European Leagues review
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The weekend was fraught with danger for the teams occupying the top spots in Europe’s major leagues. Even Chelsea, who enjoyed a successful outing in the FA Cup, had to watch Manchester United take pole position in the Premier League, while Barcelona’s 2-2 draw with Almeria opened the door for Real Madrid to rise to the La Liga summit.

Elsewhere, Bordeaux, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan were held to draws that nonetheless kept them out in front in their respective championships. reviews the latest developments.

Premier League: United make the most
With leaders Chelsea busy seeing off Stoke City 2-0 to reach the FA Cup semi-finals, Manchester United seized their chance to assume the driving seat. The Red Devils eked out the slenderest of victories at Wolverhampton Wanderers, with Paul Scholes’s 82nd-minute strike taking them two points clear of the Blues, who nonetheless have a game in hand.

Level with Chelsea, Arsenal also made sure to turn up the pressure at the top via a 3-1 reverse of Burnley. In the weekend’s other games, Everton eased to a 5-1 victory over Hull City and West Ham United dropped precious points in their battle against relegation when they succumbed 2-1 at home to fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers, who also climbed above them in the standings.

Top three: Manchester United (63), Chelsea, Arsenal (both 61)
Bottom three: Hull (24 points), Burnley (23), Portsmouth (19)
Leading scorers: Wayne Rooney (23 goals), Didier Drogba (19), Jermain Defoe (16)
Weekend stat: 100 – Iconic United stalwart Paul Scholes celebrated his 100th Premier League goal against Wolves and he could hardly have reached the landmark at a better time, his effort propelling his team into pole position.

Ligue 1: Contenders spurn chances
Bordeaux missed the opportunity to move three points clear despite playing closest challengers Montpellier with ten men for almost an hour. The reigning went a goal up in the second half and were leading until deep into added time, when the visitors’ Argentinian midfielder Alberto Costa levelled the scores from a free-kick.

A day earlier, Lyon failed to take temporary command over the rest of the division when they played out a goalless draw with one of Montpellier’s fellow promoted sides, Boulogne. Marseille and Lille were also granted chances to bolster their standing in the upper reaches, only to record 1-1 draws with Lorient and Saint-Etienne respectively. Paris Saint-Germain were likewise restricted to a point as they drew 1-1 at Lens in another of the six stalemates in France’s top flight.

Top three: Bordeaux, Montpellier (both 52 points), Lyon (50)
Bottom three: Le Mans (21), Boulogne (17), Grenoble (14)
Leading scorers: Mamadou Niang (15 goals), Nene (13), Gervinho, Lisandro Lopez (both 11)
Weekend stat: 2 – Bordeaux’s key performer thanks largely to two saved penalties, Cedric Carrasso looked set to be grab the headlines until he conceded Alberto Costa’s free-kick from 30 metres out in stoppage time.

La Liga: Last-gasp Real go top
Barcelona’s hold on the reins had looked shaky of late, with the Catalan giants having put in some lacklustre performances since the turn of the year. They finally surrendered pole position due to a hard-fought draw at Almeria, where only two pieces of magic from Lionel Messi salvaged them anything at all. Real Madrid struggled too, going down 2-0 at home to Sevilla, but they managed to claw their way back and a clinched 3-2 victory via a late Rafael van der Vaart strike.

Defeated Sevilla, in fourth, now find themselves level on points with Mallorca, who hauled themselves up to fifth courtesy of a straightforward 3-0 success over Sporting Gijon. Valencia must wait until Monday evening and their meeting with Racing Santander to attempt to consolidate their hold on third. At the opposite end of the table, Real Zaragoza were denied a valuable win by Atletico Madrid’s late equaliser in a 1-1 draw, though they were still able to move five points clear of the bottom three.

Top three: Real Madrid, Barcelona (both 62 points), Valencia (46)
Bottom three: Valladolid, Tenerife (20), Xerez (15)
Leading scorers: Lionel Messi (19 goals), David Villa (17), Gonzalo Higuain (16)
Weekend stat: 13 – Real secured their 13th consecutive victory at their Santiago Bernabeu home, equalling a run of results only achieved three times by the club prior to this season: in 1959/60, 1962/63 and 1985/86.

Serie A: Inter fail to pounce
The high-profile meeting between second-placed AC Milan and the Roma side one spot beneath them failed to produce a winner on Saturday, with the two title hopefuls contesting a goalless affair in the Italian capital. That presented leaders Inter with the perfect opportunity to leave their pursuers in their wake, but they could do no better than draw 0-0 at home against Genoa in what was their fourth stalemate in their last five leagues matches.

Palermo lifted themselves into fourth by downing Livorno 1-0 and the Sicilian side will now be dreaming of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. One place lower, Juventus inflicted a 12th defeat on Fiorentina, who have won just once in their last nine matches. Beaten 2-1 at Bologna, Napoli dropped precious points in the race for European places, while Sampdoria added to Lazio’s woes with a 2-1 triumph that left their victims three points out of the danger zone.

Top three: Inter Milan (58 points), AC Milan (55), Roma (52)
Bottom three: Livorno (23), Atalanta (22), Siena (21)
Leading scorers: Antonio di Natale (19 goals), Diego Milito (15), Giampaolo Pazzini (13)
Weekend stat: 8 – Fiorentina clearly do not enjoy crossing paths with Juve, having now contested eight games without success at home against the Turin giants. Their last home win over I Bianconeri dates back to 13 December 1998, when Gabriel Batistuta netted the decider.

Bundesliga: Bayern held, Bayer lose
Unbeaten in the Bundesliga after a record 24 outings this term, Bayer Leverkusen fell to their first reverse of the season at struggling Nuremberg. A 3-2 loss in Bavaria meant Jupp Heynckes’s men were unable to return to the summit in the wake of Bayern Munich’s 1-1 stalemate at Cologne, and they now find themselves third after Schalke secured an impressive 4-1 victory at Eintracht Frankfurt.

The race for honours will surely come down to that leading trio, with fourth-placed Hamburg seven points off the podium places despite seeing off bottom side Hertha Berlin 1-0. As for Dortmund, they solidified their grip on fifth as Egypt’s Mohamed Zidan struck twice in a 3-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach, while Werder Bremen dented Stuttgart’s recent form with a 2-2 draw.

Top three: Bayern Munich (53 points), Schalke (51), Bayer Leverkusen (50)
Bottom three: Hanover, Friburg (both 20 points), Hertha Berlin (15)
Leading scorers: Stefan Kiessling (14 goals), Kevin Kuranyi (13), Edin Dzeko (12)
Weekend stat: 1 – The last team still unbeaten in one of Europe’s major championships, Bayer saw that record of invincibility come to an end in their 25th fixture. The club nonetheless survived long enough to set a new benchmark for matches without defeat in a single Bundesliga campaign.

There are new leaders in the Netherlands after Twente overcame bottom side Waalwijk 1-0 to move two points clear of PSV, who slumped to a 2-1 reverse against NAC Breda. Third-placed Ajax swept aside Sparta Rotterdam 3-0 and lie six points off the pace.

In Ukraine, frontrunners Dinamo Kiev had to share the points with Illychivets Mariupil on Saturday, following a 1-1 draw. That played into the hands of Shakhtar Donetsk, who moved on to the same points tally as their rivals from the capital by claiming the Donetsk derby spoils with a 1-0 defeat of Metalurg.