Though the Bundesliga is still on its winter break and the Premier League is making way for the FA Cup, the remaining three of Europe's 'big five' championships have a feast of top-class action in store this weekend. As on every Friday, FIFA.com takes you through the standout games on the old continent.
In France, Saint Etienne currently find themselves at the heart of the Lyon-Bordeaux title race. Les Verts lost to the latter on Thursday and are now preparing to host the league leaders and defending champions in a highly charged local derby. Meanwhile, it is a case of follow the leader in Spain and Italy, with Real Madrid and Inter Milan seemingly shoe-ins for their respective titles. The Galácticos nevertheless have to face third-placed Villarreal this weekend, while in Italy, Inter will be the second Milanese team to visit high-flying Udinese in the space of a week.
La Liga: Yellow submarine heading for the White
Barcelona still hold out hope of ousting Real Madrid from their throne, but they will have to produce a near-faultless run in and hope that their age-old rivals slip up. The Blaugranas travel to 15th-placed Athletic Bilbao on Sunday but will have to do without the services of Samuel Eto'o and Yaya Toure, on CAF Africa Cup of Nations duty, and Ronaldinho, out of action until next weekend.
Two hours later, Bernd Schuster's Real team will put their 100 per cent home record (nine wins in as many matches) on the line against Villarreal. The Submarino Amarillo were held by Barça in the Copa del Rey on Thursday and will be counting on their attacking trio of Giuseppe Rossi, Robert Pires and Nihat Kahveci to keep hold of third spot in the championship and erase the memories of their 5-0 defeat at home to the Merengues earlier in the season.
One team hoping that Villarreal slip up are Atletico Madrid, who
travel to face Mallorca after their recent defeat in the Madrid
derby. Lower down the table, Valencia, Sevilla and Real Zaragoza
will all be looking to bag three points to take them a step nearer
to respectability. And then there is Espanyol, one of the surprise
packages so far this season, who will face Real Betis without their
captain and main goal threat Raul Tamudo after he broke his arm
earlier in the week.
Question of the day: In his first match in charge, will Javier Irureta manage to steer Real Zaragoza to victory away to Racing Santander?
The big match: Real Madrid-Villarreal. Sunday 27 January, 21:00 CET.
Quote: "We know that Villarreal are a big team and that this will be nothing like the away match earlier in the season. They have some great players who can throw you off your game and score at any moment. Our recent home games against them have been hard-fought and tough ones to win," Guti (Real Madrid midfielder).
Ligue 1: Derby day for under-pressure Lyon
Seeing Lyon top the table in January is par for the course in Ligue 1. Being a mere three points clear, however, is something that the six-time champions are definitely not used to. Bordeaux are hot on their heels and will be hoping that Lyon come off second-best in the Rhone derby against Saint Etienne, who lost last Thursday to none other than Bordeaux. The Girondins themselves travel to Lorient, while Nancy and Nice will be fighting it out for third place at opposite ends of the country, away to Auxerre and Toulouse respectively.
Mid-table sees ten teams separated by only five points.
Marseille are at home to Caen and need Djibril Cisse to keep up his
January form, while Paris Saint-Germain are aiming to prove their
recent victories were no fluke by winning away to Lille, who picked
up striker Pierre-Alain Frau from the Parisians during the recent
Question of the day: Will Lyon marksman Karim Benzema score his 15th goal of the season this weekend? That would match PSG forward Pauleta's total in 2006/07, which was enough to make him the league's top scorer.
The big match: Saint-Etienne-Lyon. Sunday 27 January, 21:00 CET.
Quote: "We need confidence. When we're confident, we can really go places. It's not a question of avoiding the pressure because we're always under pressure. All I can do is watch, just like the other coaches in a similar situation to me," Paul Le Guen (Paris-Saint Germain coach).
Serie A: Milan teams with different goals
It will be more of the same for fifth-placed Udinese, who find themselves at home to their second Milanese opponents in the space of a week. Having gone down to an injury-time winner against AC last week, they will hope to do better on Sunday and succeed where all others have failed - by beating Inter. The Nerazzurri were held to a 2-2 draw by Juventus in midweek in the cup and will be looking to remain seven points clear of AS Roma, who are at home to Palermo on Saturday.
For their city rivals, the stakes are somewhat different. The
Rossoneri are a lowly tenth, and having seemingly put
their early season woes behind them with consecutive wins over
Napoli and Udinese, failed to capitalise in midweek, losing 2-1 to
Atalanta in a game in hand they had on the teams above them.
Milan's home match at the San Siro against Genoa on Saturday is
therefore a must-win affair if they wish to keep their hopes of a
UEFA Champions League berth alive. To do so, they will have to haul
in either Juventus or Fiorentina, who face Livorno and Empoli
respectively this weekend.
Question of the day: Strikers Cristiano Lucarelli (who has joined Parma from Shakhtar Donetsk) and Rolando Bianchi (now with Lazio having left Manchester City) are back in Italy after a six-month absence. Will two of last season's top scorers find the back of the net on their return?
The big match: Udinese-Inter Milan. Sunday 27 January, 15:00 CET.
Quote: "We shouldn't have lost to Atalanta. We need to keep looking ahead though now, as there are still a lot of matches to play and we can still get back in the hunt. We need to take it one match at a time and be a little more direct against certain opponents," Carlo Ancelotti (AC Milan coach).
It is an FA Cup weekend in England, but Aston Villa and Blackburn will be in league action playing a game in hand. If Rovers manage to win at Villa Park, they will draw level with their opponents who currently occupy sixth spot. Should the home team secure the three points, they will leapfrog Liverpool and Everton into fourth place.
The Portuguese BWINLIGA meanwhile boasts one of its marquee matches, with fourth-placed Sporting Lisbon at home to runaway leaders FC Porto, who are 11 points clear of second-placed Benfica and 14 ahead of this weekend's opponents.