This weekend's biggest games in world football

Sports Mole rounds up the upcoming week's biggest, best and most important fixtures from all corners of the globe.

With 2017 fast coming to a close, most teams around the world are enjoying a winter break following an action-packed opening half of the season.

That is not the case in Britain, of course, where the big matches continue to come thick and fast in what is the busiest time of the year.

One of world football's fiercest rivalries will enter its latest chapter this weekend while there are also two blockbuster London derbies to savour in the Premier League as the year comes to a close.

Here, Sports Mole rounds up all this weekend's biggest, best and most important matches from all corners of the globe.

Celtic vs. Rangers (Saturday, 12pm)

Scottish Premiership

The 410th edition of the Old Firm derby takes place on Saturday when Scottish Premiership leaders Celtic host their most bitter rivals Rangers at Parkhead.

The rivalry is not as crucial to deciding which team will win silverware as it once was, with Celtic dominating Scottish football since Rangers' demotion down the leagues, but it remains one of the most intense fixtures in world football.

Celtic's long unbeaten streak under Brendan Rodgers came to an end earlier this month, but they have since responded with three consecutive wins and clean sheets to open up an eight-point lead at the top of the table.

Rangers currently sit in third, 11 points adrift of their city rivals after losing two of their last three games, while their recent search for a new manager descended into a farce before Graeme Murty was eventually handed the reins until the end of the season.

The visitors would love nothing more than to become the first Scottish team to beat the Bhoys at Celtic Park since December 2015, though, and they will have revenge on their minds following the pummelling they received at Ibrox in April.

These two sides have already met once since then, with Celtic running out 2-0 winners to make it 10 games unbeaten against their rivals inside normal time - a run which includes eight wins.

Arsenal vs. Chelsea (Wednesday, 7.45pm)

Premier League table

The Premier League in 2018 will get underway in style as Arsenal take on London rivals Chelsea in both side's first match of the New Year on Wednesday.

Both clubs will also be in action at the weekend as Chelsea take on Stoke City and Arsenal face struggling West Bromwich Albion with only five points separating the two capital sides in the table.

Arsenal's win over Crystal Palace on Thursday means that they are now just a point off the Champions League places, and should results go their way this weekend then they could go into Wednesday's London derby with the possibility of leapfrogging Chelsea in the table.

The Premier League champions have lost just one of their last 13 matches across all competitions prior to this weekend, though, so they will travel to the Emirates Stadium in confident mood.

Indeed, the Blues are now only a point behind second-placed Manchester United and victory over Arsenal would be a big boost in the race for that runners-up spot behind Manchester City.

The reverse fixture in September ended in a goalless draw and Arsenal also won the Community Shield at Chelsea's expense in August, but they have won just one of the last 12 Premier League meetings between the two sides.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Ham United (Thursday, 8pm)

Premier League table Spurs

Premier League West Ham

Initially scheduled for this weekend but since switched to next Thursday, the early stages of 2018 will also see another mouth-watering London derby when Tottenham Hotspur host West Ham United at Wembley.

The ill-feeling in this fixture is felt a lot more from West Ham's side, and they would relish the chance to get one over on their biggest regular rivals in order to dent their top-four hopes.

To do so, though, they will need to find a way of stopping Harry Kane, who will no doubt be looking to pick up where he left off in a record-breaking 2017 by making a goalscoring start to the New Year.

Spurs and West Ham are both also in action two days before this showdown - against Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion respectively - but whatever happens in those games it promises to be an important contest at both ends of the table.

At the time of writing Tottenham are only a point off the Champions League places, whereas West Ham are only a point clear of the relegation zone, so both sides could really do with the win.

The Hammers have recent experience of winning at Wembley following their 3-2 EFL Cup triumph over Spurs in October, although they lost the reverse Premier League fixture by the same scoreline.

Benfica vs. Sporting Lisbon (Wednesday, 9.30pm)

Primeira Liga table

The Primeira Liga returns with a bang following its winter break on Wednesday with two of the big three going head to head at the Estadio da Luz.

The situation at the top of the table could barely be more finely poised either; Sporting sit level on 39 points with Porto after both teams went through the opening 15 games with identical unbeaten records.

Benfica are still very much in the running themselves, having only lost once so far this season, and victory on Wednesday could result in a three-way tie at the top.

The hosts and three-time defending champions won six of their seven league matches immediately prior to the winter break, but Sporting matched that record and will resume their duties on a four-match winning streak.

The contest also pits Benfica's perfect home and 10-match league winning streak at the Estadio da Luz against the league's best away record, with Sporting having dropped only two points on their travels this season.

Benfica are unbeaten in their last three meetings with Sporting, though, following a five-match winless run prior to that.

Juventus vs. Torino (Wednesday, 7pm)

Yet another big midweek derby to get 2018 off to a flying start, Juventus host Torino at the Allianz Stadium in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals on Wednesday.

Juventus are the clear favourites going into the match having lifted the trophy in each of the past three years, adding to their unprecedented level of dominance in recent times.

Torino have already overcome Juve's fellow Serie A title hopefuls Roma to reach this stage of the competition, though, and are sure to take the cup that little bit more seriously having been drawn against their city rivals.

Torino have not won the trophy since 1993, though, and have been stuttering domestically with only two wins in their last 13 Serie A outings.

Juve, by contrast, have kept clean sheets in each of their last eight matches across all competitions and have only lost one of their last 15.

Torino's most recent visit to their near-neighbours was not one they will remember fondly either, going down 4-0 in September to extend their wait for a win over Juventus to six matches.

Millwall vs. Queens Park Rangers (Friday, 7.45pm)

Championship table

The Premier League is not the only division with a London derby coming up as Millwall host Queens Park Rangers at The Den on Friday evening.

Only goal difference separates the two sides in the Championship table after 24 games, although neither are where they would want to be sitting in 16th and 18th place respectively.

Both sides do enjoy an eight-point gap to the bottom three, so relegation is not an immediately pressing concern at the moment, but they will certainly want to start climbing the table in 2018.

Millwall go into the game having lost just one of their last five Championship outings - a significant upturn in form from a run of only one win and five defeats prior to that.

QPR are heading in the opposite direction, though, with their only win from the last nine outings coming against bottom-of-the-table Birmingham City earlier this month.

However, Rangers do boast the vastly superior record in this fixture down the years with just one defeat in their last 13 meetings, although they are winless in the last five, with the three most recent contests all ending as draws.

A general view inside Old Trafford ahead of the Champions League group game between Manchester United and Benfica on October 31, 2017
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