El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona was the standout fixture in Europe at the weekend. The Catalans registered a famous victory in the Spanish capital and took over top spot in La Liga from Jose Mourinho's men, ensuring they travel to the FIFA Club World Cup 2011 with confidence soaring.
Elsewhere, Manchester United reacted to their shock midweek elimination from the UEFA Champions League with a thumping home win, and Paris St Germain closed the gap at the top of Ligue 1 following a rare defeat for leaders Montpellier. The lead changed hands in Italy, where Udinese have edged ahead of Juventus at least until Monday evening. In Germany, Bayern are all but guaranteed to finish top of the standings at the halfway mark after their rivals faltered.
FIFA.com rounds up the latest events in Europe’s major leagues.
Real Madrid-Barcelona, Matchday 16 in Spain
For the first time in quite a while, hosts Real Madrid were narrow favourites for El Clasico against fellow title-contenders Barcelona. The men in white have been in scintillating form at home and in Europe this term, and Karim Benzema even gave Jose Mourinho’s team the perfect start with a goal from the first move of the game, but the Champions League holders recovered their poise and levelled before half-time through Alexis Sanchez.
Barça then smoothly shifted up through the gears in the second half, emphatically reasserting their authority with goals from Xavi and Cesc Fabregas. Pep Guardiola and company now set off for the FIFA Club World Cup 2011 in Japan as league leaders, although Real will recapture top spot if they avoid defeat in next weekend's game in hand.
Manchester United reacted to their shock elimination from the Champions League in midweek with a thumping 4-1 home victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers, and remain hot on the heels of English Premier League leaders and fierce local rivals Manchester City, who face a tricky trip to Chelsea on Monday evening. Portuguese international Nani and English superstar Wayne Rooney eased the Old Trafford frustration with a brace apiece, with Steven Fletcher's goal briefly giving the visitors hope.
In Italy, Udinese are the overnight leaders courtesy of a 2-1 victory over Chievo Verona, although Juventus can regain first place in Monday evening’s trip to Roma. Antonio di Natale continued his sparkling form this season with his tenth goal of the campaign, handing the men from Udine the lead. Dusan Basta doubled the advantage for Francesco Guidolin’s side, who held on for the win despite Alberto Paloschi’s reply.
Paris St Germain striker Kevin Gameiro turned match-winner for his club at the weekend, striking the only goal of the game away to Sochaux. The ex-Lorient forward is up to nine for the season, although it was his first strike since 16 October. The expensively assembled team from the capital are now level on points with leaders Montpellier.
Hometown boy made good Lukas Podolski is more valuable than ever for his club Cologne. The man capped 95 times by Germany struck his fifth double of the season in a 4-0 home victory over Freiburg, and is now up to 13 goals this term. With a mere 15 games played, the 26-year-old has already equalled his own personal best in the Bundesliga from last season. Prinz Poldi has scored seven goals in the last five matches.
Cesc Fabregas started a Clasico for the first time, repaying Pep Guardiola's faith with the goal to wrap up the points at 3-1. The midfielder, a product of the Catalans’ youth academy, capped off a flowing move by meeting Dani Alves' cross with a diving header at the far post, effectively sealing the game for the champions.
50 - Spanish icon Raul made his 50th Bundesliga appearance for Schalke on Friday evening, laying on a goal in a deserved 2-1 victory away to Hertha Berlin. The former Spain international is up to 20 goals for Die Königsblauen, and has turned provider on a further nine occasions.
15 - Lille are now undefeated in their last 15 Ligue 1 fixtures. Last term's double winners won 2-0 against Dijon on Sunday, and currently lie third in the table. Moussa Sow and Eden Hazard found the target for the team beaten only once this term, a 1-0 reverse against leaders Montpellier on Matchday 2. Our other 15s are players: both Robin van Persie of Arsenal and Bayern's Mario Gomez are already up to 15 goals for the season, and top the scoring charts in England and Germany respectively.
4 - After a double strike in Stoke City's unexpected 2-1 success against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, Matthew Etherington is proving to be a regular thorn in Spurs' side. The midfielder now has four Premier League goals against the club he represented between December 2001 and August 2003, more than against any other side.
21 - Karim Benzema needed just 21 seconds to strike the fastest goal in Clasico history, handing Real a dream start against Barcelona. Keeper Victor Valdes’ mis-hit pass landed at the feet of Angel di Maria, who found Mezut Ozil. The German’s shot was deflected, but Benzema was on hand to apply the close range finish.
Five memorable moments
Callsen-Bracker buries former club: Jan-Ingwer Callsen Bracker scored the only goal of the game for Bundesliga minnows Augsburg at home to high-flying Borussia Monchengladbach. The midfielder did no favours at all to the club where he played from July 2008 until December 2010.
It ain't over till it's over: Every youth player is told to focus and keep trying until the final whistle, and Betis Seville showed just why that is a good idea on Saturday. Betis were a goal down to Valencia and seemingly destined to lose in front of their home crowd, but Ruben Castro struck in the first and fourth minute of added time to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat.
Sweet revenge: New Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill celebrated three points and a measure of personal revenge with the Black Cats against Blackburn Rovers. Rovers were the coach’s last opponents as Aston Villa boss before his departure from the Midlands club in August 2010, a game which he lost 1-0.
Father versus son: Lorient’s 1-0 home defeat to Olympique Lyon featured a father versus son clash between home boss Christian Gourcuff and his son Yoann, who plays for the men from the Rhone Valley. It was the eighth time Gourcuff junior has faced a team coached by his dad, and he duly added to his positive record: Yoann has only twice finished on the losing side against Christian.
Successful German import: Germany international Miroslav Klose continued his good start in Serie A with his first two-goal haul in Lazio’s 3-2 victory over Lecce. The striker, who also laid on his side's third, is up to eight goals in his maiden Italian campaign.