Now that the qualification competition for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ has come to a close, Europe’s players can focus on their domestic duties without interruption. The continent’s major leagues get back to action this weekend with a programme that includes a re-arranged French clasico, must-win games for under-pressure Liverpool and Bayern Munich, and a testing away-day for leaders Barcelona. FIFA.com has all the details.
Barclays Premier League: Last chance for the Reds?
Liverpool have left themselves with little room to manoeuvre after a problematic start to the season. Having slumped to five defeats in their opening 12 games, Rafael Benitez’s men urgently need to pick up their home form, starting with Saturday’s visit of Manchester City. The question is, which Liverpool will we see: the one that impressed against Manchester United a few weeks ago or the one that sputtered to a 2-2 draw against Birmingham City in their last Anfield outing?
The Merseysiders’ woes have allowed the other three members of the so-called Big Four to pull away at the top. The leading trio will all be confident of strengthening their positions this weekend. Leaders Chelsea entertain Wolverhampton Wanderers, while Arsenal travel to Sunderland and Manchester United play host to Everton, who have won only once in 17 Premier League visits to Old Trafford, that solitary victory coming back in 1992.
The question: Can Chelsea rack up their seventh home win on the bounce against a Wolves side without a win in six games?
The big game: Liverpool-Manchester City, Saturday 13.45 CET, Anfield
The quote: “I see no reason why Rio Ferdinand can’t get back to his best. He needs to return to full fitness first, but when he’s in shape he’s a fantastic player.” Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic
La Liga: Real hoping for a helping hand
A single point adrift of Barcelona, second-placed Real Madrid have designs on returning to the top of La Liga on Saturday evening. To do that Los Merengues need to beat Racing Santander at home and then hope that Athletic Bilbao do them a favour when they take on Barça at San Mames two hours later. The Catalans are sweating on the fitness of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is struggling with a leg injury.
In the other championship taking place beneath the big two, Sevilla and Valencia continue their duel with respective trips to Tenerife and Osasuna. Down at the bottom, meanwhile, Villarreal and Atletico Madrid are both intent of climbing their way out of trouble so they can start focusing on their pre-season objectives. Both are away this weekend, with the men in yellow travelling to Valladolid and Los Colchoneros also heading north for an awkward away-day at Deportivo La Coruna.
The question: With four wins and six defeats, Getafe have yet to draw a game. Will Los Azulones share the points for the first time this season when they visit Espanyol?
The big game: Athletic Bilbao-Barcelona, Saturday 22.00 CET, San Mames
The quote: “We’ve restored our pride a little with some good performances against some big teams. Now we need to start winning. We can’t wait for the La Coruna match to come around and to go out and win it.” Atletico Madrid captain Antonio Lopez
Serie A: The calm before the storm
Matchday 13 in Italy is something of a transitional point in the Serie A season, as the country’s big names prepare for a series of high-profile meetings.
Frontrunners Inter Milan limber up for what promises to be a crucial phase in the campaign with a journey to Bologna, who lie 15th. Held to a 1-1 draw at Roma in their last away game, I Nerazurri will be looking to Samuel Eto’o, still on a high after helping Cameroon qualify for South Africa 2010, to lead them to victory.
With five points already separating them and the leaders, Juventus have set their sights on winning their next two games to put themselves in a more comfortable position ahead of the showdown with Inter on 5 December. The first of those two engagements comes on Sunday when they welcome Udinese. Having clawed their way up to third, AC Milan face a stern test against the surprising Cagliari in eighth, and fourth-placed Fiorentina entertain Parma with just three places and one point separating the sides.
The question: Having strung together four consecutive wins, three of them without conceding a goal, can Cagliari continue their climb up the table?
The big game: Fiorentina-Parma, Saturday 20.45 CET, Stadio Artemio Franchi
The quote: “Our aim is to finish in a (UEFA) Champions League place. To do that, though, we need to work hard day-in day-out and prove that we deserve it.” Napoli forward Ezequiel Lavezzi
Bundesliga: Salvage job for Bayern as tributes continue
The tone will be sombre in Germany as the Bundesliga pays tribute to the late Hannover and Mannschaft goalkeeper Robert Enke. A minute’s silence will be held before each game, with every player wearing a black armband in his memory. Enke’s club-mates start life without him at Schalke 04.
The game of the day is the visit of unbeaten leaders Bayer Leverkusen to Bayern Munich, who have slipped to eighth. A win for the Bavarians would close the gap to just three points, while defeat would plunge them into a crisis similar to last season’s, when they were rescued by Jupp Heynckes, now the occupant of the Leverkusen hotseat. Poised to pounce, should the leaders come unstuck in Munich, are Werder Bremen, who are away at Freiburg. Third-placed Hamburg can also improve their title prospects at home to Bochum, who lie last but one after four straight defeats.
The question: Bottom of the table and without a win since 8 August, can Hertha Berlin collect three much-needed points at Stuttgart, who have themselves gone without a win for two months?
The big game: Bayern Munich-Bayer Leverkusen, Saturday 15.30 CET, Allianz Arena
The quote: “We won’t have any excuses. Leverkusen are direct rivals and we’re at home. We simply have to win.” Bayern Munich goalkeeper Hans-Jorg Butt, formerly of Bayer Leverkusen
Ligue 1: Old foes meet at last
After last month’s scheduled meeting was cancelled due to an outbreak of swine flu in the Parisian camp, Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain will finally cross swords on Friday evening.
Both sides are under a fair amount of pressure going into the game. PSG dropped down to 12th after a home defeat to Nice two weeks ago, while l’OM stand eighth after taking part in one of the most extraordinary games in the history of Le Championnat, the unforgettable ten-goal spectacular against Olympique Lyon. While the fans will be hoping France’s bitterest rivals serve up similar entertainment at the Stade Velodrome, Marseille coach Didier Deschamps will be keen to plug the gaping holes in his team’s rearguard.
The battle at the top of the table will be rejoined on Saturday, when pacesetters Bordeaux take on Valenciennes at home and Lyon travel to bottom club Grenoble. Second on the bill this weekend, however, is the meeting between third and fourth, as Auxerre take on Monaco at the Stade de l’Abbe-Deschamps.
The question: In freefall since September, can PSG put an end to their downward spiral in Marseille?
The big game: Olympique Marseille-Paris Saint-Germain, Friday 21.00 CET, Stade Velodrome
The quote: “It’s no accident that this club hasn’t won anything in 16 years with three good sides and three good coaches. There are reasons.” Marseille coach Didier Deschamps
There are not one but two big derbies in Poland this weekend. Facing off in Warsaw are third-placed Legia against struggling Polonia, while leaders Wisla play host to Krakow-rivals Cracovia, who lie just one place above the relegation zone.
Finally, in Israel, top-of-the-table Maccabi Haifa will attempt to maintain their 100 per cent start to the season by making it ten wins out of ten at home to struggling Maccabi Ahi Nazareth.