What to watch in the leading soccer competitions in Europe this weekend:
After playing three games each inside 10 days, the Premier League teams are straight back in action as they enter the FA Cup.
The third round opens on Friday night with a Merseyside derby and Manchester United taking on second-tier Derby. Liverpool hosts Everton with Philippe Coutinho ruled out through injury, just as he is linked with a January transfer window move to Barcelona.
Jamie Vardy could be denied a fairytale return with Leicester to third-tier Fleetwood on Saturday due to a groin injury. The England striker joined from the then non-league club in 2012 and went to score the goals that powered Leicester to its shock Premier League title in 2016.
Premier League leader Manchester City, which is pursuing a quadruple, hosts Burnley on Saturday when 2017 league champion Chelsea goes to Norwich. Arsenal’s cup defense opens Sunday at second-tier Nottingham Forest. AFC Wimbledon faces Tottenham at Wembley 30 years after shocking Liverpool to win the 1988 final in the old stadium.
The third round ends on Monday with Brighton hosting Premier League rival Crystal Palace.
Atletico Madrid resumes its chase of leader Barcelona, assisted by the successful return of Diego Costa. The former Chelsea striker’s second debut was delayed by Atletico’s transfer ban, but after missing the first half of the season he scored on his return to action on Wednesday against Lleida in the Copa del Rey. Costa is expected to start when Diego Simeone’s team hosts Getafe in the league on Saturday.
Atletico is nine points behind Barcelona, which hosts Levante on Sunday. Third-place Valencia, 11 points off the lead, hosts Girona on Saturday, while fourth-place Real Madrid is at Celta Vigo on Sunday. Madrid, the defending champion, is 14 points behind Barcelona with a game in hand.
Massimiliano Allegri faces the team he established his coaching career with when Juventus visits Cagliari on Saturday. In 2008-09, Allegri guided Cagliari to ninth place, the Sardinian club’s best Serie A result in nearly 15 years.
Allegri joined AC Milan in 2010 and won the league during his first season at the San Siro. Since moving to Juventus in 2014, he has won three straight titles.
Second-place Juventus enters on a six-match unbeaten streak, while Cagliari is struggling in 15th place, five points above the relegation zone.
Leader Napoli begins the second half of the season by hosting Hellas Verona, which is second from the bottom. Perhaps the best matchup of the weekend features fourth-place Roma against Atalanta, which just eliminated Napoli from the Italian Cup. New Torino coach Walter Mazzarri — who replaced the fired Sinisa Mihajlovic on Thursday — makes his debut against Bologna.
Paris Saint-Germain starts its bid to win a fourth consecutive French Cup with a trip to Rennes on Sunday.
PSG traveled to the Brittany side before the winter break and secured a comfortable 4-1 league win on the back of a solid performance from Neymar, who scored twice and turned provider for Kylian Mbappe and striker Edinson Cavani.
With a nine-point lead at the top of the French league standings, PSG remains on course for an unprecedented quadruple. Unai Emery’s side has qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League and is involved in both domestic cups.
PSG’s short trip to Rennes is one of three matches between topflight clubs. Strasbourg hosts Dijon and Nice visits Toulouse in the round of 64.