The last full round of matches before Christmas provided plenty of seasonal cheer for the leaders in Europe’s big five leagues, as the front runners in England, Spain, France, Germany and Italy all maintained or extended their advantage over the chasing pack. FIFA.com reviews the weekend action from around the continent’s leading leagues.
Premier League: Big names struggle
Despite a 1-1 away draw with east London rivals West Ham, Chelsea extended their lead in the Premier League standings to four points, as champions Manchester United were beaten 3-0 by Fulham in the west of the capital. Liverpool’s dismal season continued with a 2-0 defeat away to bottom club Portsmouth. The once-mighty Reds have now lost seven league games this term.
Arsenal and Aston Villa, level on points in third and fourth, made the most of the rum goings-on at the top. Villa beat Stoke 1-0, and the Gunners – who have a game in hand on the rest - eased to a 3-0 victory over Hull City. The highest-scoring match of the day was at Eastlands, where Manchester City beat Sunderland by the odd goal in seven.
Top three: Chelsea (41 points), Manchester United (37), Arsenal (35)
Bottom three: Bolton Wanderers (16), West Ham United (15), Portsmouth (14)
Leading scorers: Jermain Defoe, Didier Drogba (both 13), Wayne Rooney (12), Fernando Torres (11)
Weekend stat: 6 – Despite taking City to sixth spot in the table with the 4-3 victory over Sunderland, Mark Hughes was axed after the match by the club’s owners and replaced with Roberto Mancini.
La Liga: Madrid remain in hot pursuit
While leaders Barcelona were away in Abu Dhabi sealing FIFA Club World Cup glory, Real Madrid cut the gap at the top to two points with a 6-0 demolition job on Real Zaragoza.
Third-placed Sevilla fell to a surprise 2-1 defeat at home to fast-improving Getafe, while fellow European contenders Valencia were held to a goalless draw by Deportivo La Coruna. Malaga, struggling in 18th, breathed a sigh of relief after chalking up a second win of the season, a 2-1 home success against fifth-placed Mallorca.
Top three: Barcelona (39 points), Real Madrid (37), Sevilla (30)
Bottom three: Malaga, Real Zaragoza (both 12), Xerez (7)
Leading scorers: David Villa (12 goals), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (11), Gonzalo Higuain, Roberto Soldado (both 10)
Weekend stat: 180 – Real Madrid midfielder Rafael van der Vaart struck a brace against Zaragoza in the space of just 180 seconds midway through the first half.
Bundesliga: Leverkusen lead at halfway mark
Bayer Leverkusen sit top of the Bundesliga at Christmas after negotiating the first half of the league programme undefeated. Jupp Heynckes’ men came from behind in a thrilling second half to beat Borussia Monchengladbach 3-2. Second-placed Schalke beat Mainz by the only goal of the game, and Bayern made it fourteen goals in their last three competitive matches with a 5-2 win over tail-enders Hertha Berlin.
Hamburg moved fourth at Bremen’s expense with a 2-1 win in the clash of the northern giants. The home side played with ten men for almost an hour, while Werder cursed their luck after hitting the bar no fewer than three times. There was relief for Stuttgart too: Christian Gross’s men are through to the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 but had not won for nine games in the league until Saturday’s 3-1 win over injury-hit Hoffenheim.
Top three: Bayer Leverkusen (35 points), Schalke (34), Bayern (33)
Bottom three: Bochum (16), Nuremberg (12), Hertha Berlin (6)
Leading scorers: Stefan Kiessling (12 goals), Lucas Barrios (9), Mario Gomez, Kevin Kuranyi (both 8)
Weekend stat: 100 – a significant number for two reasons in the Bundesliga at the weekend. On the one hand, Borussia Dortmund celebrated their centenary, and on the other, Bayern played their 100th home match at the Allianz Arena.
Serie A: Inter extend lead again
With the weekend programme badly disrupted by the wintry weather, Inter took full advantage of their rivals’ inactivity and pulled further clear at the top with a 1-0 win over Lazio. Crisis club Juventus lost 2-1 to Catania, a second defeat on the bounce for the Turin giants. Fourth-placed Roma put distance between themselves and promoted Parma with a 2-0 success.
The games between Fiorentina and AC Milan, Udinese and Cagliari, Genoa and Bari, and Bologna and Atalanta all fell victim to the weather.
Top three: Inter (39 points), AC Milan (31), Juventus (30)
Bottom three: Atalanta (13), Catania, Siena (both 12)
Leading scorers: Antonio di Natale (11 goals), Diego Milito (10), Francesco Totti (9)
Weekend stat: 45 – Catania beat Juventus for the first time in 45 years, moving off the bottom of the table in the process.
Ligue 1: Bordeaux flex muscles
Champions Bordeaux made it five wins on the spin with a 4-1 victory over Lorient and now lead the standings by fully eight points. Marseille, second and with a game in hand, were held to a goalless draw by lowly St. Etienne and are now just a point ahead of Lille, 3-0 winners against Le Mans.
Fourth-placed Lyon yet again failed to win. A 1-1 draw away to Monaco means OL are now ten points off Bordeaux. Surprise package Montpellier appear to have lost momentum for now. The promoted club were beaten 2-0 by Nancy, their second home defeat of term, and have fallen to fifth.
Top three: Bordeaux (40 points), Marseille (32), Lille (31)
Bottom three: Le Mans (15), Boulogne-sur-Mer (12), Grenoble Foot (7)
Leading scorers: Nene (10 goals), Gervinho (9), Pierre-Alain Frau, Kevin Gameiro, Asamoah Gyan, Lisandro Lopez (all 8)
Weekend stat: 1 – Lyon have won just once in seven games. Their last chance to improve on this run in 2009 comes on Wednesday in a meeting with Montpellier.
In Portugal, Liga Sagres leaders Benfica beat bitter rivals Porto, Javier Saviola’s first-half strike proving enough to separate the sides. Sporting Braga beat Pacos de Ferreira by the same score to remain level on points with the leaders.