All eyes on the leaders

Europe looks to be in for another treat this weekend, with another round of suspense, top-of-the-table showdowns and relegation six-pointers on the cards. In England, leaders Arsenal and second-placed Manchester United are both primed for away trips, while Spain's perennial rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona get to advance their causes on home turf, against Getafe and Levante respectively.

All eyes in Germany will be focused on the Allianz Arena, meanwhile, where Hamburg will be going in search of a historic result against high-flying hosts Bayern Munich. Ligue 1 leaders Lyon prepare to entertain bottom side Metz, but they cannot afford to be complacent with Bordeaux breathing down their necks. Lastly, in Italy, AS Roma continue their series of high-profile matches by welcoming Fiorentina, having played Juventus last time out and with Inter next on the calendar.

Join as we preview the best of this weekend's action in Europe's leading leagues.

Premier League: leaders on the road
Thanks to their five-point cushion, Arsenal are sure to remain on top of the pile whatever happens this weekend. The Gunners could even extend their advantage if they succeed away to 17th-placed Birmingham, because Manchester United visit a Newcastle side desperate to register their first victory since Kevin Keegan's return. By the same token, both Arsenal and United could put further distance between themselves and third-placed Chelsea, with the Blues taking on Tottenham in Sunday's League Cup final.

The battle for fourth spot and a berth in the UEFA Champions League is just as intriguing, and an important episode in that drama will be played out on Monday evening when current incumbents Everton travel to seventh-placed Manchester City. Three points behind their visitors, Sven-Goran Eriksson's troops cannot afford to fall even further back and will be out for revenge after losing 1-0 to the Toffees at Goodison Park last month. Fellow European aspirants Liverpool (fifth) and Aston Villa (sixth) lock horns with Middlesbrough and Reading respectively.

The question: Can Emmanuel Adebayor score in his eighth consecutive Premier League outing? If he finds the back of the net against Birmingham, the Togolese striker will equal the record set in 1988/89 by Alan Smith, so far the only Gunner to have achieved that feat since the Second World War.
The big game: Newcastle - Manchester United, Saturday 23 February, 17:15 (local time)
The quote: "It's asking a lot of us to beat Manchester United, but it's possible. We've had two weeks together to prepare ourselves and we hope to put in a fantastic performance in front of our own fans." Kevin Keegan, Newcastle coach.

Primera Division: Real look for home comforts, Barça on a roll
Following consecutive defeats by Real Betis and AS Roma, Real Madrid will be hoping to end their mini-slump against Getafe at the Santiago Bernabeu. Los Merengues are yet to drop a single point at home, but they will have to make do without at least three defenders, with Pepe and Christoph Metzelder both injured and Marcelo suspended. Left-back Gabriel Heinze is also uncertain, as is midfielder Mahamadou Diarra, after both collected knocks in Rome.

Based in the suburbs of Madrid, 13th-placed Getafe know their neighbours well, not least because coach Michael Laudrup lit up the Bernabeu in the mid-1990s. Added to that, the Danish legend took over in the summer as a replacement for - of all people - current Real trainer Bernd Schuster.

In contrast to Real, Barcelona go into their match with Levante having strung together impressive wins away to Zaragoza and Celtic. Their next opponents lie at the foot of the standings too, making it hard to imagine Frank Rijkaard's men losing any ground. Levante beat Osasuna last time out, but it is not going to be easy now the Blaugranas can call upon all four of their superstar talents: Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto'o, Thierry Henry and Ronaldinho.

Behind Barcelona, Villarreal (third), Atletico Madrid (fourth) and Espanyol (fifth) have all taken turns to lead the chasing pack of late and none seem capable of breaking clear. That could well continue this week, with tricky away games scheduled for all - at Athletic Bilbao, Osasuna and Deportivo La Coruna respectively. As for Sevilla, they would love to get back in the mix and will be desperate to see off Zaragoza. That match ought to at least provide goals as it brings together La Liga's two most prolific duos, with Sevilla boasting Luis Fabiano and Frederic Kanoute (26 goals) and Zaragoza buoyed by Diego Milito and Ricardo Oliveira (22).

The question: Who will prevail in the duel between Racing Santander and Almeria, the two revelations of the current campaign? The motivation for both will be to keep dreams alive of a place in Europe.
The big game: Sevilla - Zaragoza, Saturday 23 February, 22:00 (local time).
The quote: "Sunday's match against Getafe will be very tough as usual, as teams who come to the Bernabeu are playing the game of their lives. That's especially true for Getafe because of the rivalry between clubs from the same city." Gabriel Heinze, Real Madrid defender.

Serie A: Roma in danger, Juve ready to pounce
Inter appear destined for the title courtesy of their 11-point lead, and they will be grateful for that gap when they journey to face Sampdoria in what is sure to be a testing encounter. The real intrigue surrounds the competition for European places, though, where Roma could find themselves dislodged from second place this weekend. Despite making the position their own for much of the season, the capital club lost to Juventus last time out and host fourth-placed Fiorentina on Sunday, four days before their daunting date away to Inter.

Should the Giallorossi fail to come out on top, Juve will leapfrog them in the standings if they can return from 19th-placed Reggina with maximum points. However, should Fiorentina come back from the capital empty-handed, AC Milan will be the team rubbing their hands with glee. Victory over Palermo on Sunday evening would then send the Rossoneri into fourth.

The question: Can 14-goal strikers Adrian Mutu and Zlatan Ibrahimovic join David Trezeguet (15) at the top of the scoring charts?
The big game: AS Roma - Fiorentina, Sunday 24 February, 15:00 (local time).
The quote: "We're nine points clear of AC Milan in fourth so we're looking at who's in front of us. And what we see is that Roma only have one point more." Nicola Legrottaglie, Juventus defender.

Bundesliga: tests at the top
There can be little doubt about the match of the weekend in Germany, where leaders Bayern Munich host third-placed Hamburg on Sunday. Besides the points on offer, the game could well oppose two of the Bundesliga's most expressive talents in Franck Ribery and Rafael van der Vaart, although both currently remain doubts. There will be intrigue in the dugouts too, as Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld and his counterpart Huub Stevens have both announced they will be on their way at the end of the season.

Poised in second, Werder Bremen will be among those watching that encounter with interest. Indeed, Thomas Schaaf's charges hope to be level with Bayern on points by that time as they travel to take on Eintracht Frankfurt a day earlier, having triumphed in their last four visits to the Commerzbank-Arena. In the other high-profile match, fourth-placed Bayer Leverkusen entertain the team one spot below them, Schalke 04, who will have no doubt recovered from their home loss to Wolfsburg after beating Porto in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League contest.

The question: Not only were Hamburg the first team to beat Bayern at the Allianz Arena, they have registered 2-1 wins there in their last two visits. Will Huub Stevens's men be able to make it three? Bayern have never lost three consecutive times to the same opponent at home since the Bundesliga began.
The big game: Bayern Munich - Hamburg, Sunday 24 February, 17:00 (local time).
The quote: "I hope to be ready in time to face Bayern on Sunday, but we still have to wait and see how my injury responds to treatment." Rafael van der Vaart, Hamburg midfielder.

Ligue 1:Bordeaux hoping for Metz help
Having entertained 19th-placed Sochaux two weeks ago, six-time champions Lyon get to test their artillery against another struggling side when basement-outfit Metz come calling on Saturday. The visitors already have one foot in Ligue 2, but this match should not be written off as a formality. Despite raising their game against Manchester United in midweek, Alain Perrin's pacesetters remain inconsistent on the domestic front. After the same number of games last year, Les Gones boasted a 13-point advantage over closest rivals Lens, but this time around they are just one point clear of a Bordeaux team keen to push them to the limit.

Aside from hoping Metz can pull off a shock result, Les Girondins welcome Lille on Sunday evening. and coach Laurent Blanc will be keen to see more of the attacking drive that helped them put six goals past Monaco last week. Further back in third, Nancy will attempt to hold on to a UEFA Champions League berth against Lens, whose form has shown much improvement since the winter break. Should the Lorraine club taste defeat, however, Marseille could take their stunning climb up the table to 16 places in 16 games, providing they deal with tottering Toulouse. Third last term, Toulouse currently lie 18th and must face up to the very real possibility of relegation. Finally, Paris Saint-Germain meet Monaco in the capital, with both teams eager to put last week's morale-sapping results behind them. PSG succumbed 2-1 to arch-rivals Marseille, while the principality club suffered a 6-0 reverse at home to Bordeaux.

The question: Can Rennes halt their dramatic slide by overcoming visitors Lorient in the Breton derby? Third after 13 matches, Rennes now occupy 17th spot thanks to a dismal record of six points from 12 games.
The big game: Bordeaux - Lille, Sunday 24 February, 20:55 (local time).
The quote: "I'll be playing against my old team-mates but as soon as the match starts they'll just be opponents. And if I can grab a goal, it will be with immense pleasure." Salim Arrache, Toulouse midfielder, on loan at Marseille.

Your say on the European leagues's
last poll asked which of the major European championships strikes you as the tightest. According to your votes, the English Premier League takes the prize for generating excitement and uncertainty down the final stretch, with 48.8 per cent citing the tussle between Arsenal and Manchester United as the one to follow.

Spain's Primera Division came in second with 21.03 per cent of the votes, followed closely by Serie A (20.70 per cent), where Inter are a long way clear of their rivals. The Bundesliga and Ligue 1 received just 6.14 and 3.66 per cent of the votes, meanwhile, despite the fact that Bayern Munich and Lyon seem incapable of shaking off their pursuers.