The league action takes a back seat in English football just as the rest of Europe gets back into gear following respective winter breaks.
The FA Cup fourth round has thrown up some tasty encounters and the title races in Italy, Germany and Spain are accelerating into the crucial period of the season.
Naturally there are many good fixtures to look out for this weekend and here are some of the biggest coming up.
MATCH: Arsenal v Manchester United
WHERE: Emirates Stadium
WHEN: 11:55pm, Friday 25th January
Arsenal versus Manchester United is something of a relic in terms of grand English football fixtures, yet their respective slides in recent years means this clash contains plenty of intrigue.
Ironically, that narrative has actually changed hands during the course of this season. The Unai Emery era started with promise but has since made way for pessimism, despite victory over Chelsea. That was the case for United until Jose Mourinho departed with interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer overseeing a seven-game win streak.
They are both on the outside looking in where Champions League qualification is concerned and will be keen to gain a psychological edge over the other with victory on Friday.
MATCH: Girona v Barcelona
WHERE: Estadi Montilivi
WHEN: 7:15pm, Sunday 27th January
This fixture has been clouded in controversy over the last few months, and not for anything to do with the players.
Indeed, Barcelona’s derby clash with Girona was initially slated to be played in Miami before condemnation from all sides, bar La Liga president Javier Tebas.
The deal fell through and now the game is going ahead as normal. At the height of Gerard Pique’s early season nightmare, he was cataclysmic for both Cristhian Stuani goals in a famous 2-2 draw for Girona at Camp Nou. That stalemate will serve as a warning because if Ernesto Valverde’s side aren’t at their game, Girona can punish them.
MATCH: AC Milan v Napoli
WHERE: San Siro
WHEN: 11:30pm, Saturday 26th January
Serie A has thrown up two treats this weekend but the main dish is served on Saturday. The top two both have tasty away trips to negotiate as Napoli travel to AC Milan before Lazio host Juventus on Sunday.
The first fixture is a precursor to next week’s Coppa Italia quarter-final clash and it could also be a debut for Milan’s incoming striker Krzysztof Piatek. The Polish forward is set to complete a switch from Genoa and will replace Chelsea-bound Gonzalo Higuain.
He’s desperately needed as well. They’re the lowest scorers inside the top six and are struggling to maintain their hold on top four. Napoli must keep pace and pressure on Juve.
MATCH: Dijon v Monaco
WHERE: Stade Gaston Gerard
WHEN: 11:00pm, Saturday 26th January
On the face of it, Dijon v Monaco is hardly the most enticing game to take in this weekend yet context is everything.
Genuinely, this is a relegation six pointer because Thierry Henry’s Monaco could be cut even further adrift of safety if they don’t pick up points. They occupy 19th, Dijon just a place and two points above them in the bottom three and so this encounter will have huge ramifications.
Monaco were embarrassed by Strasbourg last time out as they cantered to a 5-1 win, a defeat which brought out the very worst in both boss and players. The reddening face of Henry could be toned down a shade if they manage to haul themselves out of the bottom three with victory, though.
MATCH: Borussia Dortmund v Hannover
WHEN: 6:30pm, Saturday 26th January
Dortmund have been flying this season, growing from strength to strength, but an early setback saw them held to a goalless draw at Hannover in their second league game of the campaign.
Their paths have drastically diverged since then with that point just one of 11 for relegation-threatened Hannover. Dortmund meanwhile are six points clear at the top with Bayern Munich trying to hunt them down.
They hit the woodwork twice in the August clash and should really have won. With mercurial skipper Marco Reus returning after a short injury layoff – he hit the bar against in that draw – they will attempt to stretch their advantage to nine points before Bayern Munich play on Sunday.
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