Winter has much of Europe in its icy grip, but a fair proportion of the football programme survived the inclement weather. It was a good weekend for the chasing packs in Germany and Italy, but the games involving the leaders in France and all the top teams in England were called off. In Spain, it was business as usual in every way as the top two marched on. reviews the action in the leading leagues around Europe on the last weekend before the holiday season.

Premier League: Big freeze hits English programme
Just two matches survived the snow and ice at the weekend. Sunderland beat Bolton Wanderers 1-0 and replaced their opponents in sixth spot, while 12th-placed Blackburn Rovers were held 1-1 by bottom club West Ham United.

The remaining seven fixtures fell victim to the weather, including Arsenal versus Stoke City, Liverpool versus Fulham, and the big game between champions Chelsea and Manchester United. In the Monday night game, Manchester City can go top with a home win over Everton.

Top three: Manchester United (34 points), Arsenal, Manchester City (both 32)
Bottom three: Wigan Athletic (16), Wolverhampton Wanderers (15), West Ham United (13)
Leading scorers: Dimitar Berbatov (11 goals), Andrew Carroll, Carlos Tevez (both 10)
Weekend stat: 8,811 – Long-serving manager Sir Alex Ferguson set a new durability record in English football after reaching 8,811 days at the Manchester United helm.

Bundesliga: Title contenders slip up
Runaway leaders Borussia Dortmund ended the first half of the campaign with only their second defeat, after an 87th-minute goal from Bundesliga leading scorer Theofanis Gekas clinched a 1-0 victory for Eintracht Frankfurt . The damage was not too great, however, as closest rivals Bayer Leverkusen were held 2-2 by Freiburg, and Hannover lost 3-1 to Nuremberg. Mainz secured second spot at Christmas with a 4-2 win away to St. Pauli, and Bayern moved up to fifth with a spectacular 5-3 win away to struggling Stuttgart.

Raul scored a hat-trick in a one-man demolition job as UEFA Champions League hopefuls Schalke beat Cologne 3-0. Bundesliga ever-presents Hamburg won 2-1 away to relegation-threatened Borussia Monchengladbach, but Werder Bremen’s miserable first half of the season ended on an appropriately dismal note with a 2-1 defeat at home to promoted Kaiserslautern.

Top three: Borussia Dortmund (43 points), Mainz, Bayer Leverkusen (both 33)
Bottom three: Cologne (15), Stuttgart (12), Borussia Monchengladbach (10)
Leading scorers: Theofanis Gekas (14 goals), Papiss Demba Cisse (13), Mario Gomez (12)
Weekend stat: 224 – Borussia Dortmund had gone 224 days without an away defeat until last Saturday.

Serie A: Rivals eat into Milan’s lead
Champions Inter were excused domestic duty, as they were in Abu Dhabi sealing the FIFA Club World Cup crown, and their joy was doubled when cross-city rivals AC Milan suffered a major setback in a 1-0 defeat at home to Roma.

The remaining title candidates made the most of the slip-up: Napoli and Lazio both won, 3-2 over Udinese and 1-0 against Lecce respectively, to go within three points of the leaders. By contrast, Juventus were held 1-1 away to Chievo and are now fourth, five points off Milan.

Top three: AC Milan (36 points), Napoli, Lazio (both 33)
Bottom three: Cesena, Lecce (both 15), Bari (11)
Leading scorers: Edinson Cavani, Antonio di Natale (both 10 goals), Marco di Vaio, Samuel Eto’o, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Fabio Quagliarella (all 9)
Weekend stat:  7 – after six wins in a seven-match unbeaten run, leaders Milan finally tasted defeat again at the weekend.

La Liga: Win after win for Barça
Leaders Barcelona made it ten wins on the bounce and fully 22 games unbeaten with a thumping 5-1 victory over neighbours Espanyol. The going was a lot tougher for second-placed Real Madrid in a 1-0 victory over Sevilla.

In the far distance behind the top two, Villarreal held on to third spot with a 3-1 success against Mallorca. Fourth-placed Valencia won 2-1 away to Real Sociedad, and sixth-placed Atletico Madrid beat Malaga 3-0. At the wrong end of the standings, Real Zaragoza and Sporting Gijon both picked up away points in a goalless stalemate with Osasuna and a 1-1 draw with Deportivo La Coruna respectively.

Top three: Barcelona (43 points), Real Madrid (41), Villarreal (33)
Bottom three: Malaga (13), Sporting Gijon (12), Real Zaragoza (10)
Leading scorers: Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi (both 17 goals), David Villa (11), Fernando Llorente, Nilmar (both 10)
Weekend stat: 43 – Barcelona’s whopping 43 points from 16 matches is a new league record.

Ligue 1: Tighter and tighter at the top
Lille had the satisfaction of defending first place in the table without playing. The leaders’ meeting with Nancy was postponed due to the weather, but none of their rivals was able to topple them from their perch. However, the top three are now all level on points after Paris Saint-Germain drew 2-2 with Monaco, and Rennes beat Valenciennes by the only goal of the game.

In the glamour clash of the weekend, fifth-placed Marseille drew 1-1 with Lyon, who are a place higher up the standings. The relegation six-pointer between Lens and Caen was postponed.

Top three: Lille, Paris Saint-Germain, Rennes (all 31 points)
Bottom three: Caen, Lens (both 15), Arles-Avignon (7)
Leading scorers: Moussa Sow, Nene (both 13 goals), Youssef El Arabi (10)
Weekend stat:  11 – Former serial champions Lyon are now unbeaten in 11 matches and have climbed from 18th to fourth place.

In the Netherlands, leaders PSV beat fifth-placed Roda JC 3-1 to go four points clear, although the men from Eindhoven have played a game more than champions FC Twente, who can move to within a point by beating Heracles Almelo on Wednesday. Prestige is at stake when Ajax (4th) meet fierce rivals Feyenoord (13th) at the same time.

In Portugal, FC Porto continue to set the pace. The weekend's 3-0 dismissal of Pacos de Ferreira means the leaders are undefeated in 14 games and have stretched their advantage to eight points. Champions Benfica beat Rio Ave 5-2 to keep their rivals from the north just about within sight.