With teams in England's Premier League and Germany's Bundesliga otherwise occupied, the European spotlight fell firmly on the Mediterranean this weekend. Spain, Italy and France were the main centres of interest and that allowed Real Madrid to broadcast an emphatic message concerning their championship intent.
Los Merengues made it ten wins out of ten at home in La Liga this season to move a considerable step closer to defending their title, while rivals Barcelona saw their prayers go unanswered at La Catedral, Athletic Bilbao's Estadio San Mames and scene of a 1-1 draw.
Inter Milan, meanwhile, had to make to do with a share of the spoils at Udinese, which allowed AS Roma to move within five points of the Serie A summit. As for French juggernauts Lyon, they welcomed news of defeat for second-placed Bordeaux at Lorient, but were unable to take full advantage as they were held to a point in a feisty Rhone derby encounter with neighbours Saint-Etienne. That match brought down the curtain on a round of Ligue 1 fixtures most notable for Marseille's staggering 6-1 victory over Caen.
FIFA.com as we take a closer look at all the ups
and downs from another busy weekend of league action across the Old
La Liga: Ten out of ten for Real
There are days when everything seems to go right for you, and Real Madrid fans must have seriously entertained that concept on Sunday. Contesting their tenth home game time this term, Bernd Schuster's men kept their perfect record intact despite a spirited Villarreal performance. Giuseppe Rossi and Joan Capdevilla responded to a Robinho double for the hosts, but Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder ultimately had the final word, sinking the Yellow Submarine with the winner.
As far as the Santiago Bernabeu faithful were concerned, that combined perfectly with the news filtering through just before kick-off that second-placed Barcelona had slipped up in Bilbao. The Catalans took the lead on 31 minutes when Bojan Krkic cracked in a low drive with his left foot, but after holding on to their advantage for much of the game, Barcelona came undone when substitute Fernando Llorente buried an equaliser for the Basques 11 minutes from time.
Despite their weekend setback, Villarreal still lie in third courtesy of a 1-0 defeat for Atletico Madrid away to Mallorca and Espanyol's 2-1 loss at home to Real Betis. For their part, Valencia continue to be mired in crisis following yet another reverse at the Mestalla; this time inflicted by Almeria, who leapfrogged their hosts in the standings. In fact, the last league win for Los Ches dates back to 10 November 2007, when they overcame Murcia.
Top three: Real Madrid (53 points), FC Barcelona
(44), Villarreal (38)
Bottom three: Recreativo Huelva (22 points), Deportivo La Coruna (20), Levante (12)
Top scorers: Luis Fabiano, D. Milito (14 goals), Van Nistelrooy (12), Guiza, Nihat (11)
Weekend stat: Five players found the back of the
net in the 90th minute or later. Luis Fabiano struck Sevilla's
winner against Osasuna after 93 minutes of play, Edu did the same
for Betis against Espanyol with 90 minutes gone, Mohammed Tchite
equalised for Santander against Zaragoza on 91 minutes and Pedro
Leon won all three points for Levante against Murcia in the 90th
minute - which is also when Manuel Del Moral struck Getafe's
third goal against Huelva.
Ligue 1: Lyon grateful for Bordeaux slip
Leaders Lyon began to feel pressure when Bordeaux climbed to within three points last time out, but the six-time champions took to the field at Saint-Etienne in far more relaxed mood. Laurent Blanc's title aspirants had earlier fallen 1-0 at Lorient, and although Lyon were unable to make them pay the maximum penalty, a draw was enough to increase the cushion at the top by one point.
Les Gones fought hard for that draw too, after a miscued clearance from goalkeeper Gregory Coupet allowed Bafetimbi Gomis to head in an opportunistic opener for the home side. That could easily have been the only goal of the derby, but Karim Benzema rescued Lyon a share of the spoils with a sublime free kick seconds before the whistle.
In the race for third spot, Nancy kept themselves a point clear
of Nice after both teams registered stalemates away to
relegation-threatened opponents. Nancy drew 0-0 at Auxerre, while
fourth-placed Nice were held 1-1 in Toulouse.
The major French sporting event of the weekend was the final of the Australian Open, where Jo-Wilfried Tsonga went looking for a first grand slam title, and that may explain the tennis score racked up by Marseille at the Stade Velodrome. Finding themselves 1-0 down to Caen after two minutes, the hosts turned things around in spectacular fashion to post a 6-1 scoreline thanks to a Djibril Cisse hat-trick and two fantastic efforts from Mathieu Valbuena.
Top three: Lyon (46 points), Bordeaux (42), Nancy
Bottom three: Auxerre (26 points), Sochaux (23), Metz (9)
Top scorers: Benzema (15 goals), Bellion (11), De Melo, Elmander, Niang (10 goals)
Weekend stat: Marseille striker Djibril Cisse has
struck seven times in his last five Ligue 1 outings. The French
international's hat-trick against Caen took his tally to eight
for the season.
Serie A: Roma making up ground
AS Roma did precisely what was required this weekend, although only just, as Brazilian Amantino Mancini earned them a 1-0 victory at home to Palermo. That allowed the capital club to move to within five points of frontrunners Inter, who remain unbeaten but lost momentum with a goalless draw at Udinese. Further back, third-placed Juventus and fourth-placed Fiorentina both celebrated successes, away to Livorno and Empoli respectively.
AC Milan can forget about claiming the title this year as they lie 23 points behind city neighbours Inter and have been struck by a dip in form for 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d'Or winner Kaka. It is not all doom and gloom for the Rossoneri, though, and in Alexandre Pato they have uncovered a new hero. The 18-year-old Brazilian striker hit both goals in Milan's 2-0 triumph against Genoa.
Top three: Inter Milan (50 points), AS Roma (45),
Bottom three: Siena (17 points), Empoli (16), Cagliari (13)
Top scorers: Trezeguet (15 goals), Ibrahimovic, Mutu (13), Borriello (11)
Weekend stat: Before Sunday's trip to Udine, the last time Inter had failed to find the back of the net was 28 October 2007, when they drew 0-0 with Palermo. The Nerazzurri managed to score at least a goal per game over a 16-match stretch between those two outings.
While England's top outfits were busy disputing the fourth round of the FA Cup, eliminated sides Aston Villa and Blackburn took advantage to contest their game in hand at Villa Park. Paraguayan striker Roque Santa Cruz put the visitors ahead with 67 minutes gone but their lead was short-lived and ended with Ashley Young's 73rd-minute leveller. The result took the Villans up to fifth spot and left Rovers in eighth.
In Portugal, meanwhile, the 17th round of action produced a rare event as FC Porto suffered only their second reverse of the season, conceding goals from Simon Vukcevic and Marat Izmailov in a 2-0 defeat at Sporting Lisbon. A day earlier, Benfica had consolidated second place by winning 3-1 at Guimaraes courtesy of a sublime performance from Paraguay's Oscar Cardozo, whose two goals included a sumptuous free kick.