Slip-ups and giant strides

The weekend brought a mixed bag of results for the leaders around Europe's biggest leagues. Inter Milan, Lyon and Manchester United all maintained or extended their advantage at the top, but Spanish front-runners Barcelona and Bundesliga leaders Hertha Berlin both fell to defeats. In the case of the men from the German capital, the result cost them their lofty perch after just a week at the top. reviews the weekend action in Europe’s biggest leagues.

Premier League: United stride clear

Guus Hiddink's first match in charge at Chelsea ended with the hoped-for return to winning ways, as Nicolas Anelka's 15th goal of the season proved enough to see off high-flying Aston Villa. Manchester United completed an ultimately routine victory over 18th-placed Blackburn, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo hitting the target in a 3-1 success. Roque Santa Cruz scored for Rovers on the half-hour, bringing an end to the Red Devils' run of 1,334 league minutes without conceding a goal.

There were setbacks in the title race for Liverpool and Arsenal who both dropped points at home. The Reds were held 1-1 by Manchester City, while the Gunners and Sunderland played out a scoreless draw.

Top three: Manchester United (62), Liverpool (55), Chelsea (52)
Bottom three: Blackburn Rovers, Middlesbrough (both 23), West Bromwich Albion (22)
Leading scorers: Nicolas Anelka (15 goals), Cristiano Ronaldo (12), Robinho (11)
Weekend stat: 14 – the goal conceded by Manchester United against Blackburn was their first in 14 matches

La Liga: Real make inroads
Rarely have the odds before the derby between Barcelona and Espanyol been so heavily stacked in one team's favour. The leaders went into the match undefeated in 22 games, whereas bottom club Espanyol were on a miserable 14-game winless streak. Incredibly, both runs came to an end in a shock 2-1 victory for Espanyol. Former Barca playmaker Ivan de la Pena struck a brace shortly after the restart to seal the points. Yaya Toure pulled one back for the leaders, who were reduced to ten men on 38 minutes after Seydou Keita's dismissal.

Real Madrid gleefully seized the opportunity to claw back lost ground, thrashing Betis 6-1 at the Bernabeu. All the goals came before half-time: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Raul netted two apiece, with Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Ramos rounding off the half-dozen. Ricardo Oliveira struck a consolation for Betis as Real powered to a ninth win in a row. It was a good day for the pursuing pack too, as Sevilla beat Atletico 1-0, Villarreal defeated Gijon 2-1, and promoted Malaga notched up a 3-1 success in Valladolid.

Top three: Barcelona (60 points), Real Madrid (53), Sevilla (44)
Bottom three: Mallorca (24), Espanyol (21), Numancia (20)
Leading scorers: Samuel Eto'o (23 goals), David Villa (18), Lionel Messi (16)
Weekend stat: 9 – Espanyol's victory at the Camp Nou was only their ninth at the 75th time of asking

Bundesliga: Hamburg surge to the top
Hamburg were the biggest winners on Matchday 21 in Germany. While their rivals from Hoffenheim, Berlin and Munich were all failing to win, the northerners put a severe dent in Bayer Leverkusen's own title hopes with a 2-1 away win. Marcell Jansen netted his first of the season early on, adding a second after half-time to seal the points. Patrick Helmes had levelled for the home side on the half-hour.

Leaders Hertha lost 2-1 on their travels to Wolfsburg, while Bayern slumped by the same score to promoted Cologne, the champions' second home defeat of term. Hoffenheim claimed a point in a six-goal thriller away to Stuttgart, although the surprise package of the season were ultimately left to rue a Sejad Salihovic penalty miss in stoppage time.

Top three: Hamburg (42 points), Hoffenheim, Hertha Berlin (both 40)
Bottom three: Bochum (18 points), Karlsruhe (17), Borussia M'Gladbach (16)
Leading scorers: Vedad Ibisevic (18 goals), Patrick Helmes (16), Mario Gomez (13)
Weekend stat: 5 – Bayern's home defeat to Cologne was only their fifth in 61 Bundesliga fixtures at the Allianz Arena

Serie A: Top teams march on
Results followed the form book in Italy at the weekend as the top six all won. Inter beat Bologna 2-1, Juventus won 2-0 in Palermo, and AC Milan defeated Cagliari by the only goal of the game. In the battle for the final UEFA Champions League berth, Fiorentina beat Chievo Verona 2-1, Genoa won 1-0 in Naples, and Roma saw off Siena by the same score.

Juventus striker Amauri had certainly been hoping for more from his return to a former stamping ground at the weekend, as he was only introduced to the fray in Palermo from the bench with 20 minutes remaining. Fiorentina looked like being held to a frustrating draw with Chievo, only for Adrian Mutu to seal maximum points in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

Top three: Inter Milan (59 points), Juventus (50), AC Milan (48)
Bottom three: Lecce (22), Chievo Verona (20), Reggina (17)
Leading scorers: Marco di Vaio (16 goals), Alberto Gilardino, Diego Milito (15)
Weekend stat: 1200 – AC Milan's 1-0 victory over Cagliari was their 1,200th all-time Serie A win.

Ligue 1: Lyon benefit from triple stalemate

The sides pursuing Lyon in France mustered a 1-1 draw and three goalless stalemates between them. The serial champions took advantage with a 2-0 success away to Nancy. Cris scored early on, before star striker Karim Benzema sealed the points in the last minute.

None of the chasing pack managed a win then, and the sides from second to fourth all failed to score into the bargain. Goalless draws were the order of the day for Paris St. Germain against Grenoble, Olympique Marseille against Le Mans, and Toulouse against Valenciennes. Girondins Bordeaux at least managed to force one over the line away to St. Etienne. Fernando Cavenaghi struck a stoppage-time equaliser after Blaise Matuidi had put the home team in front shortly after the restart.

Top three: Lyon (52 points), Paris St. Germain (46), Olympique Marseille (45)
Bottom three: St. Etienne (25), Sochaux (23), Le Havre (15)
Leading scorers: Andre-Pierre Gignac (15), Fernando Cavenaghi, Guillaume Hoarau (both 13)
Weekend stat: 0 - Paris St. Germain's 0-0 stalemate with Grenoble was their first goalless draw in the league for more than a year

In Portugal, third-placed Sporting beat Benfica 3-2 to go joint second with their city rivals on 37 points. Leaders Porto beat Pacos de Ferreira 2-0 to stretch their advantage over the clubs from the capital to four points.
The twin derbies in the Greek Super League both ended in home wins. PAOK beat Iraklis by the only goal of the game in Thessaloniki, while Panathinaikos edged out Panionios 2-1 in Athens.

The Scottish Premier League, meanwhile, has a new leader after Rangers saw off Kilmarnock 3-1 to leapfrog Celtic, who could only draw 1-1 away to Motherwell.