The five-point European review
After the international break, Europe’s big guns came back with a bang in their respective leagues. And while some league leaders, like Real Madrid and Manchester City, lived up to expectations, others, such as Bayern Munich and Paris-Saint Germain, fell to surprise defeats at home.
Real Madrid arrived in Valencia with two principal objectives: maintain the gap between themselves and their third-placed hosts, and hold on to their three-point lead over Barcelona, who had just taken over at the top of the table, following their resounding 4-0 win over Real Zaragoza.
After Karim Benzema opened the scoring and Sergio Ramos made it 2-0, things were very much going according to plan for Jose Mourinho’s men. Former Madrid star Roberto Soldado had other ideas, however, and the match was quickly back to 2-1. Cristiano Ronaldo stretched Los Blancos’ lead shortly afterwards, before Soldado caused the away fans to suffer a nervy ending to the match, reducing the deficit to 3-2.
Los Che pushed hard for an equaliser, creating some excellent chances, including a header that came back off the bar in stoppage time. But a strong mental outlook, teamwork and a bit of luck allowed Real to finish the evening with their 11th successive victory in all competitions.
After an excellent start to the season, Lyon have hit a rough patch, culminating in Friday’s 2-1 home defeat by Rennes. Les Gones had not lost a home match in Ligue 1 for over a year, but a second successive defeat sees them drop from 4th to 5th in the table, swapping places with their visitors from Brittany. Lyon’s results have suffered mainly because of a large number of injuries, the consequence of juggling the requirements of the league and the UEFA Champions League.
The weekened offered an opportunity not to be missed for Juventus: the teams closest to them in the standings were scheduled to face tough challenges away from home, and the Turin-based side had to be ready to take maximum advantage in the event of a slip-up. As it was, Lazio and AC Milan failed to score, drawing 0-0 at Napoli and Fiorentina respectively, while Udinese were forced to travel back from Parma with nothing but a 2-0 reverse to show for their efforts. At the same time, La Vecchia Signora did what they had to do, beating Palermo 3-0 at home to leapfrog Lazio to the top of the table on goal difference. This was Juventus’ tenth match without defeat and third consecutive victory, and they maintain a game in hand over the majority of the chasing pack.
Robin van Persie is currently enjoying some of the best form of his career. Scorer of 13 goals in 12 matches, he notched his third brace of the season for Arsenal on Saturday, against a hard-working Norwich City side who had actually taken the lead earlier in the match. Despite this setback, the Gunners never really looked to be in trouble, creating twenty-odd chances in a 2-1 victory in which they always appeared to have the upper hand. The Dutchman, who sits on top of the Premier League scoring charts, was instrumental in Arsenal racking up their fifth league win in a row.
Returning from a spell on the sidelines through injury, Arjen Robben found himself in the Bayern Munich line-up against Borussia Dortmund, his first start since August, when he scored one of his team’s five goals against Hamburg. As it turned out, Robben’s big comeback was a disappointment as he was substituted a few minutes after Dortmund’s winning goal, scored by Mario Gotze.
Making his own long-awaited return from injury, Newcastle’s French midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa was included in the starting line-up for the first time in over a year against Manchester City, the team against which he sustained his injury in October 2010. It was an eventful 90 minutes for the former Marseille player, who hit the post in the 70th minute, but then committed the foul which eventually led to Sergio Aguero giving City an unassailable lead. The eventual 3-1 win for the home side keeps them at the top of the table, five points ahead of Manchester United.
12 – Inter Milan registered their 12th home match without defeat on Saturday, beating Cagliari 2-1. The Sardinian outfit last won at Giuseppe Meazza stadium in May 1995. The win was only Inter's second at home in the league this season though, and earned them some breathing space in the lower reaches of the Serie A standings.
50 – Borussia Monchengladbach attacking midfielder Marco Reus has scored half of the 20 goals recorded by his team since the Bundesliga season began. Reus notched a hat-trick in his side’s 5-0 demolition of Werder Bremen at the weekend, a result that saw Monchengladbach overtake their opposition into third slot.
99 – The number of minutes that have passed this season between each of Rennes forward Jires Kembo’s goals. Kembo hit the winner in his team’s 2-1 triumph over Lyon and his ratio of a goal every 99 minutes makes the U-21 international (named after former French international Alain Giresse) the most prolific attacker in Ligue 1.
0 – The number of goals conceded at home this season by Barcelona. The latest team to fail to pierce the Catalan rearguard was Real Zaragoza, who were overrun 4-0 at Camp Nou. The last goal let in by Barça at home was scored by Almeria back in April.
Five memorable moments
Nancy upset: Paris Saint-Germain remain at the top of Ligue 1, despite their unsatisfactory loss to Nancy at the Parc des Princes on Sunday evening. This slip-up against the team lying 19th, and with the worst away record in the league this season, is the latest frustrating result for PSG, whose last outing saw them draw with Bordeaux.
Silly Souleymane: Defender Souleymane Diawara celebrated the signing of a one-year extension to his current contract by scoring a goal, but unfortunately for him it was at the wrong end, against Montpellier. In losing 1-0, L'OM ended a run of seven Ligue 1 matches without defeat.
Blues traveller: Chelsea were undone 2-1 by an enterprising and inspired Liverpool side on Sunday. Some 87 minutes into an intense match, right-back Glen Johnson dribbled into the box and coolly sidefooted the ball past Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal for the winner. The identity of the goalscorer was particularly fitting, given that the England international played for the Blues for four years, from 2003 to 2007.
Goal drought for Djibril: Djibril Cisse’s Serie A experience started so well, with a goal against AC Milan on his debut for Lazio. Since then, the French forward has failed to find the back of the net, and never once looked like changing that statistic during his team’s 0-0 draw versus Napoli on Saturday.
Bilbao brilliance: By pulling off a fine 2-1 away win in Seville, Athletic Bilbao continued their excellent run of form over the past couple of months, after suffering a shaky start to the season. The Basque outfit had not won at the Sanchez Pizjuan for 18 long years, and this victory takes them up to sixth in the Spanish table, following on from their solid draw with Barcelona in their previous outing.