The continent's finest were able to put domestic duties on
the backburner in midweek as Europe took precedence, but affairs
closer to home will require their full attention over the next
couple of days. The region's major championships return to the
forefront at the weekend, with points to be won and lost at both
ends of the table. In Italy, England, Spain and Germany, some of
the mouth-watering fixtures on offer would not be out of place in
the latter stages of Europe's most prestigious competition.
AC Milan face AS Roma, Liverpool host Arsenal, Schalke 04 take on Werder Bremen and Sevilla entertain Valencia - a serving of matches worthy of a UEFA Champions League quarter-final menu.
The intrigue does not end there either, with Olympique Lyonnais bidding to consolidate their position as Ligue 1 leaders away to Paul Le Guen's new-look Paris Saint-Germain, while Marseille will be hoping their UEFA Champions League form rubs off on their domestic campaign. Unbeaten in Europe, the Mediterranean outfit visit fellow strugglers FC Sochaux, determined to drag themselves further clear of the drop zone.
Join FIFA.com as we take a closer look at what the continent's leading championships hold in store this weekend.
The upcoming round of games may not boast any top-of-the-table showdowns, but the Lorraine derby between Metz and Nancy is sure to stir passions among two sets of supporters currently experiencing vastly different emotions. Troubled Metz appear destined for relegation this year, whereas their neighbours have been reassessing their ambitions with every passing week. They now lie second, two points behind Lyon and with a game in hand, although the champions will be eager to keep their grip on first place at the Parc des Princes on Sunday. Their opponents are hardly flying in 14th place, but coach Paul Le Guen has taken the bold step of entrusting his youngsters with finally getting the team's season going.
At the bottom of the table, Marseille travel to Sochaux anxious to win two games in succession for the first time this term, following their 1-0 victory over Lens last Sunday. Coach Eric Gerets has been given a major boost by the return of gifted playmaker Samir Nasri, but the Belgian tactician is sure to be aware that his side have lost both their fixtures after rubbing shoulders with the European elite (2-0 against Auxerre and 1-0 against Saint-Etienne).
Question of the day: Caen have lost eight and
drawn one of their last nine matches away to Moncao. Will the
Normandy side be able to taste victory at the tenth attempt, given
that their hosts have now lost five games in a row?
The big match: Paris SG-Olympique Lyonnais, Sunday 21h00, Parc des Princes
The number: 0 - the amount of times Sochaux have triumphed at home this season. The Lion Cubs hope to break their duck against Marseille, who have lost on five of their last six visits to the Stade Bonal.
Quote: "We're coming off a complete failure of a match against Saint-Etienne. We need to introduce a new dynamic in terms of our collective play and desire." Elie Baup (Toulouse FC coach)
Beaten for the first time last weekend, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona get a chance to bounce back on home turf against Deportivo La Coruña and Almeria respectively. The Merengues go into their fixture having already returned to winning ways against Olympiakos on Wednesday, thanks largely to a blistering performance from Robinho, but Barcelona's frustrations continued when they were held to a goalless draw away to Glasgow Rangers. Deprived of Deco for the past few weeks, Barça coach Frank Rijkaard thankfully welcomes back Yaya Toure in midfield.
Slip-ups from the big two allowed Villarreal (2nd), Espanyol (5th) and Atletico Madrid (6th) to climb a little closer to the summit last time out, and their mission this weekend will be to follow up with wins away from home: at Zaragoza, Mallorca and Levante respectively. There can be no doubt about the pick of the games, though, with Sevilla squaring up to fellow UEFA Champions League hopefuls Valencia after the two rivals fared rather differently in midweek. For the Andalusians, a second European win in succession came at Steaua Bucharest's expense, while Los Che succumbed to their second straight defeat away to Rosenborg. Much of the intrigue will come from the subplot pitting in-form strike duo Frederic Kanoute and Luis Fabiano against similarly inspired pairing Fernando Morientes and David Villa.
Question of the day: Will basement outfit Levante
be able register their first win of the campaign? With just one
point from eight encounters, their task looks daunting against
Atletico Madrid's fearsome attacking armada.
The big match: Sevilla-Valencia, Sunday 21h00, Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium
The number: 3 - the average number of goals scored at home by Barcelona this term. They have fired in a frightening 12 strikes in four games at the Camp Nou - a figure sure to intimidate promoted-side Almeria, although the visitors have conceded just four times on their four previous away trips this season.
Quote : "I've been lucky enough to watch Bojan Krkic in action and he's already incredibly mature. In football, you're never too young to play and show what you can do. When a player's ready he has to play. I haven't seen too many players like him and the way he scores his goals reminds me of David Trezeguet." Thierry Henry (FC Barcelona forward)
Once again, England plays host to a selection of encounters destined to be full of suspense and high on entertainment, but one match in particular will be hogging the headlines. All at sea in Europe, Liverpool have the perfect opportunity to raise spirits at Anfield when they welcome Premier League and continental pacesetters Arsenal.
Unbeaten at the top of the table, the Gunners have been equally impressive on the European scene this year, and their most recent sortie saw them hand Slavia Prague a lesson in attacking football on their way to racking up a 7-0 scoreline. In complete contrast, Rafa Benitez's charges plumbed the depths in Istanbul, losing 2-1 to Besiktas. Boasting just one point after three games, last year's UEFA Champions League finalists are in danger of going out of the competition and may require salvation on the domestic stage to rescue their season. There would be no better time to start than against Arsene Wenger's exciting young team, especially if they wish to avoid talk of a crisis taking hold.
Elsewhere, there will be intrigue in spades at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea lock horns with surprise high-flyers Manchester City. Champions Manchester United host Middlesbrough, while Bolton and Tottenham go into their 11th games stuck in the relegation zone and with new men in charge. Gary Megson has replaced Sammy Lee for the Wanderers, and Martin Jol left White Hart Lane after his side's UEFA Cup capitulation to Getafe on Thursday (2-1).
Question of the day: Who will be the last unbeaten
team in the Premier League? If either Liverpool or Arsenal come out
on top on Sunday, they will become the last English side yet to be
The big match: Liverpool-Arsenal, Sunday 16h00, Anfield
The number: 300 - if Gareth Barry features for Aston Villa against Bolton on Sunday, he will become the youngest player - and the first under the age of 27 - to make 300 Premier League appearances.
Quote: "It's a huge match and an excellent opportunity for us to get closer to the top of the table. It's the kind of game that will allow us to prove we're ready to fight all season long for the title." Javier Mascherano (Liverpool midfielder)
Schalke 04 host Werder Bremen at perhaps the worst time possible, with the visitors having suddenly rediscovered their best form in both the domestic and European arenas. But despite being traditional challengers for the Bundesliga crown over the last few years, the two rivals may have to content themselves with aiming for second this time around. Leaders Bayern Munich appear resolved not to give any crumbs of comfort to their pursuers and will vie to continue their run in Dortmund on Sunday, where they were beaten 3-2 last term. Winners away to Red Star Belgrade on Thursday, courtesy of a last-gasp free-kick from 17-year-old prodigy Toni Kroos, the visitors will be bolstered by the return of Franck Ribery, Luca Toni and Martin Demichelis.
If Bayern seem increasingly to be champions-in-waiting, current
champions VfB Stuttgart are stumbling through a full-blown crisis.
A month without a win in the Bundesliga and three defeats in as
many UEFA Champions League outings have seriously undermined the
morale of the fans, leaving coach Armin Veh and his players no room
for error against Bayer Leverkusen, who defeated Toulouse in the
UEFA Cup on Thursday.
Question of the day: Will Borussia Dortmund become the first outfit to get the better of Ottmar Hitzfeld's Bayern Munich? The experienced trainer has excellent knowledge of the Signal Iduna Park (previously known as the Westfalen Stadion) as he won the UEFA Champions League while in charge there in 1997.
The big match: Schalke 04-Werder Bremen, Saturday 15h30, Veltins Arena
The number: 0 - as in the number of three-point hauls for Energie Cottbus this season. Despite a change in coach, the east German club are still searching for their first win.
Quote : "Playing against Schalke 04 is going to be another tough game, but if we play like we did against Lazio (2-1), we can hope to get a good result." Thomas Schaaf (Werder Bremen coach)
Leading the way ahead of Juventus (three points back), Fiorentina (four) and Roma (five), Inter Milan could potentially strengthen their hold on Serie A this weekend. They are scheduled for a trip to Palermo, whereas their fellow title rivals all face tricky encounters.
The challenge for Juventus comes in Naples, where two of Italian
football's greatest institutions will contest a fixture that
was held in Serie B last term. The southerners proved their worth
last weekend by levelling the scores three times during their
pulsating 4-4 stalemate with AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico. As for
Roma, they are gearing up for another almighty test, this time away
to an AC Milan side struggling on the domestic stage but imperial
in the UEFA Champions League in midweek, when Kaka and Clarence
Seedorf both shone brightly.
The only other unbeaten side, apart from Inter, are Fiorentina, and they travel to Serie A new boys Genoa, who strung three wins together before succumbing to Juventus 1-0 last Sunday.
Question of the day: Can the two bottom-feeders
th) and Livorno (20
th) pick up their first victories of the current
campaign? They take on the two teams directly above them, with
Livorno facing Parma (18
th) and Reggina hoping to get the job done against Siena
The big match: AC Milan-AS Roma, Sunday 15h00, San Siro
The number: 0 - the number of times AC Milan have celebrated maximum points at home this season. The European champions have made their worst start since 1981, with a record of two wins (both away), four draws and two defeats, including last weekend's 1-0 loss to Empoli.
Quote: "We're a team who play well when we've got the ball, but we don't run away when we have to fight with a knife between our teeth." Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma midfielder)