Old Trafford takes centre stage
Sunday afternoon’s meeting between Manchester United and Chelsea is one of the few club fixtures with guaranteed global appeal. The latest re-match between the 2008 UEFA Champions League finalists is also a highly-charged clash between the teams lying third and second in the Premier League.
In Spain, leaders Barcelona will be expected to emerge unscathed from a trip to bottom club Osasuna, while the league programme resumes in France and Italy for the first time since 21 December 2008. The biggest game on Matchday 20 in Ligue 1 sees Girondins Bordeaux take on Paris Saint-Germain, while in Serie A, Roma will aim to regain momentum in the battle for European qualifying places when AC Milan visit the eternal city.
FIFA.com previews the pick of the weekend action in Europe’s biggest leagues.
Premier League: All eyes on United-Chelsea
The weekend programme in England includes a number of potentially mouth-watering treats for the fans. Sunday's titanic showdown in Manchester between United and Chelsea has even greater edge on this occasion, as leaders Liverpool are poised to break clear at the top, and neither chasing side can afford anything less than a win. For their part, the Reds will expect maximum points from their trip to promoted Stoke City in 18th.
Fourth-placed Aston Villa and Arsenal in fifth are both at home. Villa take on West Midlands rivals and bottom club West Bromwich Albion, while the Gunners entertain 11th-placed Bolton Wanderers.
The question: Liverpool are undefeated since 1 November 2008. Can the Reds now overcome the challenge posed by promoted Stoke?
The big game: Manchester United-Chelsea, Sunday 11 January, 5pm, Old Trafford
The quote: "Manchester have an unbelievably good forward line with Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez, but we have a terrific defence and we’ll hold them off," Frank Lampard, Chelsea.
Serie A: Roma battling to stay in touch
A run of five wins on the bounce came to an abrupt end for Roma in a 3-2 defeat to Catania just before the festive break. The capital side will be looking for a new start in the new year as they attempt to stay in touch with the upper reaches of the table. Opponents AC Milan, currently lying third, cannot be ruled out of the title race just yet, although city rivals Inter have already pulled a daunting nine points clear.
Jose Mourinho's men have won their last eight in a row and will be expected to extend their streak at home to Cagliari. Second-placed Juventus entertain relegation-threatened Siena.
The question: Can Inter maintain their scintillating pre-Christmas form in the first match of the new year?
The big game: Roma-AC Milan, Sunday 11 January, 8.30pm, Stadio Olimpico
The quote: "I'm ready for my first Serie A match in an AC Milan shirt. But even if I don’t play, it’ll be a tremendous experience for me," David Beckham, AC Milan.
Ligue 1: Crunch showdown between Bordeaux and Paris
The French top flight also resumes after the brief mid-season break. The opening matchday of the second half of the league programme sees second-placed Girondins Bordeaux meet Paris Saint-Germain in fourth.
The spotlight also falls on Stade Rennes, lying third on the back of a 17-game unbeaten run. Rennes’ opponents on Saturday are Grenoble, the last side to beat the men from Brittany in Ligue 1 back on 17 August 2008. Serial champions and current leaders Olympique Lyon meet Lorient and will hope to at least maintain their three-point advantage over Bordeaux.
The question: Can Stade Rennes stretch their amazing unbeaten league run to 18 matches?
The big game: Girondins Bordeaux-Paris Saint-Germain, Sunday 11 January, 9pm, Stade Chaban-Delmas
The quote: "It’s a French tradition to dislike winners. I knew I’d have to cope with that when I chose to join Lyon. But to be honest, it doesn’t bother us in the slightest. We aim to win our matches, and we’re not interested in what other people think," Hugo Lloris, Olympique Lyon.
La Liga: Five in pursuit of second spot
The Spanish league season is still only 17 games old, but all the signs point to Barcelona marching away with the title. Lionel Messi and Co are already 11 points clear of Valencia in second, a situation unlikely to change dramatically after Barca's visit to bottom side Osasuna, barring a major upset.
The battle for second place is altogether more engrossing with five clubs in contention. Valencia entertain seventh-placed Villarreal, who are suffering a disappointing season by recent standards. Real Madrid travel to RCD Mallorca hoping for a third win on the bounce. The biggest game takes place in La Coruna, where Deportivo in sixth meet fourth-placed Sevilla. Atletico Madrid, fifth in the standings but beaten by Barcelona in a midweek cup tie, will seek a return to winning ways against 13th-placed Athletic Bilbao.
The question: Can Lionel Messi build on a gala display in the cup against Atletico and lead Barcelona to a sixth win in a row?
The big game: Deportivo La Coruna-Sevilla, Saturday 10 January, 8pm, Estadio Riazor
The quote: "It’s a six-pointer. Valencia are second in the table, so we need a win to stay in touch with the teams at the top. We’ve lost three in a row, so it’s time we won again," Nihat Kahvechi, Villarreal.
The top four in Portugal are all at home. Leaders Porto meet promoted CD Trofense (13th). Lisbon pair Benfica (second) and Sporting (third) face Sporting Braga (fifth) and Maritimo Funchal (sixth). Surprise package Leixoes in fourth have the easiest task on paper against 14th-placed Vitoria Setubal.
The big game in the Greek top flight takes place on Sunday when fourth-placed AEK Athens entertain second-placed PAOK Saloniki. Leaders Olympiakos are at home to AO Xanthi.