All five of Europe’s top leagues are back in action this weekend. Despite a sparkling programme across the continent, most eyes will be glued to Spain, where Real Madrid’s stunning swoop for undisputed superstars Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo signifies a money-no-object determination to carry the fight to Barcelona this term.
Although the first goals in England, Italy, France and Germany hit the net a while ago, the coming matchday features at least one mouth-watering fixture in each of the four countries. FIFA.com previews the weekend action around the continent.
Premier League: Champions in Gunners' sights
After a perfect start with maximum points from two games and ten goals in the plus column, resurgent Arsenal face a first real test of character away to Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have finally settled in to life after Ronaldo, judging by last weekend’s 5-0 away thumping of Wigan Athletic, and are grimly determined to nip the Gunners’ apparent title ambitions in the bud. However, Arsene Wenger’s men have a score to settle with the Red Devils after defeat in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals last season.
Fellow Londoners Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea are favourites at home to promoted Birmingham City and Burnley, and will look to consolidate their positions at the top of the standings, while Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez will demand nothing less than victory away to Bolton Wanderers after the Reds’ horror start with two defeats in three matches. Manchester City travel to Portsmouth on their ambitious quest to turn the big four into a fab five.
The question: Will Arsenal continue with their ultra-attacking 4-3-3 formation away to the champions?
The big game: Manchester United-Arsenal, Saturday, 18.15, Old Trafford
The quote: "When you travel to United, you need as much confidence as possible. We have that at the moment," Arsene Wenger, Arsenal coach.
La Liga: Real aim to lay down a marker
The curtain will come up on the biggest show in town this weekend, as Real Madrid’s stellar investment in the 'new galacticos' goes under the microscope in chapter one of the effort to close the gap on Barcelona. Manuel Pellegrini’s star ensemble entertain Deportivo La Coruna, with the footballing world asking whether the individual talent of newcomers Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema can be moulded into a functioning unit with stalwarts Raul and Iker Casillas.
Madrid are determined to send out an unmistakeable signal to the current best club side in the world. Barça swept the board last term, and will look to slot back into the winning groove at home to Sporting Gijon. Summer signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic needs to show he is a worthy successor to the potent Samuel Eto'o. Elsewhere, the Mestalla hosts an intriguing opening day clash when Valencia meet equally ambitious Sevilla.
The question: Can Los Merengues deliver a first statement of intent and prove their credentials as a world-class team when they take on La Coruna?
The big game: Real Madrid-Deportivo La Coruna, Saturday, 20.00, Santiago Bernabeu
The quote: "Madrid have bought players in an effort to win and build a winning team. I’ve come to a club which already has a winning team," Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Barcelona striker.
Serie A: Gala time in Milan and Rome
The tifosi are treated to two tremendous fixtures on matchday 2 in Italy. The Milan derby pits champions Inter against rejuvenated rivals AC, while further south Roma entertain the nation’s most successful club, Juventus. The two matches should provide an early indicator of which way the wind is blowing in Serie A this season.
Inter boss Jose Mourinho is already under pressure, as the Nerazzurri were held 1-1 at home by lowly Bari in their opening game. For AC Milan, Ronaldinho appears to have recaptured his scintillating form of old, contributing two assists in last week’s 2-1 victory in Siena. And Roma, beaten 3-2 by Genoa last week, aim to make amends against Juventus and their new Brazilian playmaker Diego.
The question: Can Inter, who beat AC twice in pre-season, continue their winning run against their bitter rivals from across Milan?
The big game: AC Milan-Inter, Saturday, 20.45, Giuseppe Meazza
The quote: "I wouldn’t swap Ronaldinho for any player I know, even if he is 29," Silvio Berlusconi, AC Milan owner.
Ligue 1: Marseille out for revenge
Matchday 4 in France features one standout clash. Girondins Bordeaux marched impressively to the league title last spring, puncturing the fiery passion and enthusiasm always associated with runners-up Olympique Marseille, but the southerners entertain the champions at the weekend looking for a measure of sweet revenge.
Former top dogs Olympique Lyon will be watching with interest. Their campaign to recover the trophy has begun with seven points from three games. Claude Puel’s men are at home to Nancy and will hope for another fine display from summer signing Lisandro Lopez, bought to fill the Benzema-shaped hole left by the striker’s departure for Madrid.
The question: Can Yoann Gourcuff and Marouane Chamakh, already on seven goals between them this term, fire the champions to victory in Marseille?
The big game: Olympique Marseille-Girondins Bordeaux, Sunday, 21.00, Stade Velodrome
The quote: "Our run will come to an end at some point, but we want to keep it going for as long as possible," Yoann Gourcuff, Bordeaux playmaker.
Bundesliga: Bayern join hunt for Wolves
The runners-up entertain the champions in the biggest match on the Bundesliga calendar this weekend. However, Wolfsburg’s visit to Bayern Munich finds the home team in a state of turmoil. Louis van Gaal’s reshaped side have taken just two points so far in their worse start to a season for 43 years, so the need for a first win has become almost overwhelming. For their part, the Wolves are keen to bounce back after having their proud 20-match unbeaten home record ended by in-form Hamburg last week.
The nascent table shows the lead shared on seven points apiece by Bayer Leverkusen, Hamburg and Schalke, who are coached by former Wolves boss Felix Magath. All three will be expected to win at home: Leverkusen meet Bochum, Hamburg play FC Koln, and Schalke entertain Freiburg.
The question: Can Bayern beat the champions and lift the air of crisis surrounding the club?
The big game: Bayern Munich-Wolfsburg, Saturday, 18.30, Allianz Arena
The quote: "We want to play successful football everywhere we go. That’s why we’re aiming to win in Munich," Armin Veh, Wolfsburg coach.
The Vienna derby dominates the Austrian programme, while Russian champions and leaders Rubin Kazan visit tenacious rivals Spartak Moscow. In Belgium, the re-run of last season's championship play-off sees runners-up Anderlecht at home to champions Standard Liege.