For just a few hours on Friday evening, Europe’s major leagues will take a back seat as the football world turns its attention to Cape Town and the Final Draw of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
However, with a busy weekend of championship action across the continent, it will not be long before Europe’s clubs nudge their way back into the limelight. And when they do, there are a host of questions to be answered. How will Real Madrid react positively to their defeat in last week’s clásico? Can Chelsea maintain their momentum in England? Will Bordeaux stay out front in France? Just who can stop Bayer Leverkusen? And will Inter Milan win the day against old foes Juventus? FIFA.com is here to give you a few pointers and more.
Premier League: Chelsea head north, United go south
Though they have been in irresistible form for the last few weeks, Chelsea suffered a setback on Wednesday when they were knocked out of the League Cup by Blackburn Rovers on penalties. That reverse should give the leaders all the incentive they need to hit their stride once more at Manchester City. Just for once, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United will be cheering on their neighbours in sky blue, while attempting to collect three vital points at West Ham United. Despite their lowly position, the Hammers have scored in their last 11 outings, including a five-goal haul against Burnley last weekend.
Tottenham are aiming to stay in the top three when they make the journey north to face an Everton side under pressure after losing out to Liverpool in the Merseyside derby last weekend. Following that timely boost, the Reds now travel to Blackburn but still have some way to go to catch fourth-placed Arsenal, who are at home to mid-table Stoke City.
The question: Manchester City have drawn seven games in a row and Chelsea, their guests this weekend, have won their last five. Which of these two sequences will come to an end?
The big game: Manchester City-Chelsea, Saturday 5 December, 17.00 CET, City of Manchester Stadium
The quote: “We've done fantastically well so far this season. This was a disappointment and hopefully it's a one-off. We now have to focus on the league, starting with Everton on Sunday,” Tottenham forward Peter Crouch reacts to their midweek Carling Cup defeat at Manchester United
La Liga: Real hoping to cut the gap
Just as they did last season, Barcelona have been flattening everything in their path in recent weeks. The latest side to feel the Blaugrana force were Jerez in midweek, a 2-0 win taking Barça five points clear of Real Madrid, albeit having now played one game more. Deportivo La Coruna, who lie fifth, are up next for Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering team, while Los Merengues will attempt to rebound from their clásico defeat at home to Almeria, coached by one-time darling of the Bernabeu, Hugo Sanchez. Third-placed Sevilla will hope to stay in the slipstream of the big two when they receive a visit from Valladolid.
Waiting to pounce should the Andalusians stumble are fourth-placed Valencia, who nevertheless face a tricky test at Athletic Bilbao. Down at the wrong end of the table, Atletico Madrid have every chance of continuing their climb away from the drop zone when they visit stragglers Jerez.
The question: Barça have not won in La Coruna since 2004/05. Can the Catalans break their recent Riazor hoodoo this weekend?
The big game: Deportivo La Coruna-Barcelona, Saturday 5 December, 22.00 CET, Estadio Municipal de Riazor
The quote: “I hope we can continue our revival and show the same kind of spirit we had last week. Jerez are a good side but we need to go down there and get the three points,” Atletico Madrid defender Pablo Ibanez.
Serie A: Derbies the order of the day
The 180th Derby d’Italia takes centre stage on Saturday as top dogs Inter Milan seek to keep their latest title charge on track against a Juventus side desperate to cut the eight-point deficit that separates the sides. Sandwiched in between the old foes are a rejuvenated AC Milan, who will be seeking to make further progress when they host Sampdoria, who are now fourth.
Thanks to the weekend’s top-of-the-table showdowns, the latest Rome derby, traditionally a high point of the Italian season, has been pushed down the bill. Standing four places above their sworn Giallorossi enemies, fifth-placed Lazio look to be the favourites going into the capital showdown, though form is never an accurate guide when it comes to predicting this classic tussle.
The question: Can Siena climb off the bottom when they take on Catania, the team immediately above them?
The big game: Juventus-Inter Milan, Saturday 5 December, 20.45 CET, Stadio Olimpico
The quote: “Derbies are often decided by the player with the biggest personality. In this case, that’s (Francesco) Totti,” former Roma striker Vincenzo Montella
Bundesliga: Leverkusen versus the rest
There is only one question Bundesliga watchers are asking themselves this season: just who can get the better of Bayer Leverkusen? Fourteen sides have tried and failed so far this term, with Hannover now picking up the gauntlet. Werder Bremen, who have managed to stay within three points of the leaders, travel to Cologne, while Schalke, five points adrift in third, play host to bottom side Hertha Berlin, whose nightmare run shows no signs of ending.
Bayern Munich recovered their poise with a 3-0 win at Hannover last Sunday and will be out to maintain the feelgood factor at home to Borussia Monchengladbach. Elsewhere fifth plays sixth as Hamburg welcome Hoffenheim, and struggling Stuttgart and Bochum meet at the Mercedes Arena with vital points at stake as both sides bid to pull away from the basement.
The question: Who will come out in top in the nostalgia-tinged showdown between 1970s giants Borussia Monchengladbach and the mighty Bayern Munich?
The big game: Bayern Munich-Borussia Monchengladbach, Friday 4 December, 20.30 CET, Allianz Arena
The quote: “I’m expecting a really exciting game against Hamburg because both sides like to play good football and are very attack-minded,” Hoffenheim goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand.
Ligue 1: Hazardous missions for Lyon and Bordeaux
Having just climbed back into the lead, Bordeaux have no intention of coming down from their lofty perch. Laurent Blanc’s men can expect a stiff test from Paris St Germain, who should be in high spirits after unseating previous leaders Auxerre and then putting five goals past Boulogne in the week. Big winners over high-flying Valenciennes last weekend, Lille should give second-placed Lyon plenty to ponder when they meet in Sunday’s late game.
Undone by Lens on their last outing, Marseille, who have slipped to eighth, can afford no further mishaps against Nice if they are to stay in close touch with the leading pack, though they do have a game in hand. And at the bottom, can Grenoble make it 15th time lucky at home to Toulouse and register their first win of the season?
The question: PSG knocked Auxerre from the top of the table last week. Can they repeat the feat against the new leaders?
The big game: Bordeaux-Paris St Germain, Saturday 5 December, 21.00 CET, Stade Chaban-Delmas
The quote: “The league is very tight and anyone can beat anyone. We just need to find some consistency and start putting some wins together. That would make things a whole lot easier for us,” Marseille midfielder Lucho Gonzalez.
Three points clear at the top of the Cypriot championship, Omonia Nicosia face a tough assignment at sixth-placed AEL Limassol, while their two closest challengers, Apollon Limassol and Anorthosis Famagusta, are at home to APOEL Nicosia and away at APOP/Kinyras respectively.
In the Netherlands, unbeaten frontrunners Twente will resume their duel with PSV Eindhoven, the only other side in the Eredivisie yet to taste defeat. The men from Enschede take on NEC in Nijmegen, with the Boeren paying a visit to rockbottom RKC Waalwijk.