Surprises spice up title races
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Manchester United and Lyon had a weekend to forget, as the chasing pack in England and France took full advantage of home defeats for the league-leading pair.

In Spain, Italy and Germany, leaders Barcelona, Inter and Hertha Berlin all won, but most of their title rivals succeeded in keeping the pressure well and truly on. FIFA.com reviews the weekend action around Europe.

Premier League: Liverpool and Chelsea close in
Liverpool recorded a famous 4-1 victory away to Manchester United, handing the league leaders their first defeat since 8 November last year, when the champions were beaten 2-1 by Arsenal. Cristiano Ronaldo fired the Red Devils into the lead from the spot midway through the first half, but Liverpool turned the match on its head before the break through Fernando Torres and a Steven Gerrard penalty. Fabio Aurelio and Andrea Dossena struck late on to seal the Reds’ triumph.

Despite the victory, Liverpool remain third in the standings on goal difference behind Chelsea, as Michael Essien’s early goal proved enough for the Blues to beat Manchester City. Arsenal recovered fourth place with a 4-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers. Star signing Andrey Arshavin opened his Premier League account and Emmanuel Eboue wrapped up the win with a brace at the end.

Top three: Manchester United (65 points), Chelsea, Liverpool (both 61)
Bottom three: Stoke City (29), Middlesbrough (27), West Bromwich Albion (22)
Leading scorers: Nicolas Anelka (15 goals), Cristiano Ronaldo (13), Robinho (11)
Weekend stat: 397 - Manchester United lost at Old Trafford for the first time in 397 days. It was also United’s biggest home defeat since 1 January 1992, when the Red Devils fell 4-1 to Queen’s Park Rangers.

La Liga: Real and Barça stride clear
Real Madrid vented their frustration at a sobering UEFA Champions League last-16 exit to Liverpool with a thumping 5-2 victory away to Athletic Bilbao. Klaas Huntelaar struck twice, Gabriel Heinze, Arjen Robben and Gonzalo Higuain netting the other goals in an ultimately comfortable win.

Barcelona were indebted to Bojan Krkic for a brace as the leaders maintained their six-point advantage with a 2-0 win away to Almeria. The big two’s chief pursuers lost ground. Sevilla were held 2-2 in Malaga, and Villarreal lost 3-2 away to Atletico Madrid.

Top three: Barcelona (66 points), Real Madrid (60), Sevilla (51)
Bottom three: Osasuna (26), Numancia (23), Espanyol (22)
Leading scorers: Samuel Eto'o (23 goals), Diego Forlan, David Villa (both 19), Lionel Messi (18)
Weekend stat: 0 – after rattling up 23 goals in the first 23 fixtures, Barca striker Samuel Eto'o has now gone four games and four weeks without a league goal

Bundesliga: Hertha keep rivals at bay
Hertha Berlin beat Bayer Leverkusen to remain four points clear of the chasing pack. On-fire hitman Andriy Voronin struck the only goal of the game in the German capital.

The clubs in second, third and fourth all won and remain level on points behind Hertha. Bayern Munich beat Bochum 3-0, Hamburg won 2-0 against Cottbus, and Wolfsburg defeated Schalke by the odd goal in seven. Promoted 1899 Hoffenheim were top at Christmas but slipped back to fifth at the weekend after being held 1-1 in Frankfurt. Resurgent Werder Bremen, buoyed by success in the UEFA Cup, downed Stuttgart 4-0 to register their first Bundesliga victory in the second half of the campaign.

Top three: Hertha Berlin (49 points), Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg (both 45)
Bottom three: Borussia Monchengladbach (22), Energie Cottbus (20), Karlsruhe (17)
Leading scorers: Vedad Ibisevic (18 goals), Patrick Helmes, Grafite (both 17), Mario Gomez (14)
Weekend stat: 6 – Wolfsburg became the first Bundesliga team to run up six straight victories this season with a 4-3 triumph against Schalke

Serie A: No slip-ups for top three
AC Milan and Juventus made short work of their opponents at the weekend. The Rossoneri and the Vecchia Signora went on goal sprees into the bargain. Milan won 5-1 in Siena, Andrea Pirlo opening the scoring before Filippo Inzaghi and Pato both netted twice. Juventus contrived to go a goal down to promoted Bologna at half-time, but an Alessandro del Piero brace and further goals from Hasan Salihamidzic and Sebastian Giovinco ultimately sealed a convincing 4-1 win.

Leaders Inter found the going much tougher against fourth-placed Fiorentina, but still eased home 2-0 courtesy of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic double strike.

Top three: Inter (66 points), Juventus (59), AC Milan (54)
Bottom three: Torino (24), Lecce (23), Reggina (20)
Leading scorers: Marco di Vaio (19 goals), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (17), Alberto Gilardino, Diego Milito (both 15)
Weekend stat: 300 – In his side’s 5-1 win over Siena, veteran poacher Filippo Inzaghi reached the 300-goal mark for AC Milan

Ligue 1: Big win for Marseille as Lyon slump
Champions and league leaders Olympique Lyon passed up a huge chance to distance themselves from their rivals, conceding a first home defeat of the season. Goals from Ireneusz Jelen and Thomas Kahlenberg at the tail end of each half ensured Auxerre succeeded where all others have failed so far.

Marseille took full advantage of the leaders’ woes. OM triumphed 3-1 away to Paris St Germain in the weekend’s biggest game, drawing level on points with the men from the capital and moving into second on goal difference. Both chasers are now just a point adrift of Lyon. Fourth-placed Bordeaux kept up the pressure with a 2-1 victory over Nice.

Top three: Lyon (53 points), Marseille, Paris St Germain (both 52)
Bottom three: St Etienne (29), Caen (26), Le Havre (18)
Leading scorers: André-Pierre Gignac (17 goals), Guillaume Hoarau (15), Fernando Cavenaghi (13)
Weekend stat: 16 - Lyon lost at home for the first time since a 2-1 defeat to Marseille on 11 November 2007, some 16 months ago

Elsewhere
The prestige duel between two true heavyweights of the Dutch Eredivisie ended with Feyenoord in tenth beating fifth-placed PSV Eindhoven. Leroy Fer fired the only goal of the game on 73 minutes, although the result had no effect on the teams’ respective league positions.

In Israel, leaders Maccabi Haifa extended the gap at the top thanks to an own-goal winner against Bnei Yehoda Tel Aviv. Nearest rivals Hapoel Tel Aviv can pull to within a point by winning their game in hand. Third-placed Maccabi Netanya under coach Lothar Matthaus suffered the disappointment of a scoreless draw with bottom club Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan.