Giants seek to restore lost shine
After a string of cup shocks and upsets across the continent in midweek, a sizeable clutch of Europe's biggest names have tarnished reputations to restore, chief among them Chelsea and Real Madrid. A derby in Italy, a battle of the titans in France and a German classic also feature among this weekend's highlights. FIFA.com previews the forthcoming action in Europe.
Premier League: Drogba and Torres in the spotlight
Leaders Chelsea and chief pursuers Liverpool welcome back star strikers Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres, both fully fit again after injury and ready to return to league duty. Both the Blues and the Reds are smarting from midweek League Cup defeats: the Londoners visit West Bromwich Albion on the back of a penalty shoot-out reverse at home to Championship side Burnley, with Liverpool seeking to erase the memory of a 4-2 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur when they play at Bolton Wanderers.
Champions Manchester United also have some catching up to do after last week’s bitter 2-1 defeat by Arsenal. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team, fourth before the start of play, must beat promoted Stoke City. The Gunners, in third, entertain fifth-placed Aston Villa.
The question: Chelsea have won six of their last seven league fixtures, keeping a clean sheet in every one of their victories. Will that remain the case when they visit the division's tailenders?
The big game: Arsenal-Aston Villa, 4 pm Saturday, Emirates Stadium
The quote: "We feel if we can beat Arsenal then surely on our day, if things go well, we can do the same against United," Andy Griffin, Stoke City captain.
La Liga: Storm clouds gather over Real
Bernd Schuster is a man with a major headache these days. Following Real Madrid’s embarrassing cup exit to third-flight outfit Real Union Irun, the German coach and his superstars urgently require all three points against Valladolid, both to stay in touch with leaders Barcelona and to pour oil on the troubled waters surrounding the club. The Catalan giants, who beat Real Valladolid 6-0 last time out, travel to Recreativo Huelva.
The other two clubs in the top four will be desperate to avoid slip-ups. Runners-up Villarreal visit Malaga, who have lost their last two games, while third-placed Valencia host Sporting Gijon. Atletico Madrid aim to extend a run of three league matches without defeat when they entertain Deportivo.
The question: Can Schuster restore order and stability to Real’s porous defence and silence the critics with a convincing win?
The big game: Real Valladolid-Real Madrid, 8 pm Saturday, Estadio Jose Zorrilla
The quote: "The problem is that we’re running into trouble even when our opponents create very few chances," Bernd Schuster, Real Madrid coach.
Serie A: Rome derby takes centre stage
All eyes in Italy are on the Eternal City and the derby between Roma and Lazio. Rarely have the arch-rivals met in such contrasting circumstances: Lazio lie fifth, only two points off leaders Inter Milan, but crisis club Roma are just a single point clear of the drop zone. Victory for Francesco Totti and Co would at least go some way towards placating their frustrated fans.
By contrast, the Milanese giants would appear to have easier tasks on paper. Inter will expect to win away to Palermo, while AC Milan will be looking for the same at home to Verona. Third-placed Napoli will hardly be quaking in their boots ahead of the trip to Atalanta, who have gone five league games without a win.
The question: After taking just a point from their last five matches, can Roma rise to the occasion and return to winning ways against Lazio?
The big game: Roma-Lazio, 8.30 pm Sunday, Stadio Olimpico
The quote: "Francesco Totti is back. That could be the turning point," Jon Arne Riise, Roma defender.
Ligue 1: Battle of the Rhone
Serial French champions Lyon were another of the big names to suffer a League Cup exit in midweek, losing to Ligue 2 side Metz. Claude Puel’s men have no time to lick their wounds as last term’s runners-up Bordeaux pay them a visit. The side lying third in the standings are determined to slice the six-point gap between themselves and Les Gones.
Second-placed Marseille will be watching with interest and hoping to capitalise on any Lyon blunder. Erik Gerets's men should prevail at home to lowly Lorient.
The question: Lyon striker Karim Benzema is the leading scorer in Ligue 1 with eight goals, while Yoann Gourcuff has shone in midfield for Bordeaux. Which of them will have reason for cheer at the end of their meeting?
The big game: Lyon-Bordeaux, 9 pm Sunday, Stade Gerland
The quote: "We need to use this painful defeat by Metz as a springboard to get ourselves back on course, starting on Sunday," Claude Puel, Lyon coach.
Bundesliga: Monchengladbach eye return to glory days
Whenever Borussia Monchengladbach entertain Bayern Munich, many a mind wanders back to the period from 1970 to 1977, when the clubs exclusively shared the league title between them, the trophy ending up in Gladbach on no fewer than five occasions. However, Bayern have run into ominously good form: the champions are up to third, just a point off top two Bayer Leverkusen and Hoffenheim.
Leverkusen face a stern test of their championship credentials at home to Schalke, while Hoffenheim will be keen to move on from last week’s 1-0 defeat away to Hertha Berlin when they entertain Wolfsburg. For Hertha’s part, the team from the capital are at home again, this time to fourth-placed Hamburg.
The question: Can Bayern chalk up a sixth win on the bounce and, depending on results elsewhere, go top for the first time this term?
The big game: Bayer Leverkusen-Schalke, 3.30 pm Saturday, BayArena
The quote: "We always look forward to games against Bayern, because no-one expects anything from us," Hans Meyer,Borussia Monchengladbach coach.
The Greek and Russian fixture lists offer tasty highlights, with the Olympiacos-PAOK and Rubin Kazan-CSKA Moscow matches both involving the top two sides in the table. However, a direct qualifying berth for the UEFA Champions League is all the men from Moscow have to aim for, as Kazan have already sealed the title. In the Netherlands, Amsterdam giants Ajax meet reigning champions PSV Eindhoven.