European Leagues review
Wayne Rooney, Edinson Cavani and Lucas Barrios delivered when it mattered as Manchester United, Napoli and Borussia Dortmund sealed crucial victories. Elsewhere, one of the great records in world football came to an end in Spain, and a tradition-rich French club maintained their push to recapture past glories. FIFA.com reviews the weekend action in Europe’s leading leagues.
Premier League: Rooney triple, Hodgson’s revenge
Many would argue it has not been a classic campaign from Manchester United, but no-one can doubt the Red Devils’ never-say-die attitude. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men were 2-0 down at half-time away to West Ham United and the title race seemed set for a dramatic twist, but Wayne Rooney responded with a second-half hat-trick as the leaders clinched a 4-2 triumph.
Arsenal managed no more than a goalless draw at home to Blackburn, and Chelsea were held 1-1 away to Stoke City, leaving United seven points clear and with their destiny firmly in their own hands. Manchester City thumped Sunderland 5-0 to overtake Chelsea and go third. There is real drama in the relegation battle this term too, as almost half the league are candidates for the drop. In the highlight clash, Roy Hodgson took sweet revenge on Liverpool by guiding West Bromwich Albion to a 2-1 home win over the club which sacked him at Christmas.
Top three: Manchester United (66 points), Arsenal (59), Manchester City (56)
Bottom three: West Ham United, Wolverhampton Wanderers (both 32), Wigan Athletic (31)
Leading scorers: Dimitar Berbatov (20), Carlos Tevez (19), Darren Bent (13)
Weekend stat: 5 – Manchester United’s victory in the East End of London was only their fifth win in 16 away fixtures this season. However, the Red Devils have failed to win at home only once, in a 2-2 draw with West Brom.
La Liga: Jose’s stunning run draws to a close
Jose Mourinho is a controversial character, but showed himself to be a true sportsman too. Despite the agony of Real Madrid’s 1-0 home defeat to Sporting Gijon, the first time a club coached by Mourinho has lost a league match on their own ground since 23 February 2002, the charismatic boss personally congratulated every single one of Los Rojiblancos’ ecstatic players.
"It's almost impossible to make up an eight-point gap," the Portuguese supremo conceded afterwards. That is the distance between Real and top spot after Gerard Pique fired Barcelona to a crucial 1-0 success away to Villarreal, potentially handing the Catalans a third title on the bounce. Elsewhere, Roberto Soldado blasted all four as six-time champions Valencia went third with a 4-2 win away to Getafe.
Top three: Barcelona (81), Real Madrid (73), Valencia (57)
Bottom three: Hercules, Malaga (both 29), Almeira (26)
Leading scorers: Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi (both 27), David Villa (17)
Weekend stat: 13 - Barça have now won 13 times away from home in La Liga, equalling the record jointly held by Real Madrid (2009/10), Atletico Madrid (1995/96) and themselves (2008/09 and 2009/10).
Serie A: South American sharp-shooters hit the headlines
Alexandre Pato and Edinson Cavani were the heroes of the weekend in Italy. The Brazilian hit a brace as AC Milan recorded a 3-0 victory over champions Inter in a typically incident-packed Milan derby, while the Uruguayan grabbed a hat-trick as Napoli twice came from behind to beat Lazio 4-3. These are worrying times for Inter, now down to third in the standings, whereas the men from Naples are just three points off leaders I Rossoneri and still very much contenders for the crown.
Twenty-year-old hopeful Andrea Bertolacci scored both goals as promoted Lecce won 2-0 at home to Udinese, ending the visitors’ run of 13 games without defeat and seven without conceding. Catania secured the bragging rights on Sicily with a rousing 4-0 victory over Palermo, with Juventus taking the honours in the prestige clash with Roma by a 2-0 margin.
Top three: AC Milan (65), Napoli (62), Inter (60)
Bottom three: Cesena (30), Brescia (29), Bari (20)
Leading scorers: Edinson Cavani, Antonio di Natale (both 25), Marco di Vaio, Samuel Eto'o (both 19)
Weekend stat: 39 - Inter veteran Javier Zanetti has now contested 39 Milan derbies in all competitions. Saturday’s encounter was his 35th derby in a row.
Ligue 1: Who let Les Dogues out?
In France, Lille have run into seemingly unstoppable form. The men from the north dropped no points at all in March, and have now maintained their form into April, comfortably defending top spot with a 3-1 win at home to Caen. However, second-placed Marseille kept up the pressure with a 1-0 victory away to Lens.
The rest of the chasing pack dropped points and lost ground. Rennes drew 0-0 with Auxerre, Lyon were held 2-2 away to Nice, and Paris Saint-Germain played out a goalless stalemate with Lorient. At the wrong end of the standings, Monaco picked up three vital points in a 2-0 win away to bottom club Arles-Avignon.
Top three: Lille (58), Olympique Marseille (54), Rennes (51)
Bottom three: Monaco (32), Lens (28), Arles-Avignon (12)
Leading scorers: Moussa Sow (20), Kevin Gameiro (16), Youssef El Arabi (15)
Weekend stat: 57 – Fully 57 years have passed since Lille last won the French league. The club who were the first official national champions back in 1933 are now well set to recapture the glories of the past.
Bundesliga: Dortmund return to winning ways
Borussia Dortmund’s march on the German title wobbled recently, as the men in yellow and black took only a single point from their two previous matches and went a goal behind to third-placed Hannover on Saturday. But boss Jurgen Klopp’s young side bounced back in style, Lucas Barrios scoring two and laying on another as BVB ran out 4-1 winners. Bayer Leverkusen remained within seven points of the leaders with a 1-0 success away to Kaiserslautern.
The main emotion at Bayern Munich was relief, a late Arjen Robben strike sealing a lacklustre 1-0 home win over bottom club Borussia Monchengladbach. The result sent Munich past Hannover into third, bringing with it the promise of a shot at qualifying for the Champions League.
Top three: Dortmund (65), Leverkusen (58), Bayern (51)
Bottom three: Wolfsburg, St. Pauli (both 28), Monchengladbach (23)
Leading scorers: Papiss Cisse, Mario Gomez (both 19), Theofanis Gekas (16)
Weekend stat: 331 - Ze Roberto has now made a total of 331 Bundesliga appearances for Hamburg, Bayern and Leverkusen. The 37-year-old Brazilian has thus passed Bosnia striker Sergej Barbarez as the overseas player with the most appearances in the German top flight.
There were title celebrations in Portugal, where Porto clinched their 25th league championship with five games to spare. A 2-1 win over Benfica, the defending champions and Porto's closest challengers, increased the gap to 16 points, with Fredy Guarin and Hulk scoring the all-important goals.
A Theo Janssen brace saw Twente Enschede beat PSV Eindhoven 2-0 in the Netherlands, sending the champions top at the previous leaders’ expense. In Turkey, Trabzonspor edged past Konyaspor 1-0 and went first, thanks to a goalless draw between second and third placed Fenerbahce and Bursaspor.
In Russia, the big guns had a weekend to forget: champions Zenit Saint Petersburg drew 2-2 away to Spartak Nalchik, Rubin Kazan lost by the only goal of the game away to Anzhi Makhachkala, and Moscow pair Dynamo and Spartak lost 3-0 and 3-1 to Volga Nizhny Novgorod and Kuban Krasnodar respectively. The two giants from the capital have made a dreadful start to the campaign, with just three points apiece from the first three games.