Big guns meet their match

A number of Europe's frontrunners found the going heavier than expected at the weekend. The top six in Germany and four of the leading half-dozen in Italy all failed to win, while Catalan giants Barcelona face the real possibility of missing out on direct qualification to the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League.

By contrast, the leaders and their closest rivals in England and France marched on at the business end of the Premier League and Ligue 1. reviews the weekend action from the continent's biggest leagues.

Premier League: Dazzling United march on
Manchester United continue to set the standards in England, maintaining their lead at the top of the Premier League with a sparkling, Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired 4-0 triumph against Aston Villa. Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 1-0 and Arsenal came from two goals down to down Bolton Wanderers 3-2 as the London pair kept up the chase.

Liverpool took a giant stride towards a Champions League qualifying place with a 1-0 victory over Everton in the Merseyside derby, leaving the Toffees trailing the Reds by five points.

Top three: Manchester United (76 points), Chelsea (71), Arsenal (70)
Bottom three: Bolton Wanderers (26 points), Fulham (24), Derby County (11)
Top scorers: Cristiano Ronaldo (26 goals), Fernando Torres (21), Emmanuel Adebayor (19)
Weekend stat: Since beating Manchester United on 13 January 1996, Aston Villa have failed to win in 25 subsequent meetings between the clubs.

La Liga: Villarreal up to second
Villarreal are the team of the moment in Spain, defeating Atletico Madrid 3-0 on Saturday evening to replace Barcelona in second spot. Frank Rijkaard's men conceded three second-half goals at Betis after going in at the break 2-0 to the good, putting the Catalans in some danger of missing out on direct qualification for the Champions League.

By contrast, a minor crisis at Real Madrid came to an end when Bernd Schuster's men beat in-form Sevilla 3-1 at home to move six points clear of the new second-placed challengers.

Top three: Real Madrid (65 points), Villarreal (59), Barcelona (58)
Bottom three: Recreativo Huelva (33 points), Real Murcia (26), Levante (19)
Top scorers: Luis Fabiano (22 goals), Daniel Guiza (17), Raul (16)
Weekend stat: Villarreal are currently the most consistent club in La Liga, having taken 21 points from a nine-game undefeated streak since 1 February.

Bundesliga: Winless weekend for frontrunners
The top six in Germany all failed to win on Matchday 26, although Bayern Munich's 1-1 draw away to relegation-haunted Nuremberg kept the leaders a comfortable seven points clear of the field. Second-placed Hamburg were held 1-1 at home by lowly Arminia Bielefeld but remain on course for direct entry into the UEFA Champions League.

Despite a 0-0 stalemate at promoted Karlsruhe, Schalke took over third spot after unexpected home defeats for Bayer Leverkusen and Werder Bremen. Bayer fell 2-0 to in-form Eintracht Frankfurt, with Werder beaten 2-1 by struggling Duisburg. Champions Stuttgart, in sixth, failed to make the most of their rivals' slip-ups with a goalless draw at Hanover.

Top three: Bayern Munich (54 points), Hamburg (47), Schalke (45)
Bottom three: Duisburg, Arminia Bielefeld (both 22 points), Nuremberg (20)
Top scorers: Luca Toni (16 goals), Mario Gomez (15), Mladen Petric (13)
Weekend stat: Bayern keeper Oliver Kahn took over third spot in the all-time Bundesliga rankings after making his 552nd top-flight appearance on Saturday.

Ligue 1: Lyon keep Bordeaux at bay
The top two in the French top flight claimed narrow victories on Matchday 31. Serial champions Lyon travelled to Valenciennes and won 2-1, the same score by which pursuers Bordeaux beat third-placed Nancy in the biggest clash of the weekend.

Marseille seized the opportunity to move three points closer to Nancy with a 2-1 away success against Lorient, but fifth-placed Le Mans and sixth-placed Nice failed to make up ground in the race for Champions League qualifying places. Le Mans were held 1-1 at home by promoted Caen, while Nice lost by the only goal of the game away to Sochaux.

Top three: Lyon (67 points), Bordeaux (58), Nancy (52)
Bottom three: Toulouse (34 points), Paris Saint-Germain (32), Metz (17)
Top scorers: Karim Benzema (17 goals), Mamadou Niang (13), Fernando Cavenaghi, Tulio, Wendel (all 12)
Weekend stat: Paris Saint-Germain sealed the third League Cup triumph of their history at the weekend with a 2-1 victory over fellow relegation strugglers Lens.

Serie A: Inter and Roma denied
Neither top dogs Inter Milan nor closest pursuers Roma managed to win on Matchday 31. Inter drew 1-1 away to Lazio, while Roma were held by the same score on their travels to lowly Cagliari.

The contest for Champions League places remains wide open. Udinese in fifth moved to within three points of fourth-placed Fiorentina after beating them 3-1, but AC Milan in sixth suffered a severe setback in a 2-1 home reverse against Atalanta. Juventus' meeting with Parma was called off.

Top three: Inter Milan (69 points), Roma (65), Juventus (58)
Bottom three: Cagliari (29 points), Reggina (27), Empoli (26)
Top scorers: Marco Borriello (18 goals), David Trezeguet (17), Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Adrian Mutu, Antonio di Natale (all 15)
Weekend stat: Leaders Inter failed to win for the third match in a row. The Italian champions have taken just two points from their last three matches.

Gers on the cusp, Fener march on
A 1-0 home victory in the Old Firm derby against arch-rivals Celtic saw Glasgow giants Rangers stretch their advantage in the Scottish Premier League to six points, taking them to within touching distance of their 52nd domestic crown.

In Turkey, leaders Fenerbahce won 2-1 away to fourth-placed Istanbul rivals Besiktas, opening a five-point gap between themselves and the domestic cup holders. In Greece, third-placed AEK Athens overcame leaders Olympiacos.