Nerves take hold across Europe
The battle for domestic league honours around Europe has entered the home straight, but with the exception of the 'Big Four' in England, a host of leaders and title candidates around the continent buckled under the pressure and dropped points at the weekend. FIFA.com reviews the action from around Europe’s top leagues.
Premier League: Usual suspects disappear over the horizon
At the midpoint of the season, the likes of Villa and Everton seemed poised to shake up the established order, but a couple of months later, the Premier League’s Big Four have brushed off the competition and pulled comfortably clear at the top. Leaders Manchester United oozed determination and quality in a stunning recovery from 2-0 down at half-time against Tottenham Hotspur. A Dimitar Berbatov effort and two goals apiece from Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney sealed a 5-2 victory and sent the Old Trafford faithful into raptures.
Liverpool won 3-1 away to Hull City, Chelsea beat West Ham United by the only goal of the game at Upton Park, and Arsenal chalked up a routine 2-0 home win over Middlesbrough. In the relegation dogfight, bottom club West Brom beat Sunderland 3-0, the Baggies' first win in over four months.
Top three: Manchester United (77 points), Liverpool (74), Chelsea (71)
Bottom three: Middlesbrough (31), Newcastle United (30), West Bromwich Albion (28)
Leading scorers: Cristiano Ronaldo (17 goals), Nicolas Anelka (15), Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Robinho (all 13)
Weekend stat: 2 - FIFA World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo likes to get his goals in pairs. The Manchester United superstar netted a brace for the sixth time this season.
La Liga: Real make up ground as Barça draw
After a run of seven wins on the bounce, leaders Barcelona suffered a minor setback in the Spanish title race as fourth-placed Valencia held the Catalan giants to a 2-2 draw. Lionel Messi put the visitors in front, but Hedwiges Maduro and Pablo Hernandez turned the tables in the run-up to the break. Sub Thierry Henry salvaged a point for Barça four minutes from time.
Champions Real Madrid reduced the gap at the top to four points, veteran goal-getter Raul hitting the target three times in a 4-2 triumph away to third-placed Sevilla.
Top three: Barcelona (82 points), Real Madrid (78), Sevilla (57)
Bottom three: Sporting Gijon (33), Recreativo Huelva (30), Numancia (28)
Leading scorers: Samuel Eto'o (27 goals), David Villa (25), Diego Forlan (23)
Weekend stat: 3 – Real legend Raul scored his first hat-trick in almost six years.
Bundesliga: Defeats all round for leading group
The form-book went out of the window in the Bundesliga at the weekend, with leaders Wolfsburg and pursuers Hamburg and Munich all surprisingly defeated. A run of ten straight wins ended for the Wolves in a 2-0 defeat to lowly Cottbus. Hamburg lost by the same score away to Borussia Dortmund, while champions Bayern suffered a major setback in losing 1-0 at home to resurgent Schalke.
Hertha Berlin were the main beneficiaries of their rivals' misfortunes. Coach Lucien Favre’s men went second in the standings with a 1-0 win away to Hoffenheim, as the team who were top at the halfway point continued their free fall down the table. The relegation six-pointer between Borussia Monchengladbach and Arminia Bielefeld ended 1-1.
Top three: Wolfsburg (57 points), Hertha Berlin (55), Bayern Munich (54)
Bottom three: Bielefeld (25), Monchengladbach (24), Karlsruhe (22)
Leading scorers: Grafite (22 goals), Mario Gomez (19), Vedad Ibisevic, Patrick Helmes (18)
Weekend stat: 400 - Borussia Dortmund’s victory against Hamburg was their 400th home win in the Bundesliga
Serie A: New hope for Milan as Inter and Juve slip
In Italy, leaders Inter appear to be running out of steam with the finishing line in sight. After two draws in a row, Jose Mourinho’s men fell to an unexpected 1-0 defeat away to 12th-placed Napoli.
AC Milan beat Palermo 3-0, cutting their city rivals' lead to seven points and also opening up a two-point lead over third-placed Juventus, as the men from Turin dropped points in a 2-2 draw away to bottom club Reggina. In the battle for UEFA Champions League qualifying places, Fiorentina were the big winners with a 4-1 victory over sixth-placed Roma, while Genoa in fifth lost 2-0 to Bologna.
Top three: Inter (74 points), AC Milan (67), Juventus (65)
Bottom three: Bologna (29), Lecce (27), Reggina (24)
Leading scorers: Marco di Vaio (21 goals), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (20), Alberto Gilardino (18)
Weekend stat: 10 – after ten games without a win (eight defeats and two draws), second from bottom Lecce finally returned to winning ways in a 2-1 success against Catania
Ligue 1: Marseille make the most of Lyon's misery
In Ligue 1, Marseille impressively underlined their title credentials by coming back from a goal down away to Lille to record a 2-1 victory. The leaders also profited from Olympique Lyon’s continuing patchy form: the champions were held to a goalless draw by visiting Paris St. Germain in the clash between third and fourth.
Girondins Bordeaux thus held on to second despite not playing a league fixture. Instead, Laurent Blanc’s men beat second division Vannes 4-0 to claim the French League Cup. There was no change at the wrong end of the table, where the bottom four all lost.
Top three: Olympique Marseille (67 points), Girondins Bordeaux (62), Olympique Lyon (61)
Bottom three: St. Etienne (32), Caen (31), Le Havre (21)
Leading scorers: Andre-Pierre Gignac (19 goals), Guillaume Hoarau (17), Karim Benzema (14)
Weekend stat: 3 - Champions Lyon have now gone three league games without a win and have slipped from first place to third, five points off front-runners Marseille.
Newly-crowned Dutch champions AZ Alkmaar drew 1-1 with Ajax in Amsterdam, thwarting the home side’s hopes of going second. In Russia, Spartak Moscow beat Rubin Kazan 2-0, the champions' first defeat of the new campaign.
In Poland, leaders Legia Warsaw and third-placed Lech Poznan drew 1-1. By contrast, Turkish top dogs Sivasspor eased to a 3-0 victory over their third-placed rivals Trabzonspor. Rapid narrowly beat Austria 3-2 in the Vienna derby, but the meeting between Tel Aviv rivals Hapoel and Maccabi finished al square at one apiece.