The first international break of the year is always a marker that the season is coming towards its business end for those in Europe, and this weekend sees the final round of matches before players will go off to join their countries.
In England the FA Cup quarter-finals will take centre stage as far as many of the top-flight clubs are concerned, but there are also a number of important matches in the lower levels of the game as the fight for promotion and against relegation continues to rage on.
One of European football’s fiercest rivalries will also take place in Turkey, while there are notable showdowns in France, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and further afield.
Here, we round up all of the biggest, best and most important matches from around the globe ahead of the upcoming weekend of football.
Fenerbahce vs. Galatasaray
The Intercontinental Derby, the Eternal Rivalry – call it what you will, Fenerbahce vs. Galatasaray is one of the biggest and most intense matches in world football.
Situated in the same city but on different continents, the two most successful clubs in Turkish football history have won 39 league titles between them, with Galatasaray currently boasting just one more than their bitter rivals.
Neither have lifted the trophy since 2015, but Gala are well-placed to end that mini-drought this season and go into Saturday’s showdown with a three-point lead at the top of the table and having scored 14 goals in their last three games.
Fenerbahce would love nothing better than to dent Galatasaray’s title hopes, and the hosts may well need a victory to keep themselves in the race as they currently sit in fourth place, six points adrift of this weekend’s opponents. Indeed, a win for Fenerbahce would guarantee that a maximum of three points would separate Turkey’s top four at the end of the weekend.
However, Fener have only won one of their last four games across all competitions – a run which includes a league defeat and cup draw against fellow Istanbul rivals Besiktas.
Saturday’s hosts are unbeaten in their last six league meetings with Galatasaray, though, and you have to go all the way back to 1999 for the last time Gala won at the home of their most hated opponents.
Marseille vs. Lyon
The ‘Choc des Olympiques’ is the grandiose title given to this fixture between Marseille and Lyon, and while it no longer has as big a say on the destination of the Ligue 1 title as it once did, this weekend’s contest still has plenty riding on it.
There are only three Champions League places available in Ligue 1, and Marseille currently occupy the last of those, boasting a five-point lead over fourth-placed Lyon.
Lyon will only have eyes looking up the table considering Nantes are 11 points behind them in fifth, but defeat at the Stade Velodrome could prove to be a fatal blow in their hopes of returning to European football’s premier club competition next season.
It has been an alarming dip for a team which not too long ago was battling both Monaco and Marseille for second place, but after losing only two of their opening 22 games they subsequently went on a six-match winless streak in the league which has seen them fall off the pace.
Lyon did finally return to winning ways at home to Caen last weekend, but they have not won away from home in Ligue 1 since January 17 and are coming up against a Marseille side who have lost just one of their last 19 at the Stade Velodrome.
Indeed, home and away Marseille have only lost two of their last 24 league matches, although one of those did come at the hands of Lyon in the reverse fixture to extend Marseille’s seven-match league winless streak in this fixture.
Fulham vs. Queens Park Rangers
The Championship plays host to a West London derby this weekend as Fulham welcome near-neighbours Queens Park Rangers to Craven Cottage.
The match is undoubtedly a bigger one for the home side as they look to take another striide towards promotion, although with nine games of the season remaining they are still eight points adrift of second-placed Cardiff City.
Fulham are certainly doing their part, though, and they will go into Saturday’s match having won 12 and drawn three of their last 15 Championship matches to soar up to fourth in the table, now nine points clear of seventh-placed Sheffield United.
By contrast, QPR are languishing down in 15th place and have little but pride left to fight for this season, with 15 points separating them from the playoffs and 16 from the relegation zone.
Fulham will still need to be wary, though, as QPR will arrive at the Cottage off the back of successive league wins, including an impressive 3-1 triumph at Fulham’s fellow promotion hopefuls Aston Villa on Tuesday night.
The Cottagers have only lost two of the last 13 meetings between these two sides since 1983, though, including a 2-1 triumph at Loftus Road in September.
Derby County vs. Cardiff City
Two of the Championship’s top five will face off at the iPro Stadium on Sunday lunchtime, but despite Derby and Cardiff both flying high in the table they will go into the game in contrasting form.
The Rams drew 0-0 with East Midlands rivals Nottingham Forest last weekend to make it seven games without a win, and they have now won just two of their 13 outings across all competitions since the turn of the year.
That downturn in form has not yet resulted in Derby surrendering their position in the playoff places, but seventh-placed Sheffield United are now only three points behind Gary Rowett’s side, so an improvement is needed sooner rather than later.
Cardiff, by contrast, recorded a seventh consecutive league win by beating Brentford 3-1 at Griffin Park on Tuesday night, and with other results also going their way that left the Bluebirds seven points clear of third-placed Aston Villa in the race for automatic promotion.
Indeed, Neil Warnock may even have one eye on catch long-time leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers over the closing months of the campaign, with his side now only three points off the pace.
Cardiff have only won two of their last nine meetings with Derby, although have have also lost just three of their last 13 including a goalless draw in September’s reverse fixture.
Istanbul Basaksehir vs. Besiktas
The Intercontinental Derby (Fernabache vs. Galatasaray) may grab the headlines in Turkey this weekend, but this match is every bit as important to the title race as second-placed Besiktas – who are defending champions – take on third-placed Istanbul Basaksehir. Only goal difference separates the two sides in the table, with both sitting three points off leaders Galatasaray.
The defending champions need to take points of their direct rivals and come into this tie on the back of a fantastic league run that has seen them lose only once since the turn of the new year. Basaksehir on the hand seem to be on a sort of a free fall as their two wins since the start of February is why they are no longer on top of the log.
This tie is one that hasn’t produced alot of wins for either side in the last decade. There have been 10 draws in the last 15 times these two clubs met including the reverse fixture earlier this season.
CSKA Sofia vs. Levski Sofia
The Sofia derby will see second-placed CSKA host third-placed Levski, although the former are the only team still in with a realistic hope of challenging Ludogorets for the Bulgarian title this season.
There are three points between first and second so CSKA need to win to keep up with Ludogorets and ensure there continues to be a title race in the First Professional League.
Both sides come into this game in similar form but head to head, Levski have only won once since 2013.
CSKA have lost just once all season, the loss coming at the start of the season ensuring that the club are presently on one of the longest unbeaten streaks in the whole of Europe. Levski are also on a run of 11 games unbeaten, their last loss coming at the home of table toppers Ludogorets.
Bengaluru vs. Chennaiyin Saturday, 3:30pm
The Indian Super League final sees Bengaluru take on Chennaiyin in Bangalore on Saturday afternoon. Bengaluru are looking to win the four-year-old title for the first time, whereas Chennaiyin lifted the trophy in 2015.
Bengaluru come into Saturday’s match in fine form, their last loss coming mid-january, while their opponents will be looking to invoke the spirit of 2015 that saw them crowned champions against all odds.
Each side won a game apiece when they faced off in the regular season but in a final like this, expect players of both sides to put in their all.