Focus returns to domestic business
© AFP

Topping the bill in European club football this week are clashes in Bremen and Madrid. In Germany, champions Bayern Munich visit Werder Bremen determined to banish their poor recent league form, while over in Spain, Barcelona are aiming to put last week's derby defeat by Espanyol behind them with an away win against Atletico Madrid.

The eyes of French football fans will be turned to the 'petit derby' of the North, Italian followers have three appetising clashes to savour including Inter Milan-Roma, while in England, Liverpool and Chelsea have the opportunity to close the gap on Manchester United while the leaders are on League Cup final duty.

Premier League: When the cat's away...
Due to face Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup final, Manchester United can only look on as their pursuers bid to narrow their lead at the top of the table. Liverpool, in second and seven points adrift, and Chelsea, in third a further three points behind, will be hoping to build on their mid-week UEFA Champions League victories by picking up three points on the domestic front. The Reds, 1-0 winners away to Real Madrid, visit struggling Middlesbrough (19th) while the Blues, 1-0 victors against Juventus, welcome a Wigan Athletic (7th) side who remain a tough proposition despite the January departures of Emile Heskey and Wilson Palacios.

Aston Villa (4th), beaten at home by Chelsea last week, host Stoke City (17th), while Arsenal (5th) will be hoping to use their Champions League win over Roma as a springboard for their first league victory since 17 January when they meet Fulham (8th). Everton (6th), who welcome West Bromwich Albion (20th) to Goodison, will sorely miss Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta, out for the rest of the season through injury.

The question: On the back of three scoreless draws in the league, can Arsenal end their goal drought against fellow Londoners Fulham?
The big game: Chelsea-Wigan, Saturday 28 February, 15.00 CET, Stamford Bridge
The quote: "Apart from the coach, nothing much has changed, and yet we're picking up positive results. The players have had a good look at themselves," Chelsea winger Florent Malouda.

Ligue 1: UEFA Cup shadow looms large
With Lens having dropped into Ligue 2, northern supporters will be without their 'grand derby' for one season at least. Lille (6th) will therefore battle it out for regional supremacy with humble Valenciennes (17th), and both sides have very different agendas. While Rudi Garcia's men remain firmly in the hunt for a European place, only goal difference is keeping Antoine Kombouare's charges out of the drop zone - despite an eight-match unbeaten run.

Leaders Lyon, currently six points ahead of closest pursuers Paris Saint-Germain, are sure to be pushed all the way by the visit of seventh-placed Rennes. PSG, Marseille (3rd) and Bordeaux (5th) are favourites on paper to beat Nancy (11th), Caen (16th) and Lorient (9th) respectively, but could well pay a price for their UEFA Cup exertions. Can Toulouse (4th) take full advantage after their trip to mid-table Auxerre?

The question: On a nine-game winless run, can Le Mans rediscover the winning touch?
The big game: Lyon-Rennes, Sunday 1 March, 21.00 CET, Stade de Gerland
The words: "At the start of the season, when everybody was available, we were scoring more freely. I'm expecting that once certain players find their best form again we'll get our attacking strength back," Marseille coach Eric Gerets.

La Liga: Madrid versus Barcelona times two
Football lovers around the world still have some time to wait before Barcelona and Real Madrid meet again in the league, but this weekend has thrown up two intriguing clashes between clubs from the capital and Catalonia. Leaders Barça and seventh-placed Atletico, both beaten last weekend, go head-to-head in the Vicente Calderon on Sunday, while on Saturday, second-from-bottom Espanyol host Madrid (2nd). In coming away with a 2-1 win at the Camp Nou in their last league outing, Mauricio Pochettino's Periquitos not only gave their own survival hopes a boost but also temporarily halted Barcelona's procession to the Liga crown. Los Merengues, now within seven points of top spot, will be hoping for a favour from their neighbours Atletico.

Sevilla in third face a testing trip to mid-table Athletic Bilbao, while city neighbours Real Betis (15th) will be keen to repay their fans for last week's 6-1 capitulation in the Bernabeu when they host fourth-placed Villarreal.

The question: On a run of nine successive La Liga wins, can Real Madrid put their European disappointment behind them and make it ten?
The big game: Atletico-Barcelona, Sunday 1 March, 19.00 CET, Estadio Vicente Calderon
The quote: "I've felt like I was under the microscope for the last 20 years because keepers are always put under huge pressure at Barça. The whistling doesn't get to me, I've already heard it several times in the past," Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes.

Serie A: A hint of nostalgia
Three fixtures in particular stand out among the weekend's upcoming Italian action. The biggest of these involves clear leaders Inter Milan taking on a Roma side (6th) who appeared to have put their poor start to the season behind them only to crash 3-0 away to Atalanta a fortnight ago. The meeting of Juventus (2nd) and Napoli (10th) brings to mind encounters during the 1980s featuring all-time greats Michel Platini and Diego Maradona. Fast forward to the present day and you have Juve's David Trezeguet and Napoli's Ezequiel Lavezzi, both of whom have also earned special places in their respective fans' hearts.

Finally to AC Milan (3rd) and Sampdoria (14th), title rivals in the early 1990s but with differing priorities nowadays. After both sides were knocked out of the UEFA Cup in midweek, the Rossoneri will be focusing all their energies on catching neighbours Inter, while Samp are not far enough away from the drop zone to stop looking over their shoulder.

The question: Having come through the ranks at Lazio and been denied a real shot at a first-team place, Bologna striker Marco Di Vaio would surely love to add to his Serie A leading tally of 17 goals in Rome.
The big game: Inter Milan-Roma, Sunday 1 March, 20.30 CET, Stadio Giuseppe Meazza
The quote: "I still love playing but my physical condition and state of mind have made me realise that the time has come to step aside. It's a good time for me to retire," Juventus midfielder Pavel Nedved.

Bundesliga: Who is next?
Hamburg, Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin have all held top spot in recent weeks without anybody appearing to want to stay there. On Saturday newly promoted Hoffenheim (2nd) travel to face Borussia Dortmund while Hertha (3rd) take on a Borussia Monchengladbach side still in last place but showing signs of recovery. Two points clear of their closest challengers, and four ahead of Bayern, will HSV still be first after hosting Wolfsburg (6th) on Sunday?

Also on Sunday is the visit of holders Bayern to last season's runners-up Werder Bremen. Though buoyed by a ruthless 5-0 Champions League win at Sporting Lisbon, the Bavarians have lost three of their last four Bundesliga games including a 2-1 home reverse by lowly Cologne. Thomas Schaaf's Werder, meanwhile, are floundering way off the pace in mid-table after last week's defeat by Energie Cottbus, but did end AC Milan's UEFA Cup hopes this week.

The question: Humbled 5-2 at their Allianz Arena by Werder earlier in the season, can Bayern return the favour in Bremen?
The big game: Werder Bremen-Bayern Munich, Sunday 1 March, 17.00 CET, Weserstadion
The quote: "It's great to be at the top of the standings, but it'd be even better to be there at the end of the season! It's something we all want, so we must put our own personal goals to one side," Hamburg goalkeeper Frank Rost.

Elsewhere
Over in Portugal, third-placed Sporting face their third crunch clash in a week when they visit league leaders FC Porto. Os Leões followed up a thrilling 3-2 win over local rivals Benfica with a 5-0 home thrashing by Bayern, while Os Dragões built on a 2-0 away success over Pacos de Ferreira by claiming a battling 2-2 Champions League draw at Atletico Madrid. Four points behind Porto and level with Sporting, Benfica host a Leixoes side in fourth who could overtake As Águias with a win.

Further north in Scotland, meanwhile, Rangers - back on top of the Premier League for the first time since October - face a tough match away to an in-form Hamilton Academical side who have won seven of their last eight matches. Celtic, who trail the Ibrox club on goal difference, will aim to capitalise on any slip-up when they entertain St Mirren later on Saturday.