All eyes on the leaders
The leaders of Europe's leading leagues face a test of their
championship credentials this weekend. Arsenal, Real Madrid, Inter
Milan, Lyon and Bayern Munich will all be expected to win
comfortably and cement their positions at the top of the pile, but
it would be rare indeed if one or two of the big guns failed to
FIFA.com previews the weekend action, and also casts an eye over the start of the domestic campaign in one of the continent's potentially most exciting title contests.
Premier League: Top teams wary of banana skins
For the first time, four English clubs have battled through to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, but the more pressing question for now is whether the quartet can successfully master the challenges laid before them in the domestic league. Leaders Arsenal, champions Manchester United and third-placed Chelsea will all be overwhelming favourites to collect maximum points this weekend.
The Red Devils visit bottom club Derby County, while the Blues travel to face promoted Sunderland. The Gunners are two points clear of United but have played a game more, and will go for the win at home to Middlesbrough. Liverpool can hold onto fourth place at home to Reading, provided city rivals Everton do not achieve a better result away to Fulham.
The question: Which of north-western neighbours Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers will come out on top in their relegation six-pointer?
The big game: Wigan Athletic-Bolton Wanderers, Sunday 16 March, 4 pm
The quote: "We have ten matches in which to retain our status as a Premier League club. That's been our target right from the start. We still have 30 points to play for. If we raise our game, we have it in us to beat anyone," Gary Megson, Bolton Wanderers manager.
La Liga: Despondent versus despairing
The licking of wounds is the order of the day in the Spanish top flight. Real Madrid are comfortably clear at the top but the atmosphere at the club is muted after another premature exit from the UEFA Champions League. Barcelona are through to the last eight in Europe, but an eight-point chasm has opened up between themselves and Real. A little further back, the sense of dismay is arguably even greater in Valencia and Seville.
The disappointed duo meet at the Mestalla this weekend. UEFA Cup holders Sevilla comfortably won the reverse fixture 3-0, but Valencia urgently require revenge this time as the pair are currently in contention for a berth in Europe's second club competition next term. Real travel to face Deportivo La Coruna, while injury-hit Barcelona will still be expected to collect all three points on the road against promoted Almeria.
The question: After beating Real Madrid, can surprise package Almeria chalk up another notable scalp with victory over Barcelona?
The big game: Valencia-Sevilla, Saturday 15 March, 10 pm
The quote: "We're in a difficult situation in the league, but we want to improve and start winning matches. We've learnt from our mistakes and we'll start getting better. We're not concentrating hard enough, but we always have to give it our best shot," Miguel, Valencia defender.
Ligue 1: Monaco, Marseille seek return to winning ways
After a run of six league games with three draws but no win, AS Monaco could bounce back with a bang if they can overcome leaders and serial champions Lyon at home. The visitors must win to be sure of maintaining their six-point advantage over chief pursuers Girondins Bordeaux.
For their part, Laurent Blanc's men will be looking for a confidence boost at home to promoted Racing Strasbourg after a humbling 4-2 reverse in Lyon. Olympique Marseille also go in search of consolation away to RC Lens, as the midweek UEFA Cup exit to Zenit St. Petersburg rates as a bitter blow.
The question: Can Marseille make amends for their UEFA Cup disappointment away to Lens, themselves without a win in five Ligue 1 fixtures?
The big game: Lens-Marseille, Sunday 16 March, 8:55 pm
The quote: "We're going to Monaco looking for the win, because OL have not won at the Stade Louis II for quite some time," Alain Perrin, Lyon coach.
Serie A: Record-chasing Roma
AS Roma rate as the team of the moment in Italy. The men from the capital are their country's last remaining standard-bearers in the UEFA Champions League, and could also set a new club record this weekend. Should Francesco Totti and Co keep a clean sheet while beating FIFA Club World champions AC Milan, it would be their eighth home win on the bounce without conceding a goal.
In any case, Roma require all three points to keep the Serie A title race alive. Inter Milan, six points clear at the top but eliminated from Europe by Liverpool in midweek, will be determined to hand coach Roberto Mancini a morale-boosting win at the San Siro against Palermo. Juventus entertain Napoli, the very team who handed Inter a first defeat of term two weeks ago.
The question: AC Milan hold the league record of 13 home games on the trot without conceding a goal. Back in 1968-69, that streak was ended by Roma. Can Milan now return the 'favour' on their travels to the capital?
The big game: AS Roma - AC Milan, Saturday 15 March, 8:30 pm
The quote: "Inter dominated the league at will in 2007. Now we're determined to go all the way in the Champions League and keep picking up points in the scudetto. We believe in ourselves," Francesco Totti, Roma captain.
Bundesliga: Werder praying for upset
There are still 11 games to play, but many observers feel Bayern Munich's seven-point advantage over Werder Bremen means the title race is effectively over for the season. Coach Thomas Schaaf and his men are having none of it, although the northerners must beat VfL Wolfsburg at home and hope the leaders suffer a rare slip-up.
It would indeed be a major shock if coach Ottmar Hitzfeld's star ensemble came away with anything but maximum points from bottom club Energie Cottbus. The Bavarians have only once failed to win in Cottbus, a defeat by the only goal of the game seven years ago, also the only time Munich have conceded away to Energie. Behind Bayern and Werder, pursuing pack Hamburger SV, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke 04 will all be expected to defeat Borussia Dortmund, FC Nurnberg and MSV Duisburg respectively.
The question: Which of out-of-sorts northern giants Bremen and Hamburger can pick up the pieces in the Bundesliga and take a decisive step towards a direct Champions League qualifying berth?
The big game: Werder Bremen - VfL Wolfsburg, Sunday 16 March, 5 pm
The quote: "We have nothing to lose against the strongest team in Germany at the moment, but plenty to win," Bojan Prasnikar, Energie Cottbus coach.
The new Russian season gets underway with fans and experts alike licking their lips at the prospect of a tense title race. The action begins with a thumping clash on Sunday between champions Zenit St. Petersburg and hotly-tipped challengers Spartak Moscow. The title holders have the psychological edge after winning the pre-season Super Cup.