The English and German league programmes feature mouth-watering showdowns between the leaders and their closest pursuers. The atmosphere in Turin is electric ahead of the city derby, the French schedule boasts the latest instalment in a genuinely bitter rivalry, and El Madrigal is the focus of attention in Spain. FIFA.com previews the weekend action around Europe’s top leagues.
Premier League: Strong nerves needed at Stamford Bridge
If there is any team capable of inflicting damage on English leaders Chelsea at the present time, it is surely second-placed Liverpool. The Reds travel to London on Sunday for the showdown between the Premier League’s last remaining undefeated clubs. Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Blues will be confident of maintaining their astonishing home record, while Rafa Benitez and his men will look to Robbie Keane and Dirk Kuyt for goals with star striker Fernando Torres missing out with injury.
It could be a big day for in-form Wayne Rooney. Manchester United’s burly England regular needs one more goal to reach a ton in club football – and it could come in the away meeting with his former club Everton. Arsenal will be keen to stay in touch at the top with a win away to West Ham.
The question: Chelsea have not lost at home in the league for four-and-a-half years. Can Liverpool end this incredible run?
The big game: Chelsea - Liverpool, 14.30 CET Sunday, Stamford Bridge
The quote: "It’s always terrific when a player reaches 100 goals. If I can do it against Everton, where it all started for me, it would be even better." Wayne Rooney, Manchester United striker
La Liga: Alarm bells at Atletico
Simao’s late equaliser spared Atletico’s blushes at home to Liverpool in a midweek UEFA Champions League tie, but the draw hardly eased the mounting pressure on the Madrid club. The side lying eighth in La Liga have lost three league games on the bounce and now face the daunting trip to undefeated Villarreal, riding high in third spot.
The remaining four of the top five would be expected to thrive against humbler opposition. Leaders Valencia travel to Recreativo Huelva, second-placed Sevilla entertain promoted Malaga, champions Real Madrid will fancy their chances against Athletic Bilbao even without the suspended Ruud van Nistelrooij, and Barcelona are looking to stretch their winning streak to six against Almeria.
The question: Can the top three - Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal – maintain their unbeaten records?
The big game: Villarreal - Atletico Madrid, 19.00 CET Sunday, El Madrigal
The quote: "The draw with Liverpool has given us plenty of confidence for the trip to El Madrigal. We have to come away with the points." Simao, Atletico Madrid midfielder
Serie A: Raised pulses in Rome and Turin
The big two in Rome know they have plenty of catching up to do after decidedly patchy starts to the campaign, although both Roma and Lazio could have wished for easier tasks at the weekend. AS Roma, languishing in 14th place following last week’s humiliating 4-0 reverse against champions Inter, jump from the frying pan into the fire in the trip to second-placed Udinese, while Lazio in fifth entertain fourth-placed Napoli.
Leaders Inter will expect to chalk up another three points at home to Genoa, while AC Milan face a sterner test away to Atalanta, a force to be reckoned with on their home Bergamo turf. However, the real centre of attention is Turin, where injury-hit Juventus host city rivals Torino, hoping to follow up Tuesday’s victory against Real Madrid with a return to winning ways in Serie A.
The question: Can Juventus down their rivals from across town and register a first league win in more than a month?
The big game: Juventus - Torino, 20.30 CET Saturday, Stadio Olimpico
The quote: "The only way we’ll perform as the team we really are is if we all pull together." Claudio Ranieri, Juventus coach
Ligue 1: Big-city big boys go to the mat
Every clash between arch-rivals Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain starts with an edge, and refreshingly often ends in spectacular entertainment too. All eyes are on the eagerly-awaited fixture, where OM will be seeking to extend a run of five years undefeated at home to PSG. Eric Gerets and his men are equally determined to make a splash in the domestic championship after a faltering start to their UEFA Champions League adventure.
Champions and leaders Lyon are desperate for a win after taking just a solitary point from their last two matches. Les Gones travel to Auxerre, who last beat the club from the Rhone back in January 2000. OL boss Claude Puel and his men will have taken heart from a 5-3 Champions League triumph away to Steaua Bucharest during the week.
The question: Can Marseille defend the league’s sole undefeated record?
The big game: Marseille - Paris Saint-Germain, 21.00 CET Sunday, Stade Velodrome
The quote: "A couple of weeks ago, the papers said the title race was over. Actually, it’s not over by a long way." Eric Gerets, Olympique Marseille coach
Bundesliga: Unfamiliar feel to top-of-the-table clash
The German top flight schedule pits the leaders against the side in second, but when front-runners Hamburg travel to face their nearest pursuers on Sunday, the proverbial man from Mars might have trouble accepting he was watching the biggest fixture on the calendar. That’s because the home team are 1899 Hoffenheim, a team of unknowns based in a village of 3,000 souls, and currently making a mockery of the old order with a thrilling brand of hell-for-leather attacking football in their maiden Bundesliga season. How long will the fairytale continue?
By contrast, Jürgen Klinsmann’s nightmare start at the Bayern helm appears to be over, as last term’s double winners returned to winning ways in the Bundesliga and the Champions League last week. The Bavarians entertain Wolfsburg in search of three more points and a leap forward in the standings from their current eleventh spot. Wolves boss Felix Magath returns to one of his old stamping grounds, but misses out on a reunion with former star pupil Philipp Lahm, sidelined for a month with injury.
The question: Can Hoffenheim, still in the third division just two seasons ago, return to the top of the Bundesliga for the third time this term?
The big game: 1899 Hoffenheim - Hamburg, 5 pm Sunday, Carl-Benz stadium (Mannheim)
The quote: "The points we’re picking up at the moment will help us stay in the top flight next season, nothing more and nothing less. It’s about establishing ourselves." Sejad Salihovic, 1899 Hoffenheim midfielder
Second are at home to first in both Denmark and the Czech Republic, as FC Copenhagen meet Odense and Mlada Boleslav face Slavia Prague. In Russia, Moscow giants Dinamo and CSKA contest the mantle of number one challengers to leaders Rubin Kazan. In Serbia, twin Belgrade derbies match Red Star with OFK and Cukaricki with Partizan.