As the winter break approaches in many European championships, fans of league-leading outfits like Bayern Munich in Germany, or Real Madrid in Spain, may well be able to keep themselves warm simply by glancing at the current standings.
In France, only Lyon were able to profit from Montpellier’s stumble, as Paris St Germain and Lille cancelled each other out. In Italy, Juventus remain on top with AC Milan and Udinese tucked in right behind them, while in England both Manchester clubs won to consolidate their positions at the top of the Premier League.
FIFA.com takes a look at all the facts and figures that marked this weekend’s action in Europe’s major championships.
Manchester City 1-0 Arsenal, Matchday 16 in England
Still smarting from registering their first defeat of the season last week, Manchester City welcomed an improving Arsenal side to town, aware that neighbours Manchester United had already leapfrogged them in the table by overcoming Queens Park Rangers 2-0 earlier in the day. Although the Citizens were unbeaten in all competitions at home in 2011, the Gunners had also taken 22 points from a possible 24 in recent weeks.
It was City’s record that would remain intact, David Silva’s goal at the start of the second half giving Roberto Mancini’s charges a 1-0 victory in a match that could have gone either way, with both clubs guilty of missing some gilt-edged chances. “We came here looking to score goals. It’s always frustrating to lose having produced this type of performance,” said Arsene Wenger after the match. The defeat puts an end to Arsenal’s eight-match unbeaten run in the league and increases the gap between the two sides to a substantial 12 points.
Meanwhile, the result sends City back to the top of the standings. Moreover, a significant five-point gap has now opened up between second-placed United and the chasing pack.
Lille took on Paris St Germain on Sunday with the aim of extending their 15-match unbeaten spell in Ligue 1, and bringing to a close 15 winless years at the Parc des Princes at the same time. Despite the latter statistic, the Parisian stadium still conjures up pleasant memories for Lille fans and players alike, as it was there that they clinched the title with a 2-2 draw last season. Both teams intended to make the most of the slip-up suffered by leaders Montpellier, who could only draw 1-1 with Toulouse the day before. But in the end Les Dogues and PSG could not be separated, and despite Lille’s best attacking efforts in the second half, including an Ireneusz Jelen’s injury-time shot that was magnificently saved by Salvatore Sirigu, the game would finish 0-0.
Real Madrid owed it to their supporters to bounce back in style following their comprehensive defeat at home to great rivals Barcelona last weekend, and they did exactly that against Sevilla, thrashing the Andalusians 6-2 in front of their own supporters in a repeat of the scoreline from last year’s equivalent fixture. The fact that Los Blancos were forced to play with ten men for the entire second half after Pepe’s sending-off made the result all the more impressive. Madrid’s forwards were a constant threat to the Sevilla defence; Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed a hat-trick while Karim Benzema earned a penalty and set up two goals. Angel Di Maria was also among the scorers, while Iker Casillas was another key figure on the night, pulling off a stunning point-blank save to deny Manu del Moral early on in the match. Real complete the first half of the Spanish season as league leaders, taking advantage of the absence of Barcelona – who were busy lifting the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan – to open up a three-point lead at the top.
34-year-old Raul was the undisputed hero of Schalke’s 5-0 win over Werder Bremen, scoring his third hat-trick for the club – and his second against luckless Bremen – and outshining younger marksmen such as team-mate Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and counterpart Claudio Pizarro in the process. The ex-Madrid striker has ten goals and five assists to his name this season. This resounding triumph propels Die Königsblauen into third place, just ahead of Borussia Dortmund on goal difference.
After netting the winner in Dortmund that sent Marseille into the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League, Mathieu Valbuena was again on hand to save his side in the final seconds. 1-0 down at home to Lorient six minutes from time, L’OM looked to be heading for defeat until Valbuena’s fired a splendid shot into the top corner for the equaliser. In injury time, he provoked a free-kick in a dangerous position on the left flank, which he then executed himself, finding the head of Benoit Cheyrou, who scored a late winner for the home team. In so doing, Valbuena recorded his eighth assist of the season in Ligue 1.
Samir Nasri’s first match against former employers Arsenal since his move to Manchester City went as well as he could have hoped, with a victory and Man of the Match award to show for his 90 minutes' work. The instigator of the winning goal with an incisive pass down the left for Mario Balotelli, he also contrived to miss an excellent chance later in the game, overhitting a cross with the goal gaping. Having been in and out of the side recently and left on the bench for the defeat by Chelsea, the Frenchman will have done his chances of persuading Roberto Mancini to give him more playing time no harm at all on the back of this performance.
228 – By taking part in his 228th match for Marseille, Steve Mandanda equalled the club appearances record for a goalkeeper, held by Fabien Barthez. The FIFA World Cup™ winner enjoyed two spells with L’OM: from 1992 to 1995, during which time he won the UEFA Champions League, and from 2004 to 2006.
455 – While Bayern Munich’s 3-0 win over Cologne on Friday was important in maintaining the Bavarians’ place at the top of the table, it also represented something of a personal milestone for coach Jupp Heynckes, who racked up his 455th victory – as a player and coach – in the German top flight, breaking the previous record held by Otto Rehhagel in the process. With his team currently enjoying a three-point lead at the summit, the veteran German tactician can look back on the first half of the season as a job well done, and will likely be optimistic about Bayern’s chances of lifting the title, especially as they have only failed to do so twice before when leading at this stage, in 1970/71 and 1992/93.
35 – For the first time in 35 years, five players have reached the 12-goal mark in the Bundesliga by the halfway point in the season, namely Mario Gomez (Bayern Munich), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Lukas Podolski (Cologne), Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund) and Claudio Pizarro (Werder Bremen). There were some equally familiar names on the 1976 list, which was made up of Gerd Muller, Jupp Heynckes, Benny Wendt, Wolfgang Frank, Dieter Muller and Bernd Holzenbein.
52 – The number of seconds required by Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney to open the scoring at Queens Park Rangers, a match the Red Devils would go on to win 2-0. The strike, his 12th goal of the season, confirmed the England international’s return to form, following his brace last week that ended his ten-match run without a goal in the Premier League.
Five memorable moments
Govou at Gerland: Lyon’s tight 2-1 win versus Evian saw the return of Sidney Govou to Stade Gerland. Brought on as a substitute just after Lisandro Lopez’s winning goal, the former Lyon favourite, who won seven league championship medals with Les Gones, may not have been able to prevent his new club falling to defeat, but is likely to have taken some personal satisfaction from the standing ovation offered to him by the home fans.
Atletico ambush: Atletico Madrid have not won a single match away from home this season, but they paradoxically remained unbeaten at home prior to this weekend’s Liga fixtures. The latter run came to an end at the Vicente Calderon on Sunday, after Real Betis pulled off a fine 2-0 away win through goals from Alejandro Pozuelo and Roque Santa Cruz.
Derby dusted off: Novara’s trip to Turin to take on Juventus saw the renewal of a regional rivalry that had been in hibernation for over half a century: the Piedmont derby. The last match between the teams in Serie A – a 0-0 draw in Novara – had taken place in 1956. This time around, it was La Vecchia Signora who emerged victorious (2-0), a win that enables them to reclaim top spot in the table, having temporarily lost that status after AC Milan defeated Sienna 2-0 the night before.
Dropped points: Following their hard-fought win over Manchester City last Monday, Chelsea missed an excellent opportunity to keep pace with the Premier League leaders this weekend. Despite not putting in a vintage performance, the Blues looked to have pocketed all three points at Wigan courtesy of Daniel Sturridge’s top-class finish, until a Petr Cech handling error gifted Jordi Gomez a straightforward equaliser two minutes from time.
Post-match perspective: Inter Milan appear to have finally put their terrible start to the season behind them, securing their third win in a row on Sunday, 1-0 away to Cesena, a result which sees them climb up to a significantly more comfortable position of fifth in the Serie A standings. Coach Claudio Ranieri was not ready to crack open the champagne just yet, however, criticising the display put on by his side, and declaring that fans would have been better entertained watching Barcelona’s FIFA Club World Cup success earlier that morning.