To round off a week dominated by the return legs of the UEFA Champions League first knockout round, this weekend promises to be pretty lively in Europe's top leagues. In France, six-time champions Olympique Lyon will be looking to ram home their superiority when they play host to second-placed Bordeaux, while in England, Arsenal seek to extend their lead at the top of the Premiership. Inter Milan will want to celebrate their centenary in style, while Real Madrid and Bayern Munich both need to be on their guard.
Read on as FIFA.com brings you with an overview of this weekend's programme.
Premier League: onwards and upwards for Arsenal
With both Chelsea and Manchester United tied up with Cup duties, the Gunners will be looking to break away at the head of the table. Already one point in front of the Red Devils and a healthy seven in advance of the Blues (who have one match in hand), they travel to face Wigan. After outclassing none other than AC Milan this Tuesday in the Champions League, Arsene Wenger's braves will be confident they can build on their momentous triumph at the San Siro by beating a side struggling to avoid the drop.
Just behind the leading trio, a tight struggle is developing for
the last Champions League qualifying spot. Everton make the trip to
12th-placed Sunderland, while Liverpool welcome crisis-stricken
Newcastle. On Wednesday evening, the Reds tore apart West Ham 4-0
in a rescheduled league fixture, with Spaniard Fernando Torres
becoming only the fourth player in the club's history to bag a
hat trick in two consecutive home games (after the 3-2 win over
Middlesbrough on 23 February).
The question: Can Kevin Keegan secure the first league win of his new tenure? A tall order given that the Magpies will be visiting Anfield this Saturday.
The big game: Liverpool - Newcastle United, Saturday 9 March 2008, 16:00 CET
The quote: "The more we work together, the more influence the manager is having. The time has come for us to show what we can really do." (Alan Smith,NewcastleUnited striker)
Ligue 1: Gerland stages top-of-the-table clash
Could the French title really hinge on just one game? After their elimination from the Champions League by Manchester United, Lyon now have to pick themselves up for one of the biggest challenges in their recent history. After six consecutive league titles, Juninho and his cohorts have never been so close to being pipped at the post. Winners of seven of their last nine league fixtures, Bordeaux now lie just three points behind Les Gones. If they return from the banks of the Rhone with three points, the Ligue 1 race will be thrown wide open.
With FC Metz already resigned to playing Ligue 2 football next season, the struggle to avoid filling the remaining two relegation places is really hotting up. After Rennes (14th) host Paris Saint-Germain (17th) and FC Sochaux (19th) pay their visit to Toulouse FC (18th) on Saturday, the picture should become a bit clearer.
The question: Having stormed from the relegation
zone up to fourth place in just four months, how far can Olympique
The big game: Olympique Lyon - Girondins Bordeaux, Sunday 9 March 2008, 20:55 CET
The quote: "It's true, we've not had the same level of serenity this year. It feels as if things could go either way. The spirit in the squad is good but there's a lot that's being left unsaid, and that takes its toll. It's all going to have to come out in the open at some point, that's for sure." (Gregory Coupet, Olympique Lyon goalkeeper)
Serie A: Happy birthday Inter!
When they welcome Reggina to the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium this Saturday, Inter Milan will be celebrating their centenary (read full story elsewhere). With a haul of 15 titles, five Italian Cups, three Supercups, two European Cups, three UEFA Cups and two Intercontinental Cups, the Lombardy club's track record is one of the most impressive around. And with Roberto Mancini's men having tasted defeat just once so far this season, this lengthy list of honours looks set to be extended.
In the battle for the Champions League qualifying places, AS Roma travel to Napoli, Fiorentina head for Siena and Juventus to Genoa. But the weekend's big game takes place at the foot of the table, where Sicilians Catania (18th) play host to Cagliari (20th). Defeat for either side could spell disaster...
The question: Unbeaten in nine league games but
held to draws in their last two, can AC Milan bounce back after
their European exit?
The big game: Catania - Cagliari, Sunday 9 March 2008, 15:00 CET
The quote: "I feel much better than three months ago and the atmosphere at the club is making me want to keep going for another year. I love the game and I love training. The directors are trying to get me to stay on." (Paolo Maldini, AC Milan defender, who will be 40 in June)
Primera Division: Real's case for the defence
After Wednesday's disastrous 2-1 defeat by AS Roma in the Champions League, LosMerengues need to gather their spirits fast as they prepare to host Espanyol. Against La Liga's fifth-placed side, Bernd Schuster will have to assemble an effective defence without the suspended Sergio Ramos and injury victims Michel Salgado and Fabio Cannavaro.
Currently lying five points behind Madrid, Frank Rijkaard's Barça are intent on continuing their recent good form when they welcome closest pursuers Villarreal CF. But the Azulgranas will definitely be without Lionel Messi and Carles Puyol, while both Gabriel Milito and Rafael Marquez are doubtful.
Sevilla FC have an early opportunity to banish their Champions League blues at home to cellar-dwellers Levante. But caution will be their watchword, as Giovanni Di Biasi's charges picked up three points last weekend courtesy of a 2-1 win over Real Zaragoza. Atletico Madrid hope to demonstrate that their 4-2 success against Barça was no flash in the pan when they travel to struggling Zaragoza. Los Maños, having got through three coaches so far this season, now find themselves nervously eying the relegation trapdoor.
The question: Since the 2004/05 season, Real
Madrid have adopted the happy habit of scoring four goals against
Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu. Will they be able to do it
The big game: FC Barcelona - Villarreal CF, Sunday 9 March 2008. 21:00 CET
The quote: "Him being injured definitely helps us as Messi is Barcelona's best player. I'm sad for him though, especially after seeing him leave the pitch in tears. It's still going to be a very tough game, but we'll be going to Barcelona hoping to pick up one or even three points." (Diego Godin, Villarreal's Uruguayan defender)
Bundesliga: Bayern face tough test inKarlsruhe
At the start of the current campaign, no one suspected that Karlsruhe SC would be battling with the top teams in their first season back among the German elite. But as they prepare to take on title favourites Bayern, Edmund Becker's men lie in fifth position, five points behind Hamburg SV, the side currently occupying the last Champions League qualification place. Suffice to say that the Bavarians will need to watch their step against these confident newcomers.
In the other encounters on matchday 23, Schalke 04, fresh from glorious qualification for the quarter-finals of the Champions League, make the trip to Arminia Bielefeld, a side yet to taste victory in 2008. Reigning champions VfB Stuttgart face Werder Bremen, who must win to stay in touch with Bayern at the top of the table. Finally, third-placed Hamburg pay a visit to the cup-winners Nuremburg, now languishing 16 th in the table.
The question: With Stuttgart chasing UEFA Cup
qualification and Werder Bremen competing for the title, who will
come out on top?
The big game: Bayern Munich - Karlsruhe SC, Saturday 8 May 2008, 15:30 CET
The quote: "It's a good thing that we have to play again so soon. This will help us put our performance out of our minds. We don't have too much time to dwell on it and can immediately show that we can perform much better." (Werder Bremen striker Aaron Hunt after the 2-0 defeat at Glasgow Rangers)
This Sunday, the eyes of Dutch football fans will be riveted on the big Eredivisie showdown between PSV Eindhoven and Ajax Amsterdam. Trailing their rivals by six points, Ajax know that this away game could be their last chance to move within touching distance of the head of the table.
The Czech championship, meanwhile, will be enlivened by two bill-toppers, between Banik Ostrava (3rd) and Slavia Prague (1st), and Sparta Prague (2nd) versus FK Teplice (4th). Over in Switzerland, Young Boys Berne will endeavour to stay in contact with leaders FC Basel when they welcome third-placed FC Zurich.