Pretenders moving on up

With the exception of Liverpool, it proved to be a profitable weekend for the second-placed sides in Europe's major leagues. Real Madrid reduced Barcelona's lead in Spain to four points, Juventus moved to within seven of Inter Milan in Serie A, while PSG now stand just four points adrift of Ligue 1 frontrunners Lyon. And in the Bundesliga Hertha Berlin made the most of Hamburg's slip-up to move back to the top. rounds up the latest news from another weekend of European league action.

Premier League: Liverpool lose more ground
With Manchester United securing the League Cup on Sunday, Liverpool had the chance to trim their lead to four points. A model of defensive solidity in their UEFA Champions League tie against Real Madrid four days earlier, Rafael Benitez's men were no match for a Middlesbrough side anxious to escape the relegation zone, and duly collapsed to a 2-0 defeat.

The Reds' below-par performance allowed Chelsea to move back into second place with a 2-1 home win against Wigan. John Terry opened the scoring for the Londoners only for Olivier Kapo to silence Stamford Bridge eight minutes from time. Frank Lampard's injury-time strike had the home fans smiling, however, as Chelsea continued their recovery under Guus Hiddink.

Top three: Manchester United (62 pts), Chelsea, Liverpool (55)
Bottom three: Middlesbrough, Stoke City (26), West Bromwich Albion (22)
Leading scorers: Nicolas Anelka (15 goals), Cristiano Ronaldo (12), Robinho (11)
Weekend stat: 4 - With four goalless stalemates in their last four outings, Arsenal equalled the Premier League record for consecutive 0-0 draws.

La Liga: Real chase gathers pace
Real Madrid put their midweek Champions League disappointment behind them as they continued their relentless pursuit of Barcelona. A 2-0 triumph over Espanyol allowed Real to move to within four points of Los Azulgranas, who succumbed to their second league reverse in seven days when they went down 4-3 at Atletico Madrid.

Sevilla tightened their hold on third place by winning 2-1 at Athletic Bilbao. The Andalusians are now five points clear of Villarreal, who were held 2-2 by Real Betis.

Top three: Barcelona (60 pts), Real Madrid (56), Sevilla (47)
Bottom three: Osasuna (25), Espanyol (21), Numancia (20)
Leading scorers: Samuel Eto'o (23 goals), David Villa (19), Diego Forlan, Lionel Messi (17)
Weekend stat: 10 - Real's victory at the Montjuic was their tenth straight Liga triumph. Another five wins on the trot will see Los Merengues equal their record.

Serie A: Juventus not giving up
Juventus were the only team in the top six to win. A solitary goal from the promising Claudio Marchisio handed the Turin giants victory over Napoli on Saturday, with leaders Inter Milan coming back from a two-goal deficit at home to Roma to earn a thrilling 3-3 draw 24 hours later.

Third-placed AC Milan lost ground on the top two when they fell to a disappointing 2-1 defeat away to Sampdoria, with Brazilian prodigy Alexandre Pato's goal ten minutes from time coming too late to spark a Rossoneri revival. Fourth and fifth respectively, Fiorentina and Genoa continued their duel for the final Champions League slot by earning draws at Reggina and Siena.

Top three: Inter Milan (60 pts), Juventus (53), AC Milan (48)
Bottom three: Chievo Verona (23), Lecce (22), Reggina (18)
Leading scorers: Marco di Vaio (16 goals), Alberto Gilardino, Diego Milito (15)
Weekend stat: 2 - The number of teams still unbeaten at home in Serie A this season, the two sides in question being Inter Milan and Genoa.

Bundesliga: Hertha back on top
A 2-1 win at bottom-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach allowed Hertha Berlin to open up a two-point lead at the top after Hamburg surprisingly went down 3-1 at home to Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim drew a blank at Dortmund.

Bayern Munich's poor domestic form continued with a goalless draw at Werder Bremen. The Bavarians have now gone three games without a win and stand fifth, four points behind Hertha.

Top three: Hertha Berlin (43 pts), Hamburg (42), Hoffenheim (41)
Bottom three: Energie Cottbus (20), Karlsruhe (17), Borussia Moenchengladbach (16)
Leading scorers: Vedad Ibisevic (18 goals), Patrick Helmes (16), Grafite (14)
Weekend stat: 1.08 - The number of goals Wolfsburg striker Grafite has averaged per game since the start of the season. The Brazilian has netted 14 times in 13 league matches.

Ligue 1: PSG increase the pressure
Paris Saint-Germain confirmed their billing as title candidates by surging to a 4-1 win at home to Nancy on Sunday. Guillaume Hoarau was the main architect of the Parisians' latest win, scoring his fourth double of an increasingly productive season. PSG's championship bid gained further momentum when Lyon could only draw 1-1 with Rennes at the Stade Gerland, a result that saw their lead reduced to four points.

Marseille stay third after 1-0 win at Caen, the only goal coming from Brandao, his first for the club. Bordeaux moved fourth after seeing off Lorient 1-0.

Top three: Lyon (53 pts), Paris Saint-Germain (49), Marseille (48)
Bottom three: Sochaux, Saint-Etienne (26), Le Havre (15)
Leading scorers: Andre-Pierre Gignac, Guillaume Hoarau (15 goals), Fernando Cavenaghi (13)
Weekend stat: 100 - The number of Ligue 1 appearances Karim Benzema has now made.

The top three in the Eredivisie all won. AZ Alkmaar ran out easy 3-0 winners against Groningen, while FC Twente stay second after downing ADO Den Haag 1-0, and Ajax beat Utrecht 2-0. PSV's problems continued when they lost 3-2 at home to Heerenveen.

In the Scottish Premier League the big two from Glasgow maintained their title duel. While Celtic were thrashing St Mirren 7-0, Rangers stayed top on goal difference by beating Hamilton 1-0.