European Leagues review
The title tussles in both England and Spain took another unforeseen twist at the weekend as defeat for Chelsea at Tottenham Hotspur and Barcelona’s goalless draw at neighbours Espanyol allowed the teams leading the chase to close the gap at the top.
Roma, Bayern Munich and Marseille all fared better with the finishing line now firmly in sight, but in each case their closest pursuers also came out on top to keep the suspense alive.
FIFA.com casts a glance back over the last few days of action in Europe’s most prestigious championships, where the sprint for the tape is very much on.
Premier League: Chelsea chastened, United on a high
Uncertainty reigns in England with three games to go, but only two teams can now realistically hope to lay their hands on the crown. The race for honours took an unexpected turn on Saturday as pacesetters Chelsea suffered a 2-1 reverse at Tottenham, with their London rivals surging into fourth spot thanks to a dramatic last-gasp win for Manchester United. Paul Scholes’s injury-time decider sunk neighbours Manchester City at Eastlands to drop Roberto Mancini’s men to fifth and leave the Red Devils a solitary point shy of the Blues.
The front two now lie comfortably clear of Arsenal after the Gunners shipped three late goals at Wigan Athletic to come away with a surprise 3-2 loss. In the lower reaches, promoted side Burnley were undone 2-1 at Sunderland and Hull City drew 0-0 at Birmingham City, leaving both in bad shape and favourites to join Portsmouth in the second tier next term.
Top three: Chelsea (77 points), Manchester United (76), Arsenal (71)
Bottom three: Hull City (28), Burnley, (27), Portsmouth (15)
Top scorers: Wayne Rooney (26 goals), Didier Drogba (25), Darren Bent (23)
Weekend stat: 3 – Wigan registered as many goals in the final ten minutes against Arsenal as in their last six matches.
Ligue 1: Marseille maintain momentum
The 33rd instalment of games in France was marked by Marseille taking another significant stride towards the Ligue 1 title that has eluded them for the past 18 years. The Mediterranean side almost fell short at second-bottom Boulogne, but a Taye Taiwo penalty in added time earned them a priceless 2-1 success to stay five points clear. They can probably stop worrying about two more of their rivals too, after champions Bordeaux and third-placed Lyon drew 2-2 in wine country.
Auxerre remain the club closest to Marseille after they masterminded a 4-1 success at Lorient, while Lille reinvigorated their hopes of contesting European football next term by overcoming Monaco 4-0 and climbing to fifth. Les Dogues are now hot on the heels of Montpellier, who boast just one point more and could only draw 1-1 with Toulouse as their end-of-season struggles continue.
Top three: Marseille (68 points), Auxerre (63), Lyon (59)
Bottom three: Le Mans (28), Boulogne (24), Grenoble (16)
Top scorers: Mamadou Niang (15 goals), Nene, Kevin Gameiro (both 14)
Weekend stat: 6 – Like all good champions, Marseille have thrived under pressure at the business end of the campaign, putting together a run of six consecutive victories and claiming four of those wins by a single goal.
La Liga: Barça out of breath
Nothing looked like stopping Barcelona last weekend as the Catalan juggernaut put eternal rivals Real Madrid to the sword, but Josep Guardiola’s scintillating side were brought to a halt at the home of their city neighbours. Despite lying 13th in the standings, Espanyol held the Spanish and European champions to a goalless stalemate on Saturday that ratcheted up the title tension, with second-placed Real hauling themselves to within a point on Sunday after goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain inflicted a 2-0 setback on Valencia in third.
Beaten 2-1 at relegation-threatened Valladolid in midweek, Sevilla returned to winning ways by disposing of Sporting Gijon 3-0, though they could lose fourth spot again when Mallorca, in fifth, host Osasuna on Monday. A place lower than the islanders, Villarreal remain on course for a UEFA Europa League berth after winning 2-1 against an Atletico Madrid side that has now lost its last three encounters.
Top three: Barcelona (84 points), Real Madrid (83), Valencia (59)
Bottom three: Tenerife (32), Valladolid (29), Xerez (27)
Top scorers: Lionel Messi (27 goals), Gonzalo Higuain (25), David Villa, Cristiano Ronaldo (both 20)
Weekend stat: 6 – Barcelona’s sixth draw of the Liga season ended their sequence of seven straight triumphs.
Serie A: Roma refuse to stumble
The most recent round of games in Italy was littered with high-stakes contests, kicking off on Friday with Inter Milan’s 2-0 triumph over seventh-placed Juventus. That result took the Nerazzurri back to the summit ahead of Roma, but the capital side responded with a 2-1 derby success against rivals Lazio. Mirko Vucinic helped himself to a double as the Giallorossi advanced a little further down the road to the Scudetto.
For their part, AC Milan dropped even further out of the running after they fell 2-1 to Sampdoria, in fourth, a setback that surely knocked them out of the race once and for all. As for the winners of that game, they now look favourites to sew up the final UEFA Champions League berth and will look to maintain their lead over Palermo, Napoli and Juve, who also have Europa League spots to compete for.
Top three: Roma (71 points), Inter Milan (70), AC Milan (64)
Bottom three: Atalanta (34), Siena (30), Livorno (26)
Top scorers: Antonio di Natale (24 goals), Diego Milito (19), Fabrizio Miccoli (16)
Weekend stat: 24 – Roma have gone 24 matches without defeat, winning 18 of those and drawing the other six to build up a real impetus with four fixtures remaining.
Bundesliga: Bayern in top gear
As statements of intent go, Bayern Munich’s 7-0 defeat of Hanover was decidedly ominous. Louis van Gaal’s men have entered the final straight in peak condition and thrilled their fans with an Arjen Robben hat-trick and two goals apiece for Ivica Olic and Thomas Muller. Second-placed Schalke refuse to fade from view, though, having seen off Borussia Monchengladbach 3-1, and they now have five matches in which to attempt to overtake the leaders.
Behind the front two, disappointment was the order of the day for Bayer Leverkusen, who said a final farewell to their title hopes with a 2-1 loss at Stuttgart. That left them nine points off the pace and, to make matters worse, they also surrendered third spot to Werder Bremen, 4-2 victors at Wolfsburg. At the opposite end of the table, a single point separates Nuremberg, Bochum, Freiburg, and Hanover, all of whom will be desperate to avoid accompanying a Hertha Berlin side seemingly destined for relegation.
Top three: Bayern Munich (63 points), Schalke (61), Werder Bremen (54)
Bottom three: Freiburg (28), Hanover (27), Hertha Berlin (23)
Top scorers: Edin Dzeko (20 goals), Stefan Kiessling (19), Kevin Kuranyi (18)
Weekend stat: 20 – Bayern put in a performance worthy of champions as they dismantled Hanover 7-0 for their biggest Bundesliga victory in 20 years.
Glasgow Rangers are on the brink of glory in Scotland and need just one more win to guarantee their 53rd league crown, and their second in succession, after they overcame Hearts 2-0. Second-placed Celtic kept them waiting another weekend at least as they earned a late 3-2 victory over Hibernian.
The wait is over for Anderlecht, on the other hand, as they celebrated their 30th Belgian title by downing closest challengers Club Brugge 2-1. After two years on top for Standard Liege, the Brussels giants reacquainted themselves with success to confirm their standing as the country’s most titled team.