Another weekend of football has passed and with it came the emergence of new game-changers, rising stars and the start of another week where anything can happen. We've got a week of crucial Champions League matchups to look forward to, not to mention one of Europe's biggest grudge matches over the weekend with El Clásico.
Here are our picks of who to keep an eye on in Europe this week, and if you have teams you think we missed, as always, have at it in the comments.
1. Real Madrid
With El Clásico on the horizon, Los Merengues are looking sharp with a comfortable win over Sporting Gijón, their 14th consecutive win in all competitions. Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di María led the scoring charge, with a third shot in the net coming from Marcelo, further building the momentum before the great and terrible 90-odd minutes that are El Clásico.
Although they're still behind Los Merengues in league competition, massive back-to-back wins over Rayo Vallecano (4-0) and fourth-place Levante (5-0) this week have put the Blaugrana back into winning form ahead of El Clásico this weekend.
After a long recovery from an injury sustained at the beginning of the season, creative forward Alexis Sánchez is back in form, scoring in each of these two victories. And just more than a month following his La Liga debut, 20-year-old winger Isaac Cuenca looked fantastic against Levante.
3. Bayern Munich
The Bayerische are back on top of the Bundesliga after a 4-1 routing of Werder Bremen over the weekend, galvanized by the returning form and fitness of Arjen Robben who scored a brace alongside Franck Ribéry.
They sit comfortably at the top of their group stage in the Champions League and will already advance to the next round, but Manchester City, hungry to earn a qualification spot as well, will give them a good fight at the Etihad on Wednesday.
4. Manchester City
The Noisy Neighbours are still unbeaten in league play into December following the opportunity to advance in the Football League Cup and a comfortable win over Norwich City over the weekend.
They face an extremely tough challenge on Wednesday as they seek to assert a place in the Champions League knockout stages facing a dominant Bayern Munich, to whom they previously lost at home on Wednesday. Luck hasn't exactly been on their side in this campaign, but expect them to fight hard on this last gasp.
Juve are still unbeaten and AC Milan only two points behind, but when it comes to momentum in Serie A right now, it's all about Udinese. The Zebretti have won all their matches at home so far this season and moved up into third place in the table, tied in points with second-place AC Milan and just two points behind Juve.
On-fire veteran Antonio Di Natale still leads the charge for Capocannionere. The juggernauts may be the team to beat, but after an exciting win over Inter Milan over the weekend, Udinese are looking like the team to watch.
The Bianconeri are still unbeaten on the season in Serie A. They fought hard to maintain that status and forged a draw against Napoli last week. The Alessandro Matri-Mirko Vucinic partnership helped lead Juve's second-half charge to establish parity with Napoli, and a win over the weekend against Cesena keeps them at the top of Serie A.
7. AC Milan
The top three Serie A sides are so close together on this list in recognition of their recent great performances, and it shows just how competitive the Italian league table is right now. Just two points separate top-ranked Juventus from tied AC Milan and Udinese, with the Rossoneri continuing their two-month unbeaten league streak by defeating Genoa 2-0.
A sharp attack led by Robinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Antonio Nocerino, who fired chance after chance, could have been even more prolific and will be ready to make up for missed opportunities in the Champions League this week.
8. Tottenham Hotspur
The 3-0 win over Bolton Wanderers over the weekend, marked by a goal and an assist each from Gareth Bale and Jermain Defoe, marks Spurs' sixth consecutive league win, giving them the best recent form of anyone in the Premiership. They're still two points behind Manchester United in the league table, but if they continue playing like this, it won't be long before they're fighting City for pole position.
9. Borussia Dortmund
The BVB maintain their second-place position in the Bundesliga after a disappointing draw with third-place Borussia Mönchengladbach, with on-fire Polish striker Robert Lewandowski opening the scoring right at the end of the first half. Gladbach's defense kept him from repeating, but the Bundesliga table remains very close. Dortmund will face Olympique de Marseille for second place in their Champions League group, and should Olympiacos lose to Arsenal and BVB win, they could very well advance.
After a brief dip in form, the Azzurri are back in Scudetto contention, still behind Udinese and Lazio. But they re-asserted their contender status with an exciting draw against top-ranked Juventus. Napoli struggled a bit in the second half, with issues from Walter Mazzarri attributed to fatigue from Champions League play. But their first half was explosive, constructed by the brilliant Marek Hamsik and featuring a brace from Goran Pandev.
11. Manchester United
The Red Devils are still in second place and within five points of Manchester City, and although elimination from the Football League Cup at the hands of Crystal Palace probably had some fans despondent, it should be noted that they've gone unbeaten in league play since the 6-1 routing.
This weekend offered signs of improvement against a usually tricky Aston Villa, with Phil Jones netting his first league goal and Chris Smalling stepping up in right-back. The past four wins, however, have been 1-0 results, indicating a need to ramp up the goal-scoring a bit. This week's Champions League matchup against Basel will be crucial.
12. Schalke 04
The veterans were out in full goal-scoring force for Schalke 04. After recovering from a tough loss to Borussia Dortmund in the Revierderby, a win over bottom-ranked Augsburg, bolstered by goals from top Euro 2012 scorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Champions League record-holder Raúl, helped the Royal Blues climb to fourth place in the Bundesliga.
The Blues would have been a bit lower on this ranking had this weekend not happened. Shoddy defense and a lack of scoring led to elimination from the Football League Cup competition earlier this week and two losses to Liverpool in less than two weeks, but a resonant win over high-ranked Newcastle United returned them to the top four and served as an indicator of good things to come for Chelsea. David Luiz is still a liability, but Didier Drogba appears to be back on form and Daniel Sturridge put in another great performance this weekend.
It was an easy weekend for Arsene Wenger's side, who found themselves ever closer to the top four with a win over Wigan Athletic, galvanized by some ambitious work from returning defender Thomas Vermaelen. With a place already secured in the knockout round of the Champions League, the Gunners will have an opportunity to test some of their young talents, among them Francis Coquelin and 18-year-old starlet Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who impressed against Olympiacos the last time the two sides clashed.
Benfica still tops their Portuguese Liga competitors due to an impressive record in multiple competitions, but Porto has managed to go through domestic competition without a loss, in a position to possibly even repeat their undefeated run last season. A close win over Sporting de Braga last week helped them hold on to their record.
The Reds are continuing to build on their momentum from the past several matchups, moving on to the semifinals of the Football League Cup on stellar performances from Craig Bellamy and Lucas Leiva.
The loss of Lucas Leiva could potentially pose massive problems and lead to demand for a new defensive midfielder come January, but they should be able to move up the ranks after facing a struggling Fulham tomorrow night, assuming the usual issues with goal-scoring don't present themselves.
Montpellier extended their lead at the top of Ligue 1 with an extremely comfortable 4-0 win over Lorient over the weekend. Olivier Giroud added to his already impressive tally and the rest of the attack did well, but defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa gave up some key corners to Lorient.
18. Borussia Mönchengladbach
A split with Borussia Dortmund in the 1-1 draw meant neither side ended up with a loss but also contributed to Bayern Munich's creeping up back to the top of the table. But further damage could have been done to M'Gladbach had defender Roman Neustadter not properly fended off a fierce attack from Robert Lewandowski, which would have doubled the score.
Although the Aguias remain near the top of the Portuguese Liga, even in points with first-place Porto and without a loss so far, their unbeaten streak in all competitions has ended with a tough loss to Marítimo in a fifth-round Taça Portugal match.
They should have no trouble finding their feet again against Otelul Galati in the Champions League however, and the recent acquisition of Swedish teen starlet Nilsson Lindelöf, set to join the club over the summer, spells great things for the future.
A disappointing goalless draw against FC Vaslui kept Lazio in third place in their Europa League group. A win over relegation-sitting Novara tomorrow will keep Lazio in the top four and comfortably ahead of fifth-place and fierce-looking Napoli.
21. Paris Saint-Germain
After three weeks without a win in Ligue 1, Paris Saint-Germain finally netted a victory over Auxerre to retain their second-place spot in the French table, thanks in part to some bold playing from Brazilian winger Nene, who got a goal and an assist on the day. The win was a crucial one for coach Antoine Kombouare, as rumors about former Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti coming in to replace him at the club abound.
Roberto Soldado put Los Che ahead over Espanyol over the weekend, maintaining their place just four points behind Barcelona in La Liga and seven behind Real Madrid. This week's Champions League matchup against Chelsea will be crucial for both sides to determine who advances along with Bayer Leverkusen.
23. OSC Lille
After AC Ajaccio scored in the first two minutes, starting things off on a rather unpleasant note for Les Dogues, Eden Hazard (surprise, surprise) turned out to be the hero, scoring the match-winner, helping Lille maintain their status near the top of the table. Paris Saint-Germain has jumped them again, but last year's champs still only have one loss on the season and are just two points behind.
24. RSC Anderlecht
The Jupiler Pro League doesn't get a whole lot of play on this site, but what RSC Anderlecht is doing in the Europa League deserves attention. The Belgian side is the only team in the competition to have won all five of their group stage matches following a big win over AEK Athens this week, waltzing into the Round of 32, as well as maintaining a narrow place at the top of the league table over AA Gent.
25. Stade Rennais
Stade Rennais have been quietly making their way up the ranks in Ligue 1, recently eclipsing Lyon and Marseille. The trouble is, one key impact player, the explosive young defensive midfielder Yann M'Vila, may be gone in January or at the end of the season as more of the top-flight clubs around Europe, most notably Arsenal and Liverpool, vie for his affection.
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