Barcelona and Real Madrid enjoyed comfortable victories this weekend, as did Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City. Manchester United dropped valuable points, though, while struggling heavyweights Inter Milan and Marseille again failed to win.
In its five-point review, FIFA.com looks back on all the action in the major European leagues.
Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United, Matchday 8 in England
Liverpool have enjoyed a decent start to the season, and the arrival of leaders Manchester United offered Kenny Dalglish’s charges an opportunity to gauge their progress. Liverpool’s fans were out in force, and the atmosphere and pre-match strains of club anthem ‘You'll Never Walk Alone’ seemed even more raucous than usual. Steven Gerrard was back in the starting XI for the home side for the first time since March, while their opponents omitted both Wayne Rooney and Nani from their line-up.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men appeared content to soak up pressure and hit on the break, allowing Liverpool to take the initiative. Chances were few and far between, though, and the deadlock was eventually broken in the second half by a Gerrard free-kick. At that point the home fans would have been forgiven for thinking that the points were in the bag. But against the run of play, United found an equaliser through substitute Javier Hernandez, who was perfectly positioned to nod Danny Welbeck’s flick-on into the net. It was a tough blow for the Reds, who nevertheless pressed for a winner in the final minutes, but were unfortunate to come up against an inspired David de Gea.
Manchester City’s 4-1 win over Aston Villa enabled them to leapfrog their city rivals in the table, while Chelsea sit just a point further back in third after they defeated Everton.
Montpellier were promoted back to the French top-flight three years ago, and have not looked out of place ever since. Their 5-3 victory over Dijon, during which they trailed 2-0 after just eleven minutes, once again demonstrated the qualities of this young, solid outfit, who now sit in second place behind PSG. Les Heraultais boast the best attack in the league, as well as a squad containing no fewer than 13 players who were brought through the club’s youth academy, an unusual feat at this level.
After a disappointing 2010/11 season, a reaction from Bayern Munich’s players was somewhat expected, but it is likely that even their most fervent fans did not foresee this kind of response. The figures speak for themselves: the Munich giants boast the highest number of goals scored and the least porous defence, giving them a significant lead at the top of the Bundesliga. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has now gone 748 minutes without conceding a goal and is on the point of entering the record books.
Gonzalo Higuain is back at his very best, having netted his third hat-trick in four matches this weekend. The Real Madrid forward’s triple against Real Betis follows on from those he scored against Espanyol and Chile, the latter coming in an Argentina shirt. As for the issue of whether or not ‘El Pipita’ has moved ahead of Karim Benzema in the pecking order, Jose Mourinho responded: “You can’t really talk about starters with players that are as good as these.”
Vincent Kompany’s star has risen significantly over the past few years, and if his positioning, long passing, technique and aggressive ball-winning skills are anything to go by, it will continue to do so in the future. Regarded as one of the best central defenders in the Premier League, his performances have taken on a whole new dimension since he was handed the captaincy of a Manchester City side firing on all cylinders. The Belgian even managed to chip in with a goal during his club’s triumph against Villa this weekend.
It is very likely that Guti had envisioned a happier end to his illustrious career. Having opted to try his luck with Besiktas last summer, the Spanish midfielder has never quite found his bearings in the Turkish league, much like his team, who lost 2-0 to Kayserispor on Saturday. Now 35, the former Real Madrid star has spent more time on the bench than on the pitch recently, and announced after the match that he is considering retiring from the game altogether.
1 – Augsburg obtained the first Bundesliga victory in their history on Saturday. The promoted club’s 1-0 win in Mainz was even more satisfying for their fans, given that it was secured by a Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker penalty two minutes from time.
5 – The number of scoreless draws recorded this weekend in Serie A. Of the six matches played on Sunday afternoon, Bologna were the only one of 12 teams to find the net.
5 – The minutes it took for Lyon to take complete control in their 3-1 home victory over Nancy. A goal from Bafetimbi Gomis and a brace from Michel Bastos put Les Gones in an unassailable position after just half an hour.
7 – Barcelona continue to collect impressive statistics. Their 3-0 success versus Racing Santander was the Catalans’ seventh home match in a row without conceding a goal.
5. Memorable moments
Family affair: While all matches are important, some mean more than others. This weekend Bayern Munich welcomed Hertha Berlin, coached by one of the Bavarian side’s former stalwarts, Markus Babbel. Hertha’s Thomas Kraft, Christian Lell and Andreas Ottl started their professional careers with Bayern, while current Munich players Ivica Olic and Jerome Boateng were also facing their former club. The latter pair ended up celebrating a 4-0 success.
Defensive despair: Inter Milan’s troubles at the back went from bad to worse over the weekend, as I Nerazzurri fell 2-1 to modest Catania, taking their number of goals conceded to 13 in six matches - the club's worst defensive record at this stage since the 1930/31 season.
Tight at the top in Russia: With three matches to go until the end of the campaign, Zenit St. Petersburg hold a two-point lead over CSKA Moscow, who are closely followed in turn by neighbouring outfits Dynamo, Lokomotiv and Spartak. All of the current contenders will still fancy their chances of lifting the title, in what promises to be an exciting championship play-off.
Actions speak louder than words: Robin van Persie had already underlined his attachment to Arsenal prior to the match with Sunderland. All that was left was to demonstrate that commitment on the pitch, which he promptly did with two excellent goals in the Gunners’ 2-1 win.
Marseille malaise: Unable to find a way past Toulouse’s defence, Marseille’s Ligue 1 struggles continue. The point earned in the 0-0 draw is only the ninth obtained out of a possible 30 this season by the champions of two years ago, despite their having held on to some key players over the summer. A turnaround in fortunes is essential if L’OM are to drag themselves back into the title race.