With the exception of the Premier League, the early standings around Europe have a distinctly unfamiliar look to them, as a number of the expected title contenders struggle to recapture their fine form from last season. European competition in midweek provided some relief for Barcelona, Bayern and Liverpool, but the misery only deepened for Roma, Olympique Marseille and Schalke. All the big-name strugglers will now be looking to put the world to rights with morale-booting victories in domestic competition. FIFA.com looks ahead to the weekend action in Europe’s five biggest leagues.
Premier League: Top teams jostle for position
Chelsea conceded a league goal for the first time this season last weekend, but as they have maximum points from four matches so far, no-one at Stamford Bridge was unduly worried. On Sunday, the champions entertain promoted Blackpool, who are flying unexpectedly high in fourth position.
Before that, all eyes turn to Old Trafford, where third-placed Manchester United entertain arch-rivals Liverpool, treading water at the moment in 13th. Second-placed Arsenal travel to mid-table Sunderland, while Manchester City visit Wigan Athletic needing points after a modest start to the campaign.
The question: Can Chelsea make it five wins out of five?
The big game: Manchester United–Liverpool, Sunday 14.30, Old Trafford
The quote: "It's a huge game on Sunday. The players will still be disappointed about last weekend (when United drew 3-3 with Everton after leading 3-1 going into stoppage time). We mustn’t make the same mistake again," Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson.
La Liga: Big guns with points to prove
Barcelona are down in an unfamiliar eighth spot after last weekend’s shock home defeat to Hercules, but will be buoyed by a 5-1 midweek triumph against Panathinaikos. The champions meet leaders Atletico Madrid, winners of both their matches so far.
Fourth play fifth when Real Madrid visit Sociedad, while Hercules meet second-placed Valencia, the other club yet to drop points this term. Sevilla could go top by winning away to Malaga, but only if their rivals lose.
The question: Who will triumph in the first meeting between clubs from Madrid and Barcelona?
The big game: Atletico Madrid–Barcelona, Sunday 19.00, Vicente Calderon
The quote: "We need to concentrate hard in the build-up to the game and trust in our own strengths. All runs come to an end at some point, and that’s what we’ll try and do on Sunday in Madrid," Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets, who has never played in a winning team away to Atletico.
Bundesliga: Double derbies catch the eye
The derby between St. Pauli and Hamburg pits promoted minnows against Bundesliga founder members and is one of two massive games in Germany this weekend. The Hamburg rivals go head-to-head in earnest for the first time in eight years. Old rivalries are resumed in Munich too, where Bayern mark the first day of the Oktoberfest against erstwhile title rivals Cologne. The sides currently lie 13th and 14th in the table. At the wrong end of the standings, Wolfsburg, Stuttgart and Schalke, champions in 2009 and 2007 and last term’s runners-up respectively, have made disastrous starts with no points so far. Good results are an urgent necessity when the Wolves meet Hannover and Stuttgart play Monchengladbach, although Schalke face the hardest task of the lot in the second derby on the programme, the meeting with bitter Ruhr valley rivals Borussia Dortmund.
The question: Which of the big-name strugglers will finally get off the mark?
The big game: Kaiserslautern–Hoffenheim, Saturday 15.30, Fritz-Walter-Stadion
The quote: "As a player, there’s nothing you look forward to more than a derby. As coach, I’m really, really looking forward to it, because it’s the first-ever Bundesliga derby at our Millerntor stadium," St. Pauli coach Holger Stanislawski.
Serie A: Top teams keen to make up lost ground
Surprise package Chievo Verona top the early standings as the only team with maximum points from two matches. The leaders meet promoted Brescia and will hope to maintain their fine early-season form. Fifth-placed Bari take on Chievo’s chief pursuers Cagliari.
You have to scroll down to sixth and seventh to find treble winners Inter, who are away to Palermo, and rivals AC Milan, who entertain Catania. Juventus are 15th but hoping to improve on that with a first win of the campaign against stragglers Udinese. Last term’s runners-up Roma are 19th and badly in need of points against Bologna.
The question: Will the Milan giants hit form this weekend?
The big game: Bari–Cagliari, Sunday 12.30, Stadio San Nicola
The quote: "When you have a team as good as this, you just have to remain focused and the goals will come." AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Toulouse lost for the first time last weekend but stayed top, and now visit ninth-placed Monaco seeking to resume their good start. Pursuers Stade Rennes play Paris St Germain, St. Etienne face Montpellier, and Nice visit Sochaux.
Of all the topsy-turvy goings-on in the European leagues, the situation in France is the most extreme, where the usual title suspects are in dire trouble. Champions Olympique Marseille are 13th, and anything less than a convincing win away to Arles-Avignon, beaten soundly in all their matches so far this season, will spark a crisis. A similar fate awaits the losers of Girondins and Olympique Lyon, 17th and 16th respectively, who face off in Bordeaux.
The question: Which of the big-name clubs can escape the mire first?
The big game: Bordeaux–Olympique Lyon, Sunday, 21.00, Stade Jacques-Chaban-Delmas
The quote: "We have an interesting squad with first-class players, and we have potential, but the time has come to prove that. We have to work very hard at it because it won’t happen overnight," Olympique Lyon coach Claude Puel.
In Turkey, Istanbul rivals Fenerbahce and Besiktas cross swords in the Super Lig. Points will be dropped, which is potentially good news for champions Bursaspor, who top the table with a flawless return from four matches and now meet Gaziantepspor.
The Lisbon derby dominates the programme in Portugal, where champions Benfica take on Sporting. Porto will spend the weekend on the island of Madeira, but strictly for professional reasons, as the leaders aim to maintain their perfect start away to Nacional in Funchal.