The Castle of Santa Bárbara, standing sentry on top of a mountain peak in the center of Alicante, finds it origins in the 9th century during Arab rule.

La Liga clubs spent a week on vacation after the opening round of fixtures because of the international FIFA date, although for Real Madrid and Barcelona, many of their players were on international duty.  In particular, ten players from Barcelona and six players from Real Madrid traveled to Buenos Aires midweek for the Argentina – Spain friendly.  No one will feel sorry for them, especially the teams they will face this weekend.

Hércules, promoted from the Segunda División this season, made huge splashes in the transfer market, if not by outrageous sums of money but by well-known, veteran footballers.  David Trezeguet from Juventus, Nelson Haedo Valdez from Borussia Dortmund, and Royston Drenthe from Real Madrid signed for the Alicante club because they believe in the Hércules project, headed by chairman and renowned builder Valentín Botella and manager Esteban Vigo.

Although they lost a tight 0-1 match at home against Athletic Bilbao in Round 1, none of their star signings played in the match, and Fernando Llorente’s goal from a set-piece at the beginning of the second half was due to a defensive mistake that Esteban Vigo adamantly stated would never happen again.  They will travel up the Mediterranean coast to Barcelona into the cauldron of the Camp Nou for the early Saturday night kickoff, and even though no one expects them to pull off an astonishing upset, the experience of the new transfers should help in alleviating the anxieties of the majority of the Hércules players who have never played in front of such a large crowd.

Other intriguing matches this weekend include Osasuna visiting the Santiago Bernabéu where they nearly derailed Real Madrid’s chances of catching Barcelona at the tail end of the season when they took two different leads against Los Merengues but failed to secure any points when Cristiano Ronaldo headed his second goal of the match to pull Madrid out of the fire and earn the 3-2 win.

Athletic Bilbao hosts the hottest team in La Liga, Atlético Madrid, in the late Saturday kickoff.  Atlético deservedly captured the UEFA Super Cup against Inter Milan, and three days later, with many of the same players that started against Inter, crushed Sporting Gijón 4-0 to top the table after Jornada 1.  José Jurado, in what turned out to be his farewell match for the club, scored the opening goal in the eleventh minute, and after he came off in the 78th minute for Simão Sabrosa, the crowd at the Vicente Calderón gave Jurado a standing ovation because they knew he would be leaving.  He finalized a deal the following day to join Schalke 04 for €13 million, joining Christoph Metzelder and Raúl from Real Madrid to the Gelsenkirchen outfit.

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.

Sept. 11

Valencia vs. Racing de Santander – 11:45 on DirecTV channel 477

FC Barcelona vs. Hércules – 11:55 AM on Gol TV HD

Real Madrid vs. Osasuna – 1:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3

Athletic Bilbao vs. Atlético Madrid – 3:55 PM on Gol TV HD

Sept. 12

Sporting Gijón vs. Mallorca – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 477

Real Zaragoza vs. Málaga – 10:55 AM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3

Villarreal vs. Espanyol – 12:55 PM on Gol TV HD

Sevilla vs. Deportivo La Coruña – 2:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3

Sept. 13

Almería vs. Real Sociedad – 2:55 PM on DirecTV channel 477

Unfortunately, the Getafe – Levante match at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez will not be shown on US TV.

UEFA Champions League

The group stage of the UEFA Champions League proper commences in this coming midweek, and Spain will only have three participants at this point of the competition for the first time since 2006.  Barcelona will host Panathinaikos on Tuesday night in a match that will see Panathinaikos play conservatively and on the counter-attack.  Surpise Turkish Süper Lig champions Bursaspor will welcome a new-look Valencia that no longer has David Villa, David Silva, or Carlos Marchena among others but has brought in Mehmet Topal from Galatasaray, the 24-year-old defensive midfielder that has played against Bursaspor in his time in Istanbul, and a new strike force in Roberto Soldado and Aritz Aduriz.

Wednesday evening pits two of the most successful teams in UEFA Champions League/European Cup history as nine-time winners Real Madrid hosts four-time winners Ajax at the Santiago Bernabéu.  Both teams will want to recapture past glories as neither has been relevant in this competition for a few years.  Real Madrid has not advanced past the first knockout round since 2004, and Ajax has not been in the group stage of the Champions League since 2006 and has not earned their way to the quarterfinals since 2003.

Sept. 14

FC Barcelona vs. Panathinaikos – 2:30 PM on Fox Sports en Español and DirecTV channel 481 (481-1 for HD)

Bursaspor vs. Valencia – 2:30 PM on DirecTV channel 484 (484-1 for HD)

Sept. 15

Real Madrid vs. Ajax – 2:30 PM on Fox Sports en Español (delayed at 5:00 PM on Fox Soccer Channel HD)

UEFA Europa League

The UEFA Europa League also commences in the midweek, and title holders Atlético Madrid will fly to the Greek coast in Thessaloniki to face Aris Salonika and La Liga veteran coach Héctor Cúper, whose last job in Spain was with Real Betis in the 2007-08 season when he was sacked in December of that season.

In one of the most engaging matches of the opening group stage fixtures, Sevilla hosts Paris Saint-Germain at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán.  After the humiliation of taking the parachute to the Europa League at the hands of Sporting Braga in the UEFA Champions League playoff round, Sevilla enters a competition where they have been quite successful, winning consecutive UEFA Cups in 2006 and 2007.  Manager Antonio Álvarez’s leash has become shorter and shorter, and any negative results in the next month or two could lead to his immediate firing.

Note: DirecTV has not set their schedule for the first collection of group stage matches, but as soon as they do, this column will be updated as soon as possible.

Sept. 16

Aris Salonika vs. Atlético Madrid – 12:45 PM on DirecTV channel 481 (481-1 for HD)

Dinamo Zagreb vs. Villarreal – 12:45 PM on DirecTV channel 483 (483-1 for HD)

Getafe vs. Odense – 3:00 PM on DirecTV channel 487 (487-1 for HD)

Sevilla vs. Paris Saint-Germain – 3:00 PM on Gol TV HD