With European club competitions rumbling back into life this week, the weekend's league programme was a final warm-up for those involved. The top three in the Bundesliga all won and put distance between themselves and the rest, but the chasing pack in Serie cut Inter Milan's lead as a first defeat of the season for Barcelona breathed new life into the La Liga title race. FIFA.com reviews the latest developments across the continent.
La Liga: Real close on Barcelona
Second-placed Real Madrid finally came to life after half-time against tailenders Xerez, and ended up comfortable 3-0 winners. Cristiano Ronaldo marked his comeback from a two-week suspension with a brace. The win meant Los Merengues cut the gap to leaders Barcelona to just two points, as the Catalans lost for the first time this term. Lionel Messi and Co fell 2-1 to 11th-placed Atletico Madrid in the Spanish capital.
On Saturday evening, Valencia, in third, could do no better than a 1-1 draw with Sporting Gijon, who are ten places below them in the standings. Sixth-placed Deportivo La Coruna also dropped vital points in a 2-0 defeat by mid-table Espanyol. Fourth-placed Sevilla seized their chance and moved four points clear of Depor with a 1-0 win over Osasuna. It is a case of the Canaries versus the Balearics in the Monday night game when promoted Tenerife, struggling in 19th, meet fifth-placed Mallorca.
Top three: Barcelona (55 points), Real Madrid (53), Valencia (43)
Bottom three: Valladolid (19 points), Tenerife (17), Xerez (11)
Leading scorers: Lionel Messi (16 goals), David Villa (15), Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gonzalo Higuain, Roberto Soldado (all 12)
Weekend stat: 10 – Real Valladolid have already clocked up ten draws this season, more than any other club in La Liga. However, as they have also only won three times in 22 games, they lie in the drop zone in 18th position.
Bundesliga: As you were at the top
Bayer Leverkusen remain top, just keeping their noses in front of Bayern Munich courtesy of a 2-1 victory over out-of-sorts reigning champions Wolfsburg, who are 12th. Jupp Heynckes’s team still lead on goal difference from Bayern, who beat fifth-placed Borussia Dortmund 3-1 to chalk up a ninth straight league win [had the Bavarians scored one more goal, they would be top instead].
A quick-fire brace from super sub Ruud van Nistelrooy handed fourth-placed Hamburg a crucial victory away to Stuttgart, who had previously won five on the spin and climbed to tenth. Sixth-placed Werder Bremen moved to within two points of a European qualifying berth with a thumping 5-1 victory away to crisis club Hanover. Schalke refused to be put off by Saturday’s results and cemented their grip on third with a routine 2-0 win over Cologne in the Sunday afternoon game.
Top three: Bayer Leverkusen (48 points), Bayern (48), Schalke (45)
Bottom three: Hanover (17 points), Nuremberg (16), Hertha Berlin (12)
Leading scorers: Stefan Kiessling (13 goals), Kevin Kuranyi, Lucas Barrios, Albert Bunjaku (11 each)
Weekend stat: 61 per cent – Eleven of Nuremberg’s 18 goals this season have been scored by Switzerland international Albert Bunjaku. The striker is thus responsible for just under two-thirds of his club’s goals.
Serie A: Roma cut Inter's lead
Third-placed AC Milan opened the 24th round of matches on Friday evening at home to Udinese, ten places below them in the table. I Rossoneri successfully defended third spot as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar contributed a brace in a 3-2 win. Roma responded on Saturday with an impressive 4-1 victory over seventh-placed Palermo, and remain the chief threat to leaders Inter. The champions, held to a draw by Parma last week, dropped another two points in a goalless stalemate away to fourth-placed Napoli.
After five league matches without a win, Juventus finally chalked up a first success since the first week of January. The Turin heavyweights moved into sixth with a 3-2 win over Genoa. Fifth-placed Sampdoria remain on course for Europe after a 2-0 triumph over Fiorentina, who have slipped to 11th.
Top three: Inter Milan (54 points), Roma (47), AC Milan (45)
Bottom three: Livorno (23 points), Atalanta (21), Siena (16)
Leading scorers: Antonio di Natale (17 goals), Diego Milito (14), Giampaolo Pazzini (12)
Weekend stat: 9 – Roma have won their last nine matches in all competitions and are very much the form team in Italy.
Ligue 1: Top two succeed
Promoted Montpellier’s fairy tale season continues. The top-flight newcomers edged to a 15th win of term, beating rock-bottom Grenoble 1-0, and remain second behind Bordeaux. The leaders were in action on Sunday evening, beating 16th-placed Saint-Etienne 3-1 to restore their three-point advantage over the surprise packages.
The battle for Europe behind the top two is hotting up nicely. Lille, in third, beat Boulogne 3-1, and fifth-placed Marseille won 2-1 away to seventh-placed Monaco. Lyon retained fourth spot with a 1-0 defeat of promoted Lens. Sixth-placed Auxerre beat Rennes, two places below them in the table, 1-0.
Top three: Bordeaux (51 points), Montpellier (48), Lille (44)
Bottom three: Le Mans (17 points), Boulogne (16), Grenoble (10)
Leading scorers: Nene (13 goals), Gervinho, Mamadou Niang (both 11)
Weekend stat: 48 – After 24 games, promoted Montpellier are averaging precisely two points per game. The club in second have amassed more points than the other two promoted clubs, Lens and Boulogne, between them.
Benfica continue to lead the Portuguese Liga, although the Lisbon giants made heavy weather of struggling city rivals Belenenses, Oscar Cardozo netting the only goal of the game. Braga beat sixth-placed Maritimo 2-1 and remain a point off Benfica. Last term’s double winners Porto are third, but were held to a goalless draw by 14th-placed Leixoes.
In the Swiss Super League, Young Boys tightened their grip on pole position with a 2-1 reverse of third-placed Lucerne. Second-placed Basel made sure the gap grew no further on Sunday with a 3-1 win away to Neuchatel Xamax. Sion and Zurich, the clubs in fifth and eighth, drew 1-1.
The Premier League took a break at the weekend for the last 16 ties in the English FA Cup. Chelsea cruised to a 4-1 win over Cardiff City, but Manchester City were held 1-1 by Stoke City and now face a tricky replay away from home. Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur also drew 1-1, while Aston Villa needed a last-gasp equaliser away to Crystal Palace to salvage a replay.