CET (10:00 AM EST)

Oh man, not a contest. Come on.

Pick: 0-3 to Bilbao.

Atlético Madrid vs. Espanyol

18:00 CET (2:00 PM EST)

Now this is more like it: a game I can enjoy at a time Americans can comprehend. I still like Atleti to make a run this season, and it looks like the pieces are in place. Let's see if they can convert without getting too obsessed with the Europa League.

Pick: 3-1 to Atleti.

Valencia vs. Real Betis

21:30 CET (3:30 PM EST)

You know, I was going to just write this one off as a foregone conclusion, an obvious Valencia win. But I just don't know if there are any obvious Valencia wins. So color me quizzical about this one.

Pick: 1-0 to Valencia, but I'm not happy about it.

Monday, April 23

Osasuna vs. Málaga

21:00 CET (3:00 PM EST)

I'm all on that Malaga bandwagon, and the boys in white-and-light blue need to come through for me in this one. It's an important race-for-third match, and I'm psyched to see how Málaga respond.

Pick: 1-3 to Málaga.

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