The FA Cup took centre stage in England, but league tussles were the order of the day elsewhere in Europe. Borussia Dortmund maintained their relentless march on the German title, while AC Milan also won to keep their Serie A rivals at bay. By contrast, the Ligue 1 race tightened again after Lille dropped points, but Barcelona maintained their five-point lead over Real Madrid in Spain with a narrow victory over Athletic Bilbao. FIFA.com reviews the weekend action around Europe.
La Liga: Barcelona bounce back
Barcelona recovered from their midweek defeat to Arsenal and kept Real Madrid at arm’s length with their 21st La Liga win of the campaign. Lionel Messi scored the winner as the league leaders shaded a close encounter with fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao 2-1. Pursuers Real chalked up a routine 2-0 win against Levante and remain five points off Barcelona.
Among the also-rans, third-placed Valencia played out a scoreless stalemate with lowly Sporting Gijon, but Atletico Madrid ended a run of four defeats with a 1-0 success away to Real Zaragoza, and will now hope to push on from eighth spot. Espanyol in sixth did their cause no good at all with a humbling 4-0 defeat away to Osasuna, and fourth-placed Villarreal stumbled to a goalless draw with bottom club Malaga. The Monday evening game is a mid-table affair between Real Sociedad and Mallorca, tenth and 11th respectively.
Top three: Barcelona (65 points), Real Madrid (60), Valencia (48)
Bottom three: Zaragoza (23), Almeria (21), Malaga (20)
Leading scorers: Lionel Messi (25 goals), Cristiano Ronaldo (24), David Villa (16)
Weekend stat: 7 – Sevilla ended a run of six games without a win, beating strugglers Alicante by the only goal of the game.
Bundesliga: Dortmund march on
Leaders Borussia Dortmund recorded a comfortable 2-0 win over mid-table St. Pauli, bursting the euphoria bubble created by the promoted club’s midweek triumph away to bitter city rivals Hamburg. For their part, HSV took a healthy step on the road to atonement in their second derby in the space of four days: Hamburg thrashed Werder Bremen 4-0, deepening the crisis engulfing Thomas Schaaf and his men.
Champions in 2008/09, Wolfsburg are also mired near the wrong end of the table after a fourth defeat on the bounce, although they were generally reckoned unlucky to fall 2-1 to high-flying Freiburg. Hannover remain the true surprise packages of the season: the men from Lower Saxony are fourth and on course for Europe after a 3-0 victory over struggling Kaiserslautern. Bayern Munich’s resurgence continued with an impressive 3-0 win away to fifth-placed Mainz, but with second-placed Bayer Leverkusen triumphing 4-2 against relegation-haunted Stuttgart, reigning champs Bayern remain third.
Top three: Dortmund (55 points), Leverkusen (45), Bayern (42)
Bottom three: Kaiserslautern (23), Stuttgart, Monchengladbach (both 19)
Leading scorers: Mario Gomez (18 goals), Papiss Demba Cisse (16), Theofanis Gekas (14)
Weekend stat: 1 – Borussia Monchengladbach kept their hopes of avoiding the drop alive with a 2-1 victory over Schalke, the bottom club’s first home win of term.
Serie A: Success for top three
Leaders AC Milan maintained their advantage over their Italian top flight rivals, winning 2-1 away to mid-table Chievo courtesy of a late Alexandre Pato strike. Second-placed Napoli edged past strugglers Catania by the only goal of the game, with Inter similarly doing no more than the necessary in a 1-0 home win over Cagliari.
Fifteenth-placed Lecce sprang the surprise of the weekend with a 2-0 home win over Juventus, who remain sixth. However, Udinese and Lazio are now three and seven points ahead of Juve following a goalless draw with Brescia and a 1-0 win against Bari respectively.
Top three: AC Milan (55 points), Napoli (52), Inter (50)
Bottom three: Brescia (23), Cesena (22), Bari (15)
Leading scorers: Edinson Cavani (20 goals), Antonio di Natale (18 goals), Samuel Eto'o (15)
Weekend stat: 33 – Genoa required just 33 minutes to turn a 3-0 deficit at home to Roma into an astonishing 4-3 win. The shock reverse put a severe dent in Roma’s hopes of Europe next term, and prompted boss Claudio Ranieri to resign after the final whistle.
Ligue 1: Tight at the top
Leaders Lille fell to their first defeat since 24 October 2010, conquerors Montpellier climbing to sixth with a 1-0 home win. Second-placed Rennes won 2-1 away to Toulouse and are now just two points off the lead. Champions Marseille are an ominous presence in third following a 2-1 victory over seventh-placed Saint-Etienne.
Lyon are also looking good in fourth after a 4-0 triumph against Nancy. Paris Saint-Germain, meanwhile, remain hot on OL’s heels in the race for European places after brushing aside relegation-haunted Nice 3-0. By contrast, the problems at Bordeaux are taking on crisis proportions, with Les Girondins down to 12th following a 5-1 trouncing by Lorient. At the sink end of the standings, Monaco and Lens are in desperate trouble following a 2-0 defeat to Brest and 3-2 reverse against Sochaux respectively.
Top three: Lille (45 points), Rennes (43), Marseille (42)
Bottom three: Monaco, Lens (both 24 points), Arles-Avignon (10)
Leading scorers: Moussa Sow (16 goals), Kevin Gameiro (15), Nene (13)
Weekend stat: 14 – Auxerre drew for the 14th time this season, more than any other team in the league. Doomed Arles-Avignon held Auxerre to a 1-1 stalemate.
English FA Cup: Holders drop out
The FA Cup was the focus of attention for English fans. The biggest match was a fourth-round replay between Chelsea and Everton, the Toffees springing a minor surprise with a 4-3 penalty shoot-out victory to earn a last 16 tie with Reading on 1 March. Manchester City demolished Notts County 5-0 in another replay and will host Aston Villa in the fifth round on 2 March.
In the weekend’s last 16 ties, Stoke beat Brighton 3-0, Birmingham eased past Sheffield Wednesday by the same score and Manchester United ended non-league Crawley Town’s cup run with a 1-0 home success. Bolton also made the quarter-finals with a 1-0 win away to Fulham, but the shock result was third-tier Leyton Orient’s last-gasp 1-1 draw with Arsenal. West Ham meet Burnley on Monday.
In Austria, SV Ried retained the lead in the Bundesliga with a 2-0 victory over LASK Linz. Austria Vienna eased to a 4-0 success against SC Wiener Neustadt and climbed to second, leapfrogging Sturm Graz, who were held 1-1 by second-from-bottom SV Mattersburg.
In Israel, Hapoel Tel Aviv went top, at least for the time being. Last term’s double winners won 3-0 away to Hapoel Beer Sheva and overtook Maccabi Haifa, who meet Hapoel Petah Tikva on Monday evening.
Celtic, meanwhile, seized the initiative in Scotland, cruising to an emphatic 3-0 win over fierce rivals Rangers in the latest Old Firm derby. Neil Lennon's side now hold an eight-point advantage at the top of the standings, albeit having played two games more than the men from Ibrox.