The eyes of the footballing world were inexorably drawn to
England at the weekend, as the Premier League's four successful
UEFA Champions League representatives went head-to-head in the
battle for domestic superiority. Both big games produced winners on
the day, while in Italy and Spain the top sides consolidated their
positions, but the leaders in France and Germany again failed to
fire on all cylinders.
FIFA.com casts an eye over the pick of the action on the last full programme of fixtures in Europe before the holiday season.
Premier League: Tevez and Gallas make the difference
Liverpool have still not scored against Manchester United in the Premier League since coach Rafael Benitez took the helm, and Chelsea old boy William Gallas sealed his former club's defeat to Arsenal in the latest instalment of London's oldest derby. That was the headline news after a 'Super Sunday' in the English top flight, where the Red Devils battled to a 1-0 triumph away to the Reds and the Gunners won by the same score to inflict a first competitive defeat in 16 matches on the visiting Blues.
The team in second thus won away to the team in fourth, with the league leaders seeing off the side lying third, allowing Arsenal and United to pull clear at the top and turn the battle for honours into a two-horse race, at least for the time being. Carlos Tevez's strike two minutes before half-time at Anfield settled the 149th league meeting between the north-western rivals, as Steven Gerrard and Co searched in vain for a first Liverpool league victory over Manchester United since 2001. Gerard Houllier, Liverpool boss that year, was present on Saturday to witness his former charges' latest reverse. Down in London, ex-Chelsea stalwart Gallas netted the only goal of the match after the Blues earlier lost skipper John Terry with injury.
Top three: Arsenal (40 points), Manchester United (39), Chelsea (34)
Bottom three: Fulham (13 points), Wigan Athletic (12), Derby County (6)
Top scorers: Emmanuel Adebayor, Ayegbeni Yakubu, Cristiano Ronaldo (all 9 goals)
Weekend stat: United have kept a clean sheet away
to Liverpool in their last four league visits to Anfield, a feat
last achieved by Everton in 1910.
Primera Division: Barcelona brush aside struggling Valencia
The focus in Spain has already switched to next weekend's Classico when leaders Real Madrid travel to face pursuers Barcelona. This weekend's results mean the forthcoming showdown could well have a decisive impact on the title race. The Catalans are clearly back in business, as Frank Rijkaard's men made light work of the potentially thorny trip to Valencia courtesy of a Samuel Eto'o brace and an Eidur Gudjohnsen strike. The only cloud on the Barcelona horizon concerned Lionel Messi, forced out of the action before half-time with a pulled hamstring.
As expected, Real cruised to victory at the Bernabeu. Dutch duo Ruud van Nistelrooij and Wesley Sneijder sealed a 2-0 victory over CA Osasuna for the star ensemble coached by Bernd Schuster. Madrid rivals Atletico were held to a goalless draw away to Recreativo Huelva, while Villarreal chalked up a 3-1 success away to Getafe.
Top three: Real Madrid (38), Barcelona (34), Atletico Madrid (31)
Bottom three: Betis (17), Deportivo La Coruna (14), UD Levante (7)
Top scorers: Luis Fabiano (10), Lionel Messi, Raul, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Diego Milito (all 8)
Weekend stat: Real Madrid have played eleven times at home in the Primera Division and the UEFA Champions League so far this term, winning on each and every occasion.
Ligue 1: Lyon stumble again
The leading pair in the French top flight were both held to goalless draws at the weekend. Champions and current leaders Lyon failed to bounce back from last week's 1-0 defeat away to minnows Caen, again failing to hit the target in a home meeting with Nice. However, Lyon maintained their four-point advantage over Nancy as the team in second were similarly confined to a goalless stalemate away to promoted Strasbourg.
A depressing week for Marseille ended on a slightly more upbeat note, as the southern side produced an encouraging response to the 4-0 thrashing at home to Liverpool in midweek that sealed an ignominious exit from the Champions League. Marseille travelled to bogey side Girondins Bordeaux and came away with a somewhat surprising 2-2 draw. Rennes' recent slump continued with a sixth defeat on the bounce, a 2-1 home reverse against Caen.
Top three: Lyon (38 points), Nancy (34), Bordeaux (30)
Bottom three: Paris St. Germain (19 points), Sochaux (16), Metz (7)
Top scorers: Karim Benzema (12 goals), David Bellion, Tulio de Melo, Johan Elmander (all 10)
Weekend stat: Caen have now lost only once in eleven matches.
Serie A: Inter ensure perfect Sunday in Milan
While AC Milan were impressively claiming the 2007 FIFA Club World Cup trophy in Japan, Roma suffered a minor setback in their pursuit of champions and current leaders Internazionale. The men from the Italian capital were held to a goalless draw on their travels to Torino.
Elsewhere, Juventus seized the opportunity to make up ground with a 3-2 win away to Lazio, thanks to David Trezeguet's 12th of the season and an Alessandro Del Piero brace. The result takes third-placed Juve to within a point of Roma in second. Inter continue to set the pace in Serie A though, their 2-0 triumph away to Cagliari representing a 12th victory in 16 matches.
Top three: Inter (40 points), AS Roma (33), Juventus (32)
Bottom three: Empoli (14 points), Reggina (10), Cagliari (10)
Top scorers: David Trezeguet (12 goals), Julio Ricardo Cruz, Zlatan Ibrahimovic (both 9)
Weekend stat: Inter goal-getter Julio Ricardo Cruz netted for the fourth game in a row.
Bundesliga: Bremen draw level with misfiring Bayern
Werder Bremen convincingly bounced back from their midweek Champions League exit as gifted playmaker Diego orchestrated a 5-2 triumph over Bayer Leverkusen, who arrived at the Weser stadium on the back of a five-game winning streak. It was a demoralising afternoon for 22-year-old Bayer keeper Rene Adler, rated one of the most promising youngsters in the German game. Prior to Saturday, the shot-stopper had only picked the ball from the back of his net eleven times in the league, but he and his shell-shocked back four now boast only the third-best defensive record in the section.
Despite drawing level with leaders Bayern on points, the fine win was not enough to hand Werder top spot at the halfway point in the season. Tthe men from Munich huffed and puffed their way to a dour goalless draw away to Hertha Berlin, retaining first place only on goal difference from Bremen. Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has been left with plenty to ponder during the long mid-season break. Despite the presence of big-money signings Miroslav Klose, Luca Toni and Franck Ribéry, a haul of just four goals in their last seven league outings rates is less than satisfactory.
Top three: Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen (both 36 points), Hamburger SV (32)
Bottom three: 1. FC Nuremberg, Energie Cottbus (both 15 points), MSV Duisburg (13)
Top scorers: Diego, Rafael van der Vaart, Miroslav Klose, Luca Toni (all 9 goals)
Weekend stat: Bremen and Croatia hitman Ivan Klasnic brought a turbulent 2007 to a fairytale conclusion, racking up two goals and an assist in only his third game back after a life-saving kidney transplant.
In Turkey, Istanbul giants Galatasaray displaced previous leaders Sivasspor with a 2-0 success as the top two went head-to-head, while Belgian top dogs Club Bruges downed champions Anderlecht by the only goal of the game to cement their lead in the section. Austrian football fans saw a 1-1 draw between Sturm Graz and Red Bull Salzburg as the leading pair remained level on points at the top.
In Portugal, champions FC Porto stretched their advantage in first place to fully ten points with a routine 2-0 win at home to Vitoria Guimaraes, while closest pursuers Benfica were falling to the only goal away to Lisbon rivals Belenenses. Greek champions Olympiakos Piraeus downed AEK Athens 1-0 to join the side from the capital at the head of the standings.