European Leagues review
A variety of sides made the weekend headlines in Europe, with Italian champions Inter faltering, German giants Bayern awakening from their slumbers, and superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo living up to their billing in El Clasico. In France, Olympique Marseille exploited the leaders’ slip-up, and in England, a trophy slipped from Manchester United’s grasp. FIFA.com reviews the weekend action in Europe’s leading leagues.
Premier League: Stoppage-time choker for Gunners
To win the league, you have to win your home games, as Arsenal may well find out to their cost. With Premier League leaders Manchester United on FA Cup duty, the Gunners contrived to draw their third home fixture on the bounce, and Sunday’s 1-1 stalemate against Liverpool was as dramatic as they come. Robin van Persie put the home side ahead on 98 minutes, but Dirk Kuyt levelled after 102 minutes, with both goals coming from the spot. The abundant stoppage time was caused by an injury to Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher, who had to be given oxygen on the pitch.
Third-placed Chelsea bolstered their position with a 3-1 success away to West Bromwich Albion, while Everton kept their UEFA Europa League hopes alive with a 2-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers. In the tense relegation battle, Wigan Athletic left the drop zone and are now 17th after a 3-1 win away to fellow strugglers Blackpool.
Top three: Manchester United (69 points), Arsenal (63), Chelsea (61)
Bottom three: Blackpool (33), West Ham United, Wolverhampton Wanderers (both 32)
Leading scorers: Dimitar Berbatov (21 goals), Carlos Tevez (19), Darren Bent (14)
Weekend stat: 7 - Roy Hodgson’s seven-game unbeaten run since taking charge of West Brom came to an end against Chelsea.
La Liga: Honours even in clash of the titans
Right on script, Messi and Ronaldo took the leading roles in El Clásico, each scoring from the spot as Real Madrid and leaders Barcelona drew 1-1 at the Bernabeu. The Catalans remain a commanding eight points clear at the top, but the men from the capital could still land a blow or two, as the unofficial World Series continues over the next few weeks with the Spanish Cup final and the home and away UEFA Champions League semi-finals.
Valencia remain on course for Europe’s premier club competition in third thanks to a 3-0 success away to bottom club Almeria. Sevilla suffered a setback in the race for fourth spot, falling 1-0 away to Getafe.
Top three: Barcelona (85), Real Madrid (77), Valencia (63)
Bottom three: Real Zaragoza (33), Hercules (30), Almeria (26)
Leading scorers: Lionel Messi (30), Cristiano Ronaldo (29), David Villa (17)
Weekend stat: 23 – Barcelona are now unbeaten away from home in 23 Spanish top flight matches, comfortably a new record.
Serie A: Mixed feelings in Milan
These are difficult days for champions Inter. Following a defeat in the Milan derby and a whimper of an exit from the Champions League, I Nerazzurri fell 2-0 away to Parma and can abandon any lingering hopes of retaining the Scudetto. By contrast, AC Milan closed in on a first championship triumph since 2004 with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Sampdoria, aided considerably by a surprise 2-1 home defeat for second-placed Napoli against Udinese.
In the fight for a Champions League berth, the men from Udine are even more handily placed following Roma’s painful 3-2 defeat at home to Palermo, although Lazio retained the coveted fourth spot with a 4-1 success away to Catania. Juventus may struggle to make Europe at all after a goalless draw away to Fiorentina.
Top three: AC Milan (71), Napoli (65), Inter (63)
Bottom three: Sampdoria (32), Brescia (30), Bari (21)
Leading scorers: Antonio di Natale (26), Edinson Cavani (25), Marco di Vaio (19)
Weekend stat: 2 – Palermo lie eighth, but the victory over Roma was their first win since 6 February, when they beat champions-elect AC Milan.
Ligue 1: Champions on a charge
Lille still lead in France, but the 1-1 draw with Bordeaux was Les Dogues’ second consecutive fixture without a win, and Marseille are suddenly snapping at their heels. The champions won 2-1 away to south coast rivals Montpellier and are now just a point off the frontrunners. It was also a highly satisfactory dress rehearsal for L’OM, who face Montpellier again in next Saturday’s League Cup final.
Rennes effectively bowed out of the title race with a 2-1 reverse at home to Lorient, and Lyon also suffered a potentially fatal setback in a 1-0 defeat away to Paris St. Germain. At the bottom, Arles-Avignon have looked doomed all season, and can now no longer mathematically escape relegation. Valenciennes administered the coup de grace with a 1-0 win.
Top three: Lille (59), Marseille (58), Lyon (53)
Bottom three: Caen (35), Lens (29), Arles-Avignon (13)
Leading scorers: Moussa Sow (21), Kevin Gameiro (17), Youssef El Arabi (16)
Weekend stat: 5 - St. Etienne, who lost four on the trot a month ago, beat Nancy 2-1 and are now undefeated in five.
Bundesliga: Sigh of relief for resurgent Munich
A week after the dismissal of Louis van Gaal, the situation at troubled Bayern looks a lot rosier following a thumping 5-1 home win over second-placed Bayer Leverkusen. Mario Gomez blasted a hat-trick in 17 minutes as the men from Munich regained third spot and the chance to qualify for the Champions League.
Leverkusen’s defeat and a 3-0 home win for Borussia Dortmund over Freiburg restored the leaders’ eight-point advantage with just four games to go. At the wrong end of the standings, things are looking grim for Wolfsburg. The 2009 champions could only draw 2-2 at home to second-from-bottom St. Pauli, and are now four points off automatically remaining in the top flight.
Top three: Borussia Dortmund (69), Bayer Leverkusen (61), Bayern Munich (55)
Bottom three: Wolfsburg, St. Pauli (both 29), Monchengladbach (26)
Leading scorers: Mario Gomez (22), Papiss Cissé (20), Theofanis Gekas (16)
Weekend stat: 25 - Jupp Heynckes has visited Munich 13 times as a player and 12 times as a coach, and is yet to win. This dismal streak will not be extended next term, as the 65-year-old Leverkusen boss is returning to the Bayern helm for a third spell in charge.
The title race in the Netherlands is wide open again, after champions Twente drew 1-1 away to De Graafschap, allowing PSV Eindhoven to reclaim first place with a 2-0 victory over Heracles Almelo. The top two are level on points, with Ajax just one behind following a 2-1 win away to Nijmegen. There was an unexpected development in Serbia, where top dogs Partizan fell 1-0 at home to Vojvodina Novi Sad, allowing Belgrade rivals Crvena Zvezda to draw level on points courtesy of a 1-0 win away to Metalac. The big match in Turkey saw leaders Trabzonspor edge out champions Bursaspor by the only goal of the game.
Manchester United’s pursuit of the treble came to an end at the weekend. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men fell 1-0 to rivals Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals, Yaya Toure ensuring the Citizens will return to Wembley for the final in May. Roberto Mancini’s side will face Stoke City, who crushed Bolton Wanderers 5-0 in the second semi.