Giants go head-to-head
© AFP

If ever there was a weekend to set the football pulses rating, this is it. The European league programme features a host of big-name showdowns, with far more at stake than a mere three points. Arguably the biggest clash of them all takes place in Spain, where Real Madrid travel to Barcelona.

The Olympiques, Lyon and Marseille, join battle in France, with Juventus at home to AC Milan in Italy. In Germany, Bayern Munich and promoted Hoffenheim are vying for the honour of topping the table at the halfway mark.

FIFA.com previews the pick of the weekend action in Europe’s biggest leagues.

La Liga: Titanic clash at the Nou Camp
Two of the world’s most celebrated clubs lock horns this weekend in one of the world game’s enduring classics. The likes of Raul, Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto'o and Rafael van der Vaart provide a liberal sprinkling of stardust when leaders Barcelona take on fifth-placed Real Madrid.

Just days after dispensing with the services of Bernd Schuster, Real and new boss Juande Ramos are now seeking a morale-boosting victory in the 163rd meeting between the undisputed giants of Spanish football. The Catalans are a massive nine points clear of the men from the capital, so defeat would more or less seal Madrid’s fate as also-rans this season.

Among the chasing pack, Sevilla in fourth face second-placed Villarreal and could leapfrog the Yellow Submarine in the event of a win.

The question: Can Real reprise last season’s 1-0 triumph away to Barca, or will the men from Madrid continue their descent into mid-table anonymity?
The big game: Barcelona-Real Madrid, Saturday 13 December, 22.00, Camp Nou
The quote: "We have a few exceptional players and any number of internationals. If they play at their peak, we have a chance of winning in Barcelona," Juande Ramos, Real Madrid coach

Premier League: Risk of slip-ups for big four
England provides the exception this weekend as the fixture list has kept all the title contenders apart. Liverpool and Chelsea in first and second will expect routine home wins over promoted Hull City and West Ham United respectively. Third-placed Manchester United are away to Tottenham, while Arsenal travel to mid-table Middlesbrough.

At the wrong end of the standings, bottom club West Bromwich Albion visit Sunderland, deep in the mire just two places above the Baggies, in an authentic relegation six-pointer.

The question: Will either or both of the Reds and the Blues drop valuable points this weekend?
The big game: Liverpool-Hull City, Saturday 13 December, 16.00, Anfield
The quote: "We'll be going there full of confidence and we'll give Liverpool a game," Nick Barmby, Hull City

Serie A: Juventus entertain AC Milan

The Italian calendar also brings together the two most successful clubs in the nation’s history, as Juve cross swords with AC Milan at Turin's Stadio Olimpico. The pair are level on points in second and third behind leaders Inter.

Alessandro del Piero, David Trezeguet, Kaka and Ronaldinho merely head up a long list of stellar attacking talent on display this Sunday. When the sides last met back in April, the Turin thoroughbreds squeezed out a 3-2 victory as Hasan Salihamidzic (Juventus) and Filippo Inzaghi (AC Milan) each bagged a brace.

Inter will be watching with interest, as a win over bottom club Chievo Verona could see the champions stretch their lead to fully eight points, depending on the result in Turin.

The question: Who will emerge triumphant from the battle of the big guns between Juve and AC Milan?
The big game: Juventus-AC Milan, Sunday 14 December, 20.30, Stadio Olimpico, Turin
The quote: "It’ll be tough in Turin, especially because we’re without Gennaro Gattuso (who suffered ligament damage last week), one of our most important players. I only hope we can compensate for losing him," Kaka, AC Milan.

Bundesliga: Race for top spot intensifies
Ahead of the last match before the halfway mark and the German winter break, promoted Hoffenheim lead champions Bayern Munich on goal difference at the top of the standings. The teams are level on 34 points and have both conceded 22 goals, but Hoffenheim have scored four more than the Bavarians. Bayern travel to south German rivals Stuttgart, with the leaders at home to Schalke 04. In the unlikely event of both front-runners losing, Bayer Leverkusen could pilfer first place with a win at home to Energie Cottbus.

In the drop zone, the battle of the Borussias sees Monchengladbach hoping to end a run of three consecutive defeats when they travel to Dortmund. After fully 12 matches without a win, Bochum will attempt to stop the rot at home to promoted Cologne.

The question: Can Hoffenheim stay top at the midpoint of the campaign, or will champions Bayern topple the promoted club from their throne?
The big game: Hoffenheim-Schalke, Sunday 14 December, 17.00, Carl-Benz Stadium
The quote: "Just because Bayern Munich provide the opposition, I’m not going out there only looking for a draw," Markus Babbel, VfB Stuttgart coach

Ligue 1: Marseille make eyes at top spot
The Ligue 1 programme promises excitement in spades this weekend. First meet second in Lyon on Sunday evening, when the host Olympique face their Marseille namesakes. Victory for the visitors would see them draw level with the champions on points, and indeed wrest top spot on goal difference. Marseille won both corresponding fixtures last term, and the champions have stumbled recently in any case after three games without a win.

On the flip side, defeat for Marseille could see them slide from second to sixth. Stade Rennes (home to Nantes), Girondins Bordeaux (away to Le Mans), Paris St. Germain (away to Auxerre) and Nice (home to Lille) could all theoretically pass OM this weekend.

The question: Can Marseille topple the leaders, and will the pursuing pack close in on the front-runners?
The big game: Olympique Lyon-Olympique Marseille, Sunday 14 December, 21.00, Stade Gerland
The quote: "We need the win and we’re determined to get it. After what’s happened in the last few weeks, beating Marseille is exactly what we need to get back on course," Karim Benzema, Olympique Lyon

Elsewhere

In the Belgian Jupiler League, second-placed Bruges meet champions Standard Liege in third. Leaders Anderlecht entertain bottom club KSV Roeselare.

In Greece, the pack chasing leaders Olympiacos could also take points off one another. The champions could stretch their lead to nine points in Larisa, depending on the outcome when PAOK Saloniki (2nd) meet AO Xanthi (4th).