European Look Ahead: Manchester clubs continue rivalry in FA Cup and more

European Look Ahead: Manchester clubs continue rivalry in FA Cup and more

European Soccer

European Look Ahead: Manchester clubs continue rivalry in FA Cup and more

CityUnited (Reuters Pictures)

By JOHN BOSCHINI

FA Cup ties are the major draw in England this weekend, while Italian and Spanish sides return to action for the first time in nearly a month as winter breaks draw to a close.

Manchester United and Manchester City are still the heavy favorites to take home the Premier League title this year, but it's the FA Cup that provides another exhibition of one of the most heated rivalries in the world. Manchester United is on a two-match losing streak that featured embarrassing losses to Blackburn and Newcastle, while City will be without striker Mario Balotelli. Police at the Etihad have been ordered to wear full riot gear as precaution in case this emotional fixture boils over.

Inter Milan is steadily working its way back up the table after a disastrous start to the season and will try to get 2012 off on the right foot. Inter is six points off a UEFA Champions League spot and only eight points behind AC Milan and Juventus at the top of the table. All of the title contenders in Italy take on lower-quality opposition upon their return to action.

La Liga is back in action as well, while leagues in Germany, France and the Netherlands have a few more weeks off.

Here is a look ahead to the weekend's fixtures in Europe:

ENGLAND

Aside from the Manchester Derby, the highlight of the FA Cup third-round slate may come Monday, when Thierry Henry is eligible to make his return in an Arsenal uniform. The Gunners take on Leeds United in a game Arsene Wenger won't want to take lightly as he searches for an elusive piece of silverware. Newcastle takes on under-fire Steve Kean and Blackburn in the only other Premier League matchup of the FA Cup's third round.

Friday

Liverpool vs. Oldham Athletic, 3 p.m.

Saturday

Birmingham vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers, 7:30 a.m.
Dagenham & Redbridge vs. Milwall, 8 a.m.
Barnsley vs. Swansea City, 10 a.m.
Brighton vs. Wrexham, 10 a.m.
Coventry City vs. Southhampton, 10 a.m.
Crawley Town vs. Bristol City, 10 a.m.
Derby County vs. Crystal Palace, 10 a.m.
Doncaster Rovers vs. Notts County, 10 a.m.
Everton vs, Tamworth, 10 a.m.
Fleetwood Town vs. Blackpool, 10 a.m.
Fulham vs. Charlton Athletic, 10 a.m.
Gillingham vs. Stoke City, 10 a.m.
Hull City vs. Ipswich Town, 10 a.m.
Macclesfield Town vs. Bolton Wanderers, 10 a.m.
Middlesborough vs. Shrewsbury Town, 10 a.m.
MK Dons vs. Queens Park Rangers, 10 a.m.
Newcastle United vs. Blackburn Rovers, 10 a.m.
Norwich City vs. Burnley, 10 a.m.
Nottingham Forest vs. Leicester City, 10 a.m.
Reading vs. Stevenage, 10 a.m.
Sheffield United vs. Salisbury City, 10 a.m.
Swindon Town vs. Wigan 10 a.m.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Cheltenham Town, 10 a.m.
Watford vs. Bradford City, 10 a.m.
West Brom vs. Cardiff City, 10 a.m.
Bristol Rovers vs. Aston Villa, 12:30 p.m.

Sunday

Manchester City vs. Manchester United, 8 a.m.
Chelsea vs. Portsmouth, 10 a.m.
Sheffield Wednesday vs. West Ham, 10 a.m.
Petersborough United vs. Sunderland, 10:30 a.m.

Monday

Arsenal vs. Leeds United, 2:45 p.m.

SPAIN

Real Madrid will try and hold on to its slim, three-point advantage at the top of the table as the second half of the La Liga season kicks off. Common sense dictates Madrid should have no trouble with Granada and Barcelona should breeze by Espanyol. Last season, Villareal vs. Valencia would have been a battle between two Champions League contenders, but now the Yellow Submarine is just hoping to stave off relegation.

Saturday

Levante vs. Mallorca, 12 p.m.
Racing Santander vs. Real Zaragoza, 12 p.m.
Real Sociedad vs. Osasuna, 12 p.m.
Real Madrid vs. Granada, 2 p.m.
Malaga vs. Athletico Madrid, 4 p.m.

Sunday

Rayo Vallecano vs. Sevilla, 6 a.m.
Getafe vs. Athletic Bilbao, 10 a.m.
Villareal vs. Valencia, 12 p.m.
Real Betis vs. Sporting Gijon, 1:45 p.m.
Espanyol vs. Barcelona, 3:30 p.m.

ITALY

Juventus and AC Milan are tied at the top of the Serie A table, and the next few months will prove crucial in their title chase. AC Milan does not have to worry about Champions League play until February and will try to pick up three points on the road at Atalanta. The same goes for Juventus when it travels to bottom-dwelling Leece.

Saturday

Siena vs. Lazio, 12 p.m.
Inter Milan vs. Parma, 2:45 p.m.

Sunday

Udinese vs. Cesena, 6:30 a.m.
AS Roma vs. Chievo Verona, 9 a.m.
Atalanta vs. AC Milan, 9 a.m.
Bologna vs. Catania, 9 a.m.
Cagliari vs. Genoa, 9 a.m.
Leece vs. Juventus, 9 a.m.
Novara vs. Fiorentina, 9 a.m.
Palermo vs. Napoli, 9 a.m.

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What do you think of this weekend's games? Who comes out on top in the Manchester Derby? Do you see any upsets brewing in Italy or Spain?

Share your thoughts below.

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