European Leagues review

The FA Cup occupied attentions in England this weekend, but elsewhere the race for championship honours continued at full pelt. Barcelona took a potentially significant step towards retaining their crown in Spain and Borussia Dortmund remain runaway leaders in Germany, with both teams showing real style to go with their commanding advantages. In France, Lyon and Rennes fell further off the pace, while the big names in Italy all enjoyed success. reviews the action from Europe’s leading leagues.

La Liga: Real losing ground
Pacesetters Barcelona put in another excellent display to seal a 3-0 success at Hercules, Lionel Messi helping himself to a double and Pedro Rodriguez also weighing in with a goal. Josep Guardiola’s charges have been imperious atop the Liga standings this season and were even able to stretch their lead as Real Madrid failed to keep pace, the capital club succumbing to a surprise 1-0 reverse at struggling Osasuna to slip seven points behind.

Elsewhere, there were goals galore as Deportivo La Coruna drew 3-3 with a Sevilla team unable to match the performance levels their supporters have come to expect in recent years. Sporting Gijon posted the biggest win of the weekend as they prevailed 4-0 at Mallorca, and a 1-0 success for Villarreal at Espanyol consolidated El Submarino Amarillo in third. Lastly, sixth-placed Athletic Bilbao put five points between themselves and Atletico Madrid by handing the side in seventh a 2-0 defeat.

Top three: Barcelona (58 points), Real Madrid (51), Villarreal (45)
Bottom three: Levante (18), Almeria, Malaga (both 17)
Leading scorers: Cristiano Ronaldo (22 goals), Lionel Messi (21), David Villa (14)
Weekend stat: 15 – Barcelona clinched a 15th consecutive league victory to equal the record set by Real in 1960/61.

Bundesliga: Dortmund still dominant
Dortmund put together a straightforward 3-0 victory at Wolfsburg as they returned to winning ways following their home draw with Stuttgart last time out. The result was a tenth away triumph of the season for Jurgen Klopp’s men and kept them 11 points ahead of nearest pursuers Bayer Leverkusen, who dispatched fifth-placed Hannover 2-0 on Friday.

Michael Ballack and Co thus enjoy a three-point cushion to Bayern Munich after the third-placed side posted a 3-1 win at Werder Bremen that left their hosts teetering on the edge of the relegation zone. Schalke are hardly out of trouble either following their 1-0 reverse at home to Hoffenheim, though there was joy for St. Pauli as they saw off fellow strugglers Cologne 3-0.

Top three: Borussia Dortmund (50 points), Bayer Leverkusen (39), Bayern Munich (36)
Bottom three: Cologne (19), Stuttgart, Borussia Monchengladbach (both 16)
Leading scorers: Papiss Cisse, Mario Gomez (15 goals), Theofanis Gekas (14)
Weekend stat: 10 – the number of wins Dortmund have recorded on their travels this season, already a club record.

Serie A: Tense at the top
Inter Milan seemed to be heading for defeat against Palermo until new striker Giampaolo Pazzini was sent on at half-time. The former Sampdoria man promptly enjoyed a dream debut for the fourth-placed champions, finding the net twice and winning the penalty from which Samuel Eto’o put the seal on a 3-2 comeback win.

City rivals AC Milan remain head of the class, however, after they made light of Mark van Bommel’s dismissal in his first Serie A outing by sealing a hard-fought 2-0 victory away to Catania. Four points back, Napoli kept the leaders within their sights by overcoming Sampdoria 4-0, thanks in large part to a hat-trick from in-form marksman Edinson Cavani. As for, Lazio they downed Fiorentina 2-0 and rose to third, leapfrogging a Roma side whose meeting with Bologna was abandoned due to snow. Juventus are down to seventh, meanwhile, having lost 2-1 at home against Udinese.

Top three: AC Milan (47 points), Napoli (43), Lazio (40)
Bottom three: Cesena (20), Brescia (18), Bari (14)
Leading scorers: Edinson Cavani (17 goals), Antonio di Natale (15), Samule Eto’o (13)
Weekend stat: 0 – the number of away wins Fiorentina have managed this term. La Viola’s last league success on the road came at Napoli on 13 March 2010.

Ligue 1: Lille leading the way
Derby duties called for Lille this weekend and they went into their meeting with northern neighbours Lens desperate to maintain their winning momentum. Rudi Garcia’s side got the outcome they wanted, but they had to wait until the 68th minute to conjure a breakthrough, Ludovic Obraniak feeding fellow bit-part player Tulio de Melo to score the only goal of the match after Eden Hazard had broken down the left.

Behind the frontrunners, Lyon and Rennes were both subjected to damaging defeats, third-placed Lyon losing 2-1 at Valenciennes and Rennes on the wrong end of a 5-1 reverse at Sochaux. Both clubs now find themselves seven points shy of Les Dogues, with Paris Saint-Germain four adrift in second following their 2-1 victory at basement outfit Arles-Avignon. Bordeaux got back on track courtesy of a 2-0 win over Nice and Marseille rounded off Sunday’s programme by being held to a goalless stalemate at Monaco.

Top three: Lille (41 points), PSG (37), Lyon (34)
Bottom three: Lens (22), Monaco (21), Arles-Avignon (8)
Leading scorers: Moussa Sow (15 goals), Nene (13), Youssef El-Arabi (11)
Weekend stat: 5 – Ligue 1’s tightest defence after conceding just 12 times in their opening 20 encounters, Rennes shipped five goals in Sochaux.

Excitement reigned in Turkey as Bursaspor closed to within two points of the summit by seeing off Galatasaray 2-0, that result combining with a 2-0 defeat at Fenerbahce for leaders Trabzonspor. Meanwhile, Besiktas and their phalanx of Portuguese players failed to build on some encouraging recent results as they were beaten 2-1 away against Istanbul Buyuksehir.

The destination of the Eredivisie title remains a matter of intrigue after last-gasp winners for the leading duo. Twente were grateful for Costa Rican forward Bryan Ruiz’s clincher as they edged Feyenoord 2-1 and that kept them a point shy of PSV Eindhoven, for whom Genero Zeefuik registered in added time to down Willem II by the same scoreline. Six points off top spot in third, Ajax have not given up on the crown either after they engineered a 3-0 success at Breda.

In England, league concerns were put on the backburner for the weekend as the FA Cup took precedence, and for Everton and Chelsea a replay at Stamford Bridge is now on the cards after the 2009 finalists played out a 1-1 draw on Merseyside. Fulham were far more emphatic, on the other hand, as they subjected Tottenham Hotspur to a 4-0 defeat, hitting all their goals before half-time.

Manchester United were made to dig deep to see off Southampton 2-1, and third-tier opposition in the shape of Huddersfield Town posed Arsenal plenty of questions as well, before Cesc Fabregas sealed a 2-1 win via a late penalty. The third division will nonetheless boast two representatives in the fifth round in Brighton and Hove Albion and Leyton Orient, with Crawley Town providing the non-league presence.