Porto saw off Benfica to claim pole position in the Portuguese title race, while in Germany Schalke and Bayern Munich both lost ground on leaders Borussia Dortmund. In Serie A, Juventus could only manage a draw, but both Manchester clubs continued their winning ways in England.
Barcelona ground out a win that keeps their faint hopes alive of catching Real Madrid in Spain. Elsewhere, Paris Saint-Germain returned to the top of the Ligue 1 table. FIFA.com takes a look back at the highlights from another exciting weekend of football across Europe.
Benfica 2-3 Porto, Matchday 21 in the Liga ZON Sagres
Intensity, commitment, entertainment and skill: the clash of the Portuguese heavyweights delivered all of that and more, as Porto overcame Benfica to open up a three-point lead at the top of the table. Clear leaders just a few weeks earlier, Benfica now have third-placed Braga suddenly breathing down their necks.
Oscar Cardozo’s clinical double proved insufficient for the home side on a night in which Hulk’s thunderous drive, James Rodriguez’s well-worked strike and Maicon’s late glancing header secured all three points for the defending league champions.
While second-placed Juventus can rightly be proud of their unbeaten record in the league this season, Antonio Conte’s men may be a little concerned by the number of draws they have collected. In 25 matches, the Turin giants have shared the points with their opponents on 12 occasions, the latest example of which came in the 1-1 stalemate at home to Chievo on Saturday. Conte refused to blame his players, stating that their ability to keep pace with current leaders AC Milan is an achievement in itself: “What we’ve managed so far is nothing short of miraculous. It’s all part of a gradual improvement, and we have to be patient. People predicted that we would finish sixth or seventh.”
Three spectacular goals, including a long-range lob from Santi Cazorla, helped Malaga to a fine 3-1 victory at Getafe, a result which confirms the fine form they had already displayed in their 5 -1 demolition of Real Zaragoza the previous weekend. Led by Isco, the rising star of an attack in which Ruud van Nistelrooy has been unable to cement a regular place, Malaga will hope to use these results as a springboard to success, following a somewhat inconsistent season so far.
Numerous injuries ensured that 2010-11 was not a season that Abou Diaby will look back upon with much fondness, and this campaign has not offered the Frenchman a respite from misfortune. The Gunners midfielder, whose last appearance dates back to November, came on as a substitute in his team’s 2-1 win at Liverpool, only to leave the pitch again in the 80th minute with a hamstring problem.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been on confident form this year, and this weekend saw him continue to excel. Returning from suspension, Serie A’s joint top scorer helped himself to a hat-trick within the space of just 15 minutes at Palermo, a team that he had already scored seven goals against in the past. A few days earlier, the Malmo-born forward had been equally instrumental for his country, playing a key role in most of Sweden’s dangerous attacks during an impressive away win in Croatia.
Alex Ferguson last week talked of his regret at missing out on the signing of Joe Hart for Manchester United earlier in his career. The former Shrewsbury player, now firmly established as England’s first-choice goalkeeper, put in a fine performance in Manchester City’s 2-0 win over Bolton on Saturday. The Citizens possess the Premier League’s best defence by some margin, having conceded just 19 goals in 27 matches.
14 – Kaiserslautern, the Bundesliga’s bottom club, have now gone 14 matches without a win. Die roten Teufel’s offensive prowess has been no less disappointing, with 16 goals in 24 encounters to show for their efforts.
30 – Cristiano Ronaldo’s recent form has been nothing short of sensational, and the Portuguese striker enhanced his personal statistics again this weekend, opening the scoring in Real Madrid’s resounding 5-0 win over Espanyol. He has now racked up more goals (30) this season than 12 Liga teams.
14 – Lazio recorded their second victory of the season over Roma, triumphing in the ‘away’ fixture at the Stadio Olimpico, the arena shared by both Rome-based clubs. I Biancocelesti had not done the double over their great rivals in the Derby della Capitale for 14 years.
95 – Sochaux went into their 1-1 draw with Valenciennes having scored just once from their last 95 attempts on goal, the worst ratio of any club in a major European league. Following 447 minutes without a goal, deliverance finally came in the form of an off-target shot from Sebastien Corchia, which was deflected into his own net by Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, earning Sochaux a share of the spoils.
Five memorable moments
Productive return: After some up-and-down coaching experiences at Charleroi, Tubize and Mouscron, Enzo Scifo has returned to the bench with Mons, after a three-year absence from the game. Mons’ 4-2 triumph over Germinal Beerschot offered the former Belgium playmaker the perfect start in his new post.
Messi misfortune: Lionel Messi played no part in Barcelona’s 3-1 triumph over Sporting Gijon, a rare occurrence for the skilful Argentinian, who was suspended for an accumulation of yellow cards, the last of which he received versus Atletico Madrid last time out. In a strange coincidence, he also missed the home fixture against Gijon last year, after being injured in a match with Atletico.
Freis’ Freiburg first: Forward Sebastian Freis would be the first to admit that his goal-to-games ratio prior to his arrival in Freiburg was of an undistinguished nature. In his first start for his new employers, the former Cologne player set about improving those statistics, scoring the opener in a shock 2-1 win over Schalke.
Surprise success: St Etienne had been on a good run in Ligue 1, and had notably scored eight goals in their last two home matches. Evian had failed to win away from home all season. While the pre-match stats heavily favoured Les Verts, the away side had not read the script, winning 2-0 and distancing themselves from the relegation zone in the process.
PSV pummelled: Twente outclassed PSV Eindhoven 6-2 in front of a stunned crowd at the Philips Stadion. Steve McClaren, the coach who led the club to their maiden title in 2010, now has a similar follow-up success in his sights. His players are currently well-placed to take up the challenge, lying second with a game in hand on leaders Alkmaar.