The European fixture schedule serves up two mouth-watering
clashes this weekend, with an eagerly-awaited showdown in Italy as
Turin giants Juventus take on title-holders Inter Milan, and the
biggest match of the English season so far between leaders Arsenal
and their closest pursuers, reigning champions Manchester United.
The league leaders in France, Spain and Germany would normally expect to pick up points from this weekend's fixtures, but the chasing pack are promising to provide Lyon, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich with altogether sterner tests. With Atletico Madrid meeting Villarreal in La Liga and Nancy at home to Bordeaux in Ligue 1, will the chasers be able to keep pace with the high-flyers?
Premier League: All eyes on clash of the Titans
Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson could never exactly be described as bosom buddies, but the Arsenal and Manchester United managers do possess a mutual respect for one another. When the Frenchman and the Scot shake hands ahead of Saturday's meeting at the Emirates Stadium, they will also share a mutual goal: winning the match and sending out an unmistakeable signal in the domestic championship race.
The Premier League's biggest match of the season so far has all the ingredients to be a classic. The teams are level on points, but while Arsenal lead the scoring charts on 22 goals, United have the best defence with just four conceded, although the undefeated Gunners have a game in hand.
London is not the only match venue this weekend. Chelsea hope to continue their improved league form when they travel to Wigan Athletic, while Liverpool visit Blackburn Rovers hoping for the three points which would see them climb to fifth or higher in the standings. At the wrong end of the table, and with a new coach at the helm, Tottenham Hotspur desperately need points in Middlesbrough as they seek to escape the drop zone.
The question: In the showdown against United, can Arsenal again match the club record of seven consecutive home wins, achieved in 1934 and 2005?
The big game: Arsenal-Manchester United, Saturday, 12.45 pm (local), Emirates Stadium
The number: 100. Ryan Giggs struck an unforgettable winner for United against Arsenal in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final. Should the long-serving winger score on Saturday, he will reach a century of goals in the English top flight.
The quote: "Beating Arsenal would send out a clear signal. We need the points to go top of the league." Rio Ferdinand, Manchester United defender.
Serie A: Juventus aim to trip Inter
While Italy's most successful club Juventus were banging in the goals in the second division last term, Inter raced off over the Serie A horizon with 30 wins and just a single defeat in 38 matches, marching unchallenged to the Scudetto. The Old Lady of Italian football is back in the top flight, determined to end their Milanese rivals' domination. The men from Turin are chasing Inter in third and can move to within a point of the leaders when the pair cross swords on Sunday.
Roma will be only too pleased to watch their chief rivals take points off one another. The second-placed team travel to face Empoli, while steadily improving AC Milan will be looking for victory - albeit only their fourth of the campaign - at home to Torino. Will the second city or the fourth-biggest metropolis have more reason to celebrate after the double duel between Milan and Turin?
The question: Can David Trezeguet, already up to ten goals for the season following his hat-trick in Juventus' 3-0 midweek victory over Empoli, now make the difference against undefeated Inter?
The big game: Juventus-Inter Milan, Sunday, 8.30 pm (local), Stadio Olimpico, Torino
The number: 2. After a 3-2 defeat in Wednesday's derby against Roma, Lazio are just two points above the relegation places - and the Romans now face Fiorentina, yet to lose this term.
The quote: "The Inter game is unbelievably important for us and our fans. It'll be a tremendous match," David Trezeguet, Juventus striker.
La Liga: Seville pair square up to Real and Barca
In Spain, the two Seville clubs could play a decisive role this weekend in meetings with Real Madrid and Barcelona. The men from the capital travel to face Sevilla, while Barca entertain Real Betis. The Catalans will be hoping to make up ground on Real, provided the UEFA Cup holders take something from their home game.
The excitement will be equally great when chasing duo Atletico Madrid and Villarreal battle to maintain position in the pursuing pack. Valencia and Espanyol will be aiming to stay in touch at the top with away wins against RCD Mallorca and Racing Santander respectively.
The question: After their disappointing 1-1 draw away to Real Valladolid on Thursday, and despite the absence of injured playmaker Deco, can Barcelona return to winning ways?
The big game: Sevilla - Real Madrid, Saturday, 10 pm (local), Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan
The number: 14. The number of times Real Madrid have triumphed 5-1 away from home in the Spanish top flight. In all, Madrid have won 48 times by a 5-1 scoreline.
The quote: "The Sevilla game will be a complex task for us." Bernd Schuster, Real Madrid coach.
Ligue 1: Nancy aim to fend off Bordeaux
Serial champions Lyon rate as clear favourites to beat ninth-placed Valenciennes at home and maintain their lead in the standings, but this round of matches could mark a turning point in the fortunes of the chasing group, particularly for Nancy and Bordeaux, as the second and fourth-placed clubs come face-to-face. A Nancy win in front of their home crowd would confirm their status as Lyon's chief pursuers this season, condemning Bordeaux and seasoned playmaker Johan Micoud to the role of also-rans, at least temporarily.
Further down the standings, struggling big-name clubs Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille are desperate to turn the corner at last. Eleventh-placed Monaco visit third-placed Rennes, PSG are away to promoted Strasbourg and Marseille, down in 18th, host Lorient, six places above them in the standings.
The question: Can Monaco, without a win since August, end their dismal run in Rennes, who have only lost once since opening day?
The big game: Nancy-Girondins Bordeaux, Saturday, 5.10 pm (local), Stade Marcel Picot
The number: 100 - Paris St. Germain's Portuguese goal-getter Pauleta struck a brace in Wednesday's 2-0 Cup victory over second-division SC Montpellier, not only sending his side through to the next round, but bringing up his century of goals for PSG and pulling level with Dominique Rocheteau in the club roll of honour.
The quote: "Pauleta has rediscovered his belief and pace. That's very important for PSG," Paul Le Guen, Paris Saint-Germain coach.
Bundesliga: Leading group vow to avoid slip-ups
Ensuring no points are dropped is the task facing all the top clubs in Germany, as leaders Bayern Munich and chasing group Hamburger SV, Werder Bremen and Schalke 04 would all expect to complete routine victories. Bayern are at home to Eintracht Frankfurt, with HSV entertaining Hertha BSC Berlin and Werder playing host to Hansa Rostock. Schalke travel to bottom club Energie Cottbus, still without a win this season.
Elsewhere, two of last season's highest-fliers meet in dramatically altered circumstances, as dethroned Cup holders Nuremberg host fellow strugglers and defending champions VfB Stuttgart, who are down in 12th. Both clubs urgently require points in their quest to reach the regions of the table they had hoped to occupy at the start of term.
The question: Can Bremen overcome the blow of losing combative midfielder Torsten Frings until the end of the year with a new injury and maintain their recently improved form?
The big game: Bayern Munich-Eintracht Frankfurt, Saturday, 3.30 pm (local), Allianz Arena
The number: 4 - Bayern have conceded only four goals in 11 matches so far. Only one Bundesliga team has conceded fewer at the same stage: Stuttgart picked the ball from the back of their own net just twice in 2003/04.
The quote: "I haven't ruled out springing a surprise in Munich. Even Bayern are due a defeat at some point," Friedhelm Funkel, Eintracht Frankfurt coach.
The fixtures in Scotland and Turkey include high-octane derbies. Hibernian and Hearts meet in Edinburgh, with Fenerbahce and Besiktas squaring up in Istanbul. First meet second in the Czech Republic and Serbia when Slavia Prague take on FK Teplice, and Partizan Belgrad face up to Vojvodina Novi Sad.