European Leagues review
It was a mixed weekend for the front-runners in Europe’s big five leagues. The leaders in England, Spain and France comfortably cemented their positions at the top of the pile, but the pressure told in Germany and Italy as Borussia Dortmund and AC Milan suffered setbacks. FIFA.com reviews the weekend action.
Premier League: United stretch lead
In the 30th game of the campaign, Manchester United took a potentially giant stride towards the English title. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men scraped a 1-0 home win over Bolton Wanderers, while second-placed Arsenal could only manage a 2-2 draw away to struggling West Bromwich Albion. The Red Devils are now five points clear of the Gunners, although Arsene Wenger and his men have a game in hand.
In the battle for UEFA Champions League spots, Chelsea beat Manchester City 2-0 to go third, but Tottenham Hotspur lost ground in a goalless draw with lowly West Ham United. In the struggle to avoid the drop, tail-enders Wigan Athletic won a six-pointer against Birmingham City 2-1, and third-from-bottom Wolverhampton Wanderers beat neighbours Aston Villa away from home for the first time in 31 years. The situation at the bottom is as close and dramatic as anyone can remember, with only three points separating 13th-placed Blackburn from Wigan in 20th and last place.
Top three: Manchester United (63 points), Arsenal (58), Chelsea (54)
Bottom three: Wolverhampton Wanderers (32), Birmingham City (31), Wigan Athletic (30)
Leading scorers: Dimitar Berbatov (20 goals), Carlos Tevez (18), Darren Bent, Andrew Carroll, Kevin Nolan, Robin van Persie (all 11)
Weekend stat: 41 – At the grand old age of 41 and fully nine months after hanging up his gloves, former Germany keeper Jens Lehmann made a surprise return to the professional game as an unused Arsenal substitute.
La Liga: No slip-ups for top two
Barcelona and Real Madrid completed routine wins and continue to stride clear at the top. The Catalan giants beat Getafe 2-1, while Jose Mourinho’s side overcame city rivals Atletico by the same score. Villarreal defeated Athletic Bilbao by the only goal of the game to go third, profiting from Valencia’s 1-0 defeat to resurgent Sevilla.
Down in the relegation mire, Malaga pulled off a shock 2-0 win away to fifth-placed Espanyol, putting a dent in Los Periquitos’ hopes of playing in Europe next term. Tail-enders Hercules, meanwhile, were thumped 4-0 at home by mid-table Osasuna. The men from Alicante have not won in six, a dismal streak which cost coach Esteban Vigo his job at the weekend.
Top three: Barcelona (78 points), Real Madrid (73), Villarreal (54)
Bottom three: Malaga (29), Almeria, Hercules (both 26)
Leading scorers: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo (both 27 goals), David Villa (17)
Weekend stat: 2.79 – Barcelona have scored 81 goals in 29 games so far, a goals-per-game average of 2.79. Even when they fall short, as at the weekend, victory is normally the order of the day: Barça have 25 wins this term.
Bundesliga: Attack of nerves at both ends
In the 27th round of matches, gaps closed at the top and bottom of the German top flight. Leaders Borussia Dortmund conceded a controversial late equaliser at home to Mainz and failed to win for the second game in a row. Second-placed Bayer Leverkusen eased to a 2-0 victory over Schalke and cut a once seemingly-unassailable gap to seven points. Meanwhile, Hannover and Bayern Munich in third and fourth beat Hoffenheim and Freiburg 2-0 and 2-1 respectively to keep the pressure on the top two.
European hopefuls Nuremberg were dealt a blow as fast-improving Werder Bremen won 3-1 in Bavaria, while Hamburg made amends for their 6-0 loss at Bayern last weekend by battering hapless Cologne 6-2. Bottom club Borussia Monchengladbach appear doomed after a 1-0 home defeat to Kaiserslautern, but Frankfurt carved out some breathing space with a 2-1 win over fellow strugglers St. Pauli, giving Eintracht their first win in 2011. In Sunday’s relegation tussle, Stuttgart scored with the last kick of the game to steal a point in a 1-1 draw with Wolfsburg.
Top three: Borussia Dortmund (62 points), Bayer Leverkusen (55), Hannover (50)
Bottom three: St. Pauli (28), Wolfsburg (27), Borussia Monchengladbach (23)
Leading scorers: Mario Gomez (19 goals), Papiss Demba Cissé (18), Theofanis Gekas (16)
Weekend stat: 330 – Hamburg’s Ze Roberto now boasts a total of 330 Bundesliga appearances, equalling Sergej Barbarez’ record for the highest number of games played by an overseas import.
Serie A: Milan’s lead melting fast
The minor crisis at leaders AC Milan deepened at the weekend. Following last week’s 1-1 stalemate with bottom club Bari, I Rossoneri lost 1-0 to eighth-placed Palermo. Inter Milan took full advantage, beating lowly Lecce 1-0 and cut their bitter rivals’ lead to two points. Napoli remain third after a 2-1 win over mid-table Cagliari, and Udinese strengthened their grip on fourth with a 2-0 victory against Catania.
Lazio maintained their European push with a 1-0 victory over struggling Cesena, but Roma’s UEFA Europa League hopes took a nosedive after a 2-2 draw with Fiorentina. Seventh-placed Juventus moved to within five points of the Rome outfit with a 2-1 victory over second-from-bottom Brescia.
Top three: AC Milan (62 points), Inter Milan (60), Napoli (59)
Bottom three: Lecce (28), Brescia (26), Bari (17)
Leading scorers: Antonio di Natale (25), Edinson Cavani (22 goals), Samuel Eto'o (19)
Weekend stat: 201 – Francesco Totti passed the 200-goal milestone in the Italian top flight with a brace in his club Roma’s 2-2 draw with Fiorentina.
Ligue 1: Looking good for Lille
Lille underlined their title credentials with a 2-1 victory away to Brest. It was a big win for Les Dogues, who stretched their lead at the top on a weekend where the other title contenders took points off each other. Lyon and Rennes in fourth and third drew 1-1, allowing Marseille to move second with a 2-1 victory over fifth-placed Paris St. Germain.
Among the pack chasing European places, League Cup finalists Montpellier collapsed to a 4-1 home defeat against second-from-bottom Lens. However, neither St. Etienne nor Bordeaux in sixth and eighth made much headway, after draws with Lorient and Valenciennes respectively. In the drop zone, Monaco look in grave peril after a 1-0 defeat to Nancy.
Top three: Lille (55 points), Marseille (51), Rennes (50)
Bottom three: Monaco (29), Lens (28), Arles-Avignon (12)
Leading scorers: Moussa Sow (19 goals), Kevin Gameiro (16), Yousef El-Arabi (14)
Weekend stat: 1 – Lens scored more than two goals in a game for the first time this term, keeping alive their hopes of avoiding the drop with a 4-1 win away to Montpellier.
In Turkey, Fenerbahce beat Istanbul rivals Galatasaray 2-1 and remain top of the SuperLig on 60 points. Trabzonspor are second on goal difference only after defeating Genclerbirligi by the same score. Champions Bursaspor lie third and can remain in the hunt should they beat mid-table Ankaragucu on Monday.
Borac Banja Luka continue to set a hot pace in in Bosnia Herzegovina. In the 19th round of matches, the Premijer Liga leaders beat ninth-placed Celik Zenica by the only goal of the game. Zeljeznicar Sarajevo and FK Sarajevo in second and third both lost, leaving them eight and 11 points respectively off Banja Luka.