Arzak, a world-renowned restaurant in San Sebastián, fuses traditional Basque cuisine with modern flavors and philosophies.

For the first time this season, the Spanish teams participating in European competitions will have to adjust to the quick turnaround from the midweek European fixtures to the weekend matches in La Liga.  While Getafe has only been in a continental tournament once before, the other six teams are veterans of this kind of packed schedule.  Adding to a condensed fixture list is a domestic midweek round next week, so a club’s fitness and depth will be tested early into the marathon of a football campaign.

The headline match of the weekend takes place at the Vicente Calderón where Atlético Madrid hosts FC Barcelona, a place where Barcelona has found it hard to earn any points, much less win on the banks of the river Manzanares.  In the last five matches between these two teams at the Vicente Calderón, Atlético Madrid has won four, averaging an output of three goals per win.  Surprisingly, the 0-6 annihilation by Barcelona in 2007 is the aberration in the recent series.

Whereas Barcelona came off a scintillating 5-1 mauling of Panathinaikos in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday, Atlético Madrid heads into this important game off a distracted performance in Thessaloniki, where veteran La Liga manager Héctor Cúper led Aris Salonika to a 1-0 triumph on Thursday in the UEFA Europa League.  Quique Sánchez Flores was not happy with his team’s lack of “self-control,” as he explained it, but from watching Atleti’s performance in Greece, it was the classic “look-ahead” match, where they merely went through the motions in anticipation of the forthcoming game.  The league-leading rojiblancos will want to consolidate their place at the summit, however short-lived that will be, and FC Barcelona will want to reverse their losing trend at the Vicente Calderón that has baffled many pundits and themselves.

As for Barcelona’s eternal rival Real Madrid, they travel to San Sebastián where they meet a Real Sociedad outfit that came within a few minutes of securing a 100% record last Monday until José Ulloa scored in stoppage time to even the match at 2-2.  The last time the Erreala won against Real Madrid at the Estadio Anoeta was in 2004 when they had such players as Darko Kovacevic, Nihat Kahveci, and Xabi Alonso patrolling the pitch.

José Mourinho’s footprint has been firmly established on this team early in the campaign with their solidity in defense and in the midfield, and while the cavalier and swashbuckling style of Manuel Pelligrini no longer exists, a one-goal lead for this Real Madrid team seems much more secure than last year.  Cristiano Ronaldo, while shooting way too often in less than ideal situations, will eventually find his shooting boots, but this match may not be the one where he scores a goal because Real Sociedad plays a physical style, not unlike their Basque neighbors Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna.  This assertion does not undercut the craft that Sociedad have in Xabi Prieto, Raúl Tamudo, and captain Mikel Aranburu, but it will be a shock of this match has more than one goal in it.

Other intriguing matches on the docket include a Valencian derby between giant-slaying Hércules and another high-profile and unbeaten team in Valencia CF, a likely relegation battle between Racing de Santander and Real Zaragoza, and Sevilla manager Antonio Álvarez’s continuing crucible as Sevilla meets Andalusian neighbors Málaga after Sevilla provided another impotent performance in the Europa League, where Paris Saint-Germain deservedly walked away from the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán with a 0-1 scalp of the 2006 and 2007 UEFA Cup winners.

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. 18

Mallorca vs. Osasuna – 11:45 AM on DirecTV channel 477

Sporting Gijón vs. Athletic Bilbao – 1:55 PM on Gol TV HD

Real Sociedad vs. Real Madrid – 3:55 PM on Gol TV HD

Sept. 19

Racing de Santander vs. Real Zaragoza – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 477

Levante vs. Villarreal – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 478

Hércules vs. Valencia – 10:55 AM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3

Atlético Madrid vs. FC Barcelona – 12:55 PM on ESPN2 HD/ESPN Deportes/ESPN3

Málaga vs. Sevilla – 2:55 PM on Gol TV HD

Sept. 20

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

Unfortunately, the early Saturday kickoff between Espanyol and Almería will not be seen on US TV.