Hat-trick hitmen light up Europe
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Manchester United's Dimitar Berbatov led a European parade of hat-trick marksmen over the weekend which also included Arsenal's Robin van Persie, Mario Gomez of Bayern Munich and Sevilla's Luis Fabiano.

Bulgarian star Berbatov bagged his third hat-trick of the season in the 5-0 Old Trafford demolition of Birmingham to take his tally to 18 goals and keep United clear at the top of the Premier League.

His impressive contribution also extended United's 21-game unbeaten run since the season began. "Dimitar is getting up towards that 20-goal mark, which is going to be important for us," United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said.

Berbatov's hat-trick saw him equal Ruud van Nistelrooy's club record from the 2002/03 season by scoring three hat-tricks in a season. He is also only two hat-tricks away from the Premier League record of five scored in a season by Alan Shearer in 1995/96.

The all-time record is held by United legend Denis Law, who struck seven in the old First Division in 1963/64. "Dimitar is realising his ability," said Ferguson. "The other players sense it too. They are playing their part in playing with him. He has special qualities."

Flying Dutchman
Van Persie now has six league goals in an injury-curtailed season after his hat-trick in the 3-0 win over Wigan which kept Arsenal on United's shoulder. The Dutchman could have claimed a fourth but fluffed his penalty attempt.

Van Persie is now back to his best after missing three months with an ankle problem but coach Arsene Wenger insists the striker cannot expect to play every game. "He's back in form," said Wenger. "He was already fit and sharp last week.

"It's important to have him back but we have plenty of offensive players so let's hope we can keep him fit until the end of the season and it's up to us to use him in the right proportion of games we play. He handles it alright. He is intelligent but of course he wants to play."

In Germany, Gomez took his season's league total to 15 with three of the goals in Bayern Munich's 5-1 rout of Kaiserslautern although the defending champions are a massive 14 points behind runaway leaders Borussia Dortmund. "That's my job, I know what is required of me," said the 25-year-old Gomez.

"And I know things go your way, like they did in the first half, when I hung back a little bit and took my time. It happens when you are going through a purple patch, which I am at the moment."

Brazil's Fabiano hit his hat-trick in the 4-1 win over bottom club Levante to take his season's total to eight. Fabiano, who earlier this month became only the fifth Sevilla player to reach 100 goals for the club, kept his team in a comfortable mid-table position. His goal-scoring form also boosted the team ahead of Wednesday's Kings Cup semi-final against Real Madrid.

"Every game is a final now and we have to continue playing like this," said Fabiano. "It will be a great game against Real Madrid and we have to go into the match to get a victory against them and try to go on to retain the Cup. They are a great team but we can beat them. We want another title and to leave Madrid empty-handed."