European Leagues review

There is little between the top two in Italy after the Milanese giants pocketed contrasting results, while Twente surged clear in the Netherlands with a helping hand from Ajax. With the title races remaining wide open in England, France, Germany and Spain, reflects on the latest developments.

Premier League: Top three march on
Champions Manchester United are just two points clear of Chelsea, who have a game in hand, and Arsenal. Wayne Rooney, arguably Europe’s form player of the moment, notched another brace as the Red Devils cruised to a 3-0 reverse of Fulham. Chelsea won at home with equal ease, beating West Ham United 4-1.

Arsenal were involved in much more of a battle, Nicklas Bendtner’s goal to seal a 2-1 victory at Hull City not arriving until the third minute of stoppage time. Manchester City also needed a last-gasp effort from Adam Johnson to salvage a 1-1 draw away to Sunderland.

Top three: Manchester United (66 points), Chelsea, Arsenal (both 64)
Bottom three: Burnley, Hull City (both 24), Portsmouth (19)
Leading scorers: Wayne Rooney (25 goals), Didier Drogba (21), Darren Bent (18)
Weekend stat: 6 – The Gunners’ Danish international Nicklas Bendtner is on a roll at present with six goals in his last four outings, including a hat-trick against Porto in the UEFA Champions League last week.

Bundesliga: Bayer and Schalke in hot pursuit
Leaders Bayern Munich were heading for a shock defeat at home to lowly Freiburg until 15 minutes from time, when Arjen Robben rode to the rescue with a brace to secure a flattering 2-1 win. The league’s top scorer Stefan Kiessling contributed two goals of his own as third-placed Bayer Leverkusen bounced back from last week’s first defeat of the campaign with a 4-2 win over Hamburg. Ruud van Nistelrooy and Co surrendered fourth spot to Borussia Dortmund, 4-1 winners away to Ruhr Valley rivals Bochum.

Schalke beat mid-table Stuttgart 2-1 to remain second. In a relegation six-pointer, Angelos Charisteas netted in the last minute to earn Nuremberg a vital 2-1 success away to tailenders Hertha Berlin. After a superb fourth-placed finish last term, the men from the capital now look doomed to the drop.

Top three: Bayern (56 points), Schalke (54), Bayer Leverkusen (53)
Bottom three: Hannover (23), Freiburg (20), Hertha Berlin (15)
Leading scorers: Stefan Kiessling (16 goals), Edin Dzeko, Kevin Kuranyi (both 14)
Weekend stat: 100 – Claudio Pizarro marked his 100th Bundesliga appearance for Werder Bremen with the only goal of his club’s 1-0 win away to Hoffenheim.

La Liga: No slip-ups from Barça and Real
Reigning FIFA World Player Lionel Messi fired a hat-trick to keep Barcelona level on points with Real Madrid at the top. The Argentinian winger made short work of third-placed Valencia with the game’s three goals, all in the space of 27 minutes.

The men from the capital responded with a comfortable 4-1 win away to Valladolid, and provided a hat-trick man of their own in the shape of Gonzalo Higuain. With Los Che beaten, and Sevilla held 1-1 by Deportivo La Coruna, the top two are now 18 points clear of the pack.

Top three: Real Madrid, Barcelona (both 65 points), Valencia (47)
Bottom three: Tenerife (23), Valladolid (20), Xerez (15)
Leading scorers: Lionel Messi (22 goals), Gonzalo Higuain (19), David Villa (17)
Weekend stat: 0  – Messi has 22 goals in 23 league games, but the Argentinian has some catching up to do in terms of assists: he has yet to lay on a single goal for a team-mate.

Serie A: Milan close in on Inter
Leaders Inter Milan opened the 28th round of matches with a shock 3-1 defeat to struggling Catania, but only one of the pursuing pack took full advantage of the slip-up. Clarence Seedorf struck a last-minute winner for AC Milan against Chievo, taking his team to within a point of the summit.

As for the remaining contenders, third-placed Roma were held 3-3 away to lowly Livorno, Palermo lost 3-2 away to Udinese, Sampdoria drew 1-1 in Bologna, and Juventus tossed away a two-goal lead in a 3-3 draw with bottom club Siena, meaning only one of the top six managed maximum points. On a remarkably goal-rich weekend in Italy, the biggest treat of the lot was reserved for the 21,000 at Stadio Luigi Ferrari, where Genoa and Cagliari served up six goals before half-time in a match which ended 5-3 in the hosts' favour.

Top three: Inter (59 points), AC Milan (58), Roma (53)
Bottom three: Livorno (24), Atalanta, Siena (both 22)
Leading scorers: Antonio di Natale (19 goals), Diego Milito (16), Alberto Gilardino, Giampaolo Pazzini (both 13)
Weekend stat: 3 – The 3-1 reverse against Catania was only Inter’s third defeat of the campaign. Jose Mourinho’s side last lost on 5 December 2009, 2-1 to Juventus.

Ligue 1: Yet more drama in title thriller
With the exception of Spain, where events are following a predictable course, the title races around Europe are all nicely poised, but the biggest thriller of all is in France, where the gap between leaders Bordeaux and sixth-placed Marseille is a mere three points. The top two both dropped points at the weekend to ratchet up the tension another notch. Champions Bordeaux played out a goalless stalemate away to Monaco, while second-placed Montpellier also shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw with third-placed Auxerre.

Marseille could have overtaken Auxerre but drew 1-1 in Toulouse, and Lyon had to come from behind to secure the same result against Saint-Etienne, so the big winners of the weekend were Lille, who moved into fourth after beating doomed Grenoble 1-0.

Top three: Bordeaux, Montpellier (both 53), Auxerre (52)
Bottom three: Le Mans (21), Boulogne (20), Grenoble (14)
Leading scorers: Mamadou Niang (15 goals), Nene (13), Mevlut Erding, Lisandro Lopze (both 12)
Weekend stat: 2 - Boulogne beat Nancy for their second away win of term, and their fourth victory altogether. A first win since early December reignites their slender hopes of avoiding the drop.

The big game in the Netherlands saw third-placed Ajax cruise to a 4-1 victory over second-placed PSV and move to within a point of their second-placed opponents. Pacesetters Twente beat Den Haag 3-1 to go five points clear at the top.

It was opening day in the 2010 campaign in Russia. The standings show Terek Groznyi and Tom Tomsk level at the top with champions Rubin Kazan after all three won 2-0. Zenit beat Krylya Sovetov Samara, and Dinamo Moscow overcame city rivals Spartak Moscow, both by a 1-0 scoreline.