European Leagues preview

Two titanic clashes bristling with rivalry and prestige in Spain and England stand out from the rest of the weekend programme around Europe. Barcelona and Real Madrid go head-to-head in La Liga, while Premier League leaders Chelsea travel to the north of London for the showdown with Arsenal.

The top three in Germany face stern tests of their championship credentials. In France, high-flying Auxerre visit the capital, with the all-Genoa derby top of the Italian bill of fare. previews the weekend action around the continent.

La Liga: Battle of the giants
Everything else on Matchday 12 in Spain is overshadowed by El Clasico, when Barcelona entertain Real Madrid. The Catalans remain unbeaten in the league this term, but Madrid are top of the pile and aim to stay there despite the seething partisanship they will encounter at Camp Nou. The game should provide a first true pointer as to the relative strength of the league’s dominant two this season.

Madrid also face Barcelona elsewhere, as relegation strugglers Atletico host Espanyol, themselves performing below expectations in tenth place on 13 points. Third-placed Sevilla would favour a draw in El Clasico, as they can make up ground on the front two by beating tail-enders Malaga. Valencia and Mallorca, fourth and sixth respectively, both need the points to stay in touch with the UEFA Champions League qualifying spots.

The question: Can Real travel to Barcelona and hand the champions their first defeat of the campaign?
The big game: Barcelona–Real Madrid, Sunday, 19:00, Camp Nou
The quote: "I’m definitely ready to play in Barcelona. I’m feeling good and I want to play. Now it’s down to the coach whether I start." Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

Premier League: Showdown in London
The 14th round of matches in the Premier League also includes a standout fixture, as leaders Chelsea make the short trip from west to north London determined to put distance between themselves and third-placed Arsenal. Something has to give when the meanest team Chelsea, with only eight goals against, meet the most prolific, the Gunners, who have scored 36.

Second-placed Manchester United appear to have a relatively simple task when they travel to bottom club Portsmouth. Fifth meet fourth in a battle between two clubs hoping to feature in next season’s Champions League: Aston Villa entertain Tottenham, the form team of the moment in the wake of last week’s 9-1 demolition job on Wigan.

The question: Can Arsenal maintain their perfect home record and make it six wins out of six when leaders Chelsea come calling?
The big game: Arsenal–Chelsea, Sunday, 17:00, Emirates Stadium
The quote: "We look confident, and we're playing with confidence. We've got some tough games coming up, we need to regroup now and make sure we're sharp for Arsenal." John Terry, Chelsea

Bundesliga: Toughies for table-toppers
The top three in the Bundesliga would probably have preferred easier fixtures on Matchday 14. Undefeated leaders Bayer Leverkusen entertain Champions League contenders Stuttgart, whose unimpressive league form sees them a lowly 16th, but who have every chance of making the last 16 in Europe’s elite club competition. Second-placed Werder Bremen, defeated only on opening day, also meet Champions League-class opponents with the visit of eighth-placed Wolfsburg.

Third-placed Schalke travel to mid-table Borussia Monchengladbach, who look a lot more stable now after taking eight points from their last four matches. Hoffenheim and Hamburg in fourth and fifth face intriguing fixtures against Borussia Dortmund (9th) and high-flying Mainz (6th), with all four clubs keen for points to remain there or thereabouts at the top.

The question: Can resurgent Stuttgart inflict a first league defeat of term on Bayer Leverkusen?
The big game: Werder Bremen–Wolfsburg, Saturday, 15:30, Weserstadion
The quote: "We have no reason to be scared. We’re especially strong away from home right now, although you can’t expect us to win all our away games." Heiko Westermann, Schalke

Serie A: Derby time in Genoa
The biggest game on Matchday 14 takes place in Milan, but the edgiest duel sees seventh-placed Genoa take on city rivals Sampdoria, three places above them in the standings. The home team are only four points off Samp and would re-enter contention for a Champions League finish if they win. For their part, Sampdoria need the points to stay within touching distance of top trio Inter, Juventus and AC Milan.

The leaders meet Fiorentina, arguably the surprise package of the campaign to date. The men from Tuscany not only lie a creditable sixth in the table, they sealed a berth in the Champions League first knockout round during the week. Juve visit eighth-placed Cagliari, while Milan take on second-from-bottom Catania.

The question: Can promoted Parma maintain or improve on fifth spot by beating Napoli?
The big game: Inter-Fiorentina, Sunday, 15:00, San Siro
The quote: "I’m delighted about Totti’s hat-trick last weekend, because he’s proved yet again his ability to come back from serious injury." Marcello Lippi, Italy coach

Ligue 1: Depleted Auxerre seek capital gains
In-form Auxerre, French champions back in 1996, currently top the standings on the back of seven straight wins, although Polish marksman Ireneusz Jelen is out of the trip to Paris Saint-Germain with injury. Closest pursuers Bordeaux visit twelfth-placed Nancy, where coach Laurent Blanc will doubtless expect his Girondins side to pick up maximum points. Third-placed Lyon will be chasing the same reward against mid-table Rennes. Eighth-placed Monaco’s meeting with Montpellier, who are fifth but a mere two points off the lead, has been called off due to an outbreak of swine flu at the promoted club.

The question: Can leaders Auxerre make it eight wins on the bounce when they travel to face Paris Saint-Germain?
The big game:
Paris Saint-Germain–Auxerre, Saturday, 19:00, Parc des Princes
The quote:
"It’s easier for us all when he (Ireneusz Jelen) plays. He’s the driving force behind our play. Without him, we’ll have the same problems we had back in the summer." Jean Fernandez, Auxerre coach

Bundesliga fans in Austria are licking their lips at the prospect of the nation’s biggest showdown when second-placed RB Salzburg meet leaders Rapid Vienna. The clubs are level on points, so top spot is the prize on offer for the winners on Matchday 17. A draw would benefit third-placed Austria Vienna, provided the men from the capital overcome bottom club Austria Karnten.

Similar excitement is on the cards in Greece. Champions and cup holders Olympiakos are second in the Super League, but entertain leaders Panathinaikos this weekend and can leapfrog their way to the top of the pile with a win.