MX23RW : Monday, January 21 02:08:55

This weekend's biggest games in world football

Sports Mole rounds up the biggest and most important matches this weekend from all corners of the globe.

Having been treated to some midweek domestic fixtures, normal service will resume around the world of football this weekend as clubs gear up for their first match of December.

It is a notoriously busy time of the year in England especially, but all over the world it promises to be a pivotal month as clubs approach the halfway point of their season.

For some, the season is coming to an end, though, and in addition to a selection of Europe's biggest games taking place, this weekend will also see the climax of campaigns in Japan, Peru, Nicaragua and Panama.

Here, Sports Mole rounds up the biggest, best and most important contests from all corners of the globe.

Arsenal vs. Manchester United (Saturday, 5.30pm)

Premier League table

The defining rivalry of the Premier League era will enter its latest chapter on Saturday evening when Arsenal host Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium, with both sides currently sitting in the top four.

The fixture is not quite at the levels of its Vieira vs. Keane heyday, but there is still plenty of animosity from both sides - not least between old managerial rivals Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho.

Arsenal currently sit two places and four points behind United, but Wednesday night's 5-0 win over Huddersfield Town - a team United have already lost to this season - made it three Premier League victories in a row without conceding a goal.

United were also victorious in midweek, though, holding off a Watford fightback to come out on top 4-2 at Vicarage Road, and Mourinho's side know that anything other than victory could see the eight-point gap to leaders Manchester City grow even further.

All of United's dropped points so far this season have come on the road, including three defeats in their last five away games across all competitions, whereas Arsenal have won their last 12 Premier League home games, including all seven so far this season.

The Gunners have won their last two home games against United without conceding a goal too, and in all competitions they have lost just one of their last six meetings with their old foes.

Porto vs. Benfica (Friday, 8.30pm)

Primeira Liga table

The biggest game in Portuguese football, O Classico, pits Porto against Benfica on Friday night with both clubs once again battling it out at the top of the Primeira Liga along with Sporting Lisbon.

Porto currently lead the way having dropped just four points from their opening 12 games, but Benfica are only three points behind and would relish the chance of being the first team to beat their fiercest rivals this season.

These are the two most successful sides in Portuguese football history having shared 63 titles between themselves, including each of the last 15 since Sporting last lifted the trophy in 2002.

Porto have the edge in that time having won nine titles to Benfica's six, but the Eagles have won the league for the past four years running to re-establish themselves as the dominant force in Portuguese football.

Both teams go into the match in decent form, with Porto yet to lose a league game this season and Benfica unbeaten in six, including four consecutive wins during which they have scored 13 goals and conceded just two.

Benfica have not won this fixture since 2014, though, losing two and drawing three of the last five meetings between these two great rivals.

Napoli vs. Juventus (Friday, 7.45pm)

Serie A table

Also taking place on Friday night is a mouth-watering contest between Napoli and Juventus in Serie A as the home side bid to take another step towards dethroning the champions.

Juve have utterly dominated Italian football in recent years, winning an unprecedented six consecutive Scudettos and also claiming the Coppa Italia in the past three seasons, but they look set to face their biggest challenge yet this time around.

Napoli - twice runners-up during the Old Lady's reign - currently lead the way having dropped only four points from their opening 14 games of the season, while Inter Milan are hot on their heels with Juve in third.

Roma should not be discounted from what is shaping up to be a thrilling title race, but as things stand it is the Naples outfit who will claim only their third league crown and the first since Diego Maradona led them to the 1990 title.

Napoli's first league title - in 1986-87 - was met with mock funerals for Juventus, and this match goes beyond just a competitive grudge on the football field, with the Southerners of Napoli relishing the chance of getting one over on their traditionally dominant rivals from the North.

Napoli are unbeaten in their last 26 Serie A outings stretching back to February, whereas Juventus have lost twice in their last seven league games - as many defeats as they had suffered in their previous 31.

Besiktas vs. Galatasaray (Saturday, 4.30pm)

Turkish Super Lig table

It may not be quite on the level of Galatasaray vs. Fenerbahce, but the Besiktas-Galatasaray rivalry is still a fierce one between two of Turkish football's powerhouses.

The competitive rivalry has increased in recent years too, with Besiktas winning the Super Lig in each of the past two seasons having lifted the title just twice in the space of 20 years prior to that.

The champions find themselves playing catch-up to their Istanbul neighbours so far this season, though, with Galatasaray currently sitting top of the table and six points clear of Besiktas.

Should Saturday's hosts allow that gap to grow to nine with defeat then it could all but spell the end of their title defence, but Besiktas go into the match off the back of a 9-0 midweek cup victory to make it nine games unbeaten.

Galatasaray, meanwhile, have lost two of their last four league games and picked up only seven points from the last 15 on offer having collected 19 of the first 21 available, so their form is certainly on the slide.

Besiktas are also unbeaten in their last four league meetings between the two sides and could inflict a third consecutive away league defeat on Galatasaray this weekend.

Saint-Etienne vs. Nantes (Sunday, 2pm)

Ligue 1 table

By no means the crucial contest it once was in the top flight, matches between Saint-Etienne and Nantes nonetheless still hold a certain allure due to the fixture's history.

These two sides dominated French football between 1963 and 1983, winning 15 of the 20 titles on offer during that time and building a rivalry based on each other's success.

Since 1983, Nantes have won just two titles while Saint-Etienne - the top-flight's joint most successful club - have failed to add to their tally and have even been relegated three times.

Ligue 1 table

Sunday's hosts are again closer to battling relegation than they are to challenging for the title this season, having picked up only two points from their last six Ligue 1 outings to leave themselves only four points clear of the bottom three.

Nantes are seven points better off and only three adrift of the Champions League spots, but they also go into the game in shaky form having lost four of their last six outings across all competitions.

Both matches last season ended as draws, but you have to go back to 2000 for Nantes' last away win over Saint-Etienne.

Birmingham City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers (Monday, 7.45pm)

Championship table

It may not be the fiercest Midlands derby out there, but there is no love lost between Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, and this Monday night showdown is sure to be a highly-charged affair.

The two teams have endured differing fortunes so far this season, with Birmingham teetering perilously close to the relegation zone having lost a joint league-high 11 matches from their opening 19 games of the season.

Only two points separate the Blues from the bottom three, but at the other end of the spectrum are Wolves, who have won a league-high 14 games already this term to sit top of the table, four points clear of Cardiff City and, perhaps even more importantly, seven above third-placed Sheffield United.

Championship table

The form book certainly points at a Wolves victory; they have won eight of their last nine Championship games including their last five in a row, and another triumph on Monday would make for their best run since November 2008.

Birmingham, by contrast, have only won one of their last seven outings - although at home they have lost only one of their last five games and have kept clean sheets in the remaining four.

Wolves have won on their last two visits to St Andrew's, although the most recent contest between the two sides ended in victory for Birmingham at Molineux in February.

Other matches to look out for

Aberdeen vs. Rangers: A fixture often tarnished by violence, Aberdeen host Rangers at Pittodrie on Sunday looking to avenge Wednesday's 3-0 defeat at the hands of the same opposition.

Rijeka vs. Hajduk Split: Croatia's Adriatic derby takes place on Saturday with only goal difference separating the two sides, although they both look to be playing for second place behind runaway leaders Dinamo Zagreb.

Hapoel Haifa vs. Maccabi Haifa: Monday sees a Haifa derby in Israel with Hapoel leading the table on goal difference and Maccabi sitting in the bottom half following a run of just one win in their last five league games.

Jubilo Iwata vs. Kashima Antlers/Kawasaki Frontale vs. Omiya Ardija: The Japanese J1 season comes to an end in the early hours of Saturday morning with the title still up for grabs. Kashima Antlers currently have a two-point lead over Kawasaki Frontale, meaning that they simply need to match or better Kawasaki's result, but anything less than a win against fifth-placed Jubilo opens the door. Kawasaki have the better goal difference so would win the title if they beat relegated Omiya Ardija at home and Kashima fail to win.

Alianza Lima vs. Comerciantes Unidos: As many as four teams could be in contention to finish top on the final day of the Clausura stage of the season in Peru on Sunday, but it is all in Alianza Lima's hands and victory would be enough for them to clinch the title regardless of what happens elsewhere.

Walter Ferreti vs. Managua: The Nicaraguan Apertura stage will come to a close in the early hours of Sunday morning when Walter Ferreti take on capital rivals Managua in the second leg of the final with the score poised at 1-1.

Chorrillo vs. Arabe Unido: It is a similar story in Panama, where reigning Apertura champions Arabe Unido will be looking to retain their title in the final against Chorrillo.

Steaua Bucharest vs. Juventus Bucharest: Romania sees a minor Bucharest derby take place on Sunday as title-chasing Steaua host bottom-of-the-table Juventus.

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Neymar and Edinson Cavani embrace during the Ligue 1 game between Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux on September 30, 2017
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This weekend's biggest games in world football

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2Manchester CityMan City23182362174556
3Tottenham HotspurSpurs23170648232551
6Manchester UnitedMan Utd23135546331344
8Wolverhampton WanderersWolves239592731-432
9Leicester CityLeicester2394102929031
10West Ham UnitedWest Ham2394103034-431
13Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton2375112532-726
14Crystal Palace2364132332-922
17Newcastle UnitedNewcastle2356121931-1221
18Cardiff CityCardiff2354141944-2519
20Huddersfield TownHuddersfield2325161340-2711

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