High stakes for heavyweights
Restoring lost pride is a strong and consistent theme running through the European league programme this weekend. A handful of the biggest clubs are seeking atonement for stuttering starts in the UEFA Champions League, while others are desperate for a first win of term in domestic competition.
With mouth-watering battles in England and Germany, and a host of clubs in Spain, Italy and France determined to bounce back from defeat, FIFA.com previews the action around Europe’s top leagues.
Premier League: Showdown at Stamford Bridge
The latest instalment of the rivalry between Chelsea and Manchester United takes place at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. It is not only a duel between the Premier League leaders and the reigning champions, but is also the first re-run of the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League final, in which the Red Devils sealed a double triumph over the Blues. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have won just once in three matches so far, and would not necessarily be favourites for Sunday’s game were it not for one potentially decisive factor: the availability of fit-again Cristiano Ronaldo.
The pursuing pack would all be expected to win, as Liverpool entertain promoted Stoke City and Arsenal visit Bolton Wanderers. At the foot of the table, the alarm bells are ringing for Tottenham Hotspur, who must win at home to Wigan Athletic after a miserable start.
The question: Can Manchester United battle their way out of a minor crisis with an away win?
The big game: Chelsea-Manchester United, Sunday 3pm CET, Stamford Bridge
The quote: “It would be a big ask to start him on Sunday, and in any case I have a fantastic choice of players capable of making the starting line-up,”
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson on Cristiano Ronaldo’s chances of starting the game.
La Liga: Seville derby overshadowed
In the normal course of events, the focus would be on Andalusia this weekend, where the Seville derby is the talk of the town. Real Betis go in search of a first win of the season against arch-rivals Sevilla, hoping to secure bragging rights for their fans in the process.
However, Barcelona’s disastrous start to the campaign has rather overshadowed events in the south of the country. New coach Pep Guardiola’s men failed to win either of their first two matches, so the pressure will be on Lionel Messi and Co when they visit bottom club Sporting Gijon. Champions Real Madrid have hardly set the world on fire either, and will be keen to silence the critics with a convincing display against Racing Santander.
The question: Can Barcelona finally record a first win of term away to promoted Sporting Gijon?
The big game: Sporting Gijon-Barcelona, Sunday 9pm CET, El Molinon
The quote: “We’re not worrying about how many of our fans make the trip to Gijon, because if we play to our full potential, everyone will want to watch us,” Rafael Marquez, Barcelona player
Serie A: Leaders challenge struggling Rossoneri
After the worst start imaginable with two defeats in their first two matches, out-of-sorts AC Milan could probably do without the visit of Lazio, top of the pile on maximum points. The star ensemble guided by Brazilian pair Kaka and Ronaldinho need a win as urgently as Roma, who at least have a point to their name but suffered an embarrassing Champions League defeat in midweek and now have face to save against Reggina.
Juventus, the country’s most successful club down the years, travel to bottom club Cagliari hoping city rivals Torino can take at least a point at home to champions Inter Milan.
The question: Can leaders Lazio maintain their perfect record away to Milan and deepen the crisis engulfing i Rossoneri?
The big game: AC Milan-Lazio, Sunday 8.30 pm CET, Guiseppe Meazza
The quote: “I want to win the match for Lazio, because our fans deserve it. We’re a young team but we’re already a real unit. On thing is for sure: we want to get back into Europe,” Goran Pandev, Lazio player
Ligue 1: Big names keen to bounce back
The elite in France were hoping for more from the opening round of Champions League matches during the week. Both Marseille and Bordeaux fell to English opposition, while Lyon required a last-gasp equaliser to salvage a home draw. The trio are now eager to release frustration on their return to domestic action this weekend.
Serial champions Lyon and Bordeaux are both away to promoted clubs, Le Havre and Grenoble respectively. Passions are likely to run high on the Cote d'Azur, where Marseille play host to Monaco. Meanwhile, Paris Saint-Germain travel to Saint Etienne.
The question: Who will come out on top on the Cote d'Azur?
The big game: Marseille-Monaco, Sunday 9 pm CET, Stade Velodrome
The quote: “We need to focus on our recent good form in the league and put the Champions League out of our minds. Monaco have plenty of dangerous players,” Mathieu Valbuena, Marseille player
Bundesliga: Titanic clash in Munich
Despite lingering suspicions that Bayern Munich have yet to hit their stride this term, the champions are already up to second in the Bundesliga. Saturday offers a chance to send out an unmistakeable signal to their rivals when Jurgen Klinsmann’s men entertain Werder Bremen, consistently their most dogged challengers down the years. The game between the clubs who occupy the top two spots in the all-time Bundesliga points standings is also set to provide a worthy stage for Franck Ribery’s comeback, most likely as a Bayern substitute.
Leaders Hamburg face a trip to ambitious Wolfsburg, while third-placed Schalke would appear to have an easier task at home to injury-plagued Eintracht Frankfurt.
The question: Who will come out on top when two of the league’s best playmakers engage in battle: Bayern's Ribery or Diego of Bremen?
The big game: Bayern Munich-Werder Bremen, Saturday 3.30 pm CET, Allianz Arena
The quote: “You have a fifty-fifty chance in a big game like this. It’s a very important game for us, but it won’t decide the title race,” Diego, Werder Bremen player
Two fixtures of intense rivalry dominate the schedule in Croatia and the Netherlands. The biggest game in the Balkans sees champions Dinamo Zagreb take on Hajduk Split, while Ajax travel to Feyenoord in the Dutch Eredivisie.
With nine games to go in Russia, Rubin Kazan hold a comfortable nine-point advantage over Dinamo Moscow at the top of the standings. The leaders’ championship credentials will come under close scrutiny when they visit Spartak Moscow, still the most successful club in Russian history. Dinamo entertain Shinnik Jaroslavl, with champions Zenit facing CSKA Moscow.
Chelsea-Manchester United, Bayern Munich-Werder Bremen and Feyenoord-Ajax are among the matches on the FIFA World Leagues Predictor's Round 5 menu. If you haven't already, be sure to sign up and take a shot at winning this weekend's prize.