The five-point European review
Some knockout blows were landed by Europe’s heavyweights this weekend, including Spain’s top two, who both prepared for next week’s top-of-the-table clash by making light work of their respective opponents, and the Premier League’s high-fliers, who chalked up a hatful of goals while securing three valuable points.
In Germany, Bayern Munich took advantage of the draw between Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Monchengladbach to move back to the top of the league. In France, meanwhile, Montpellier won to maintain their lead in Ligue 1, and Juventus did likewise in Serie A.
Barcelona 5-0 Levante, Matchday 15 in Spain
Barcelona can look forward to some key encounters in what promises to be a busy December, such as a much-anticipated league meeting with Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu next week, and a semi-final of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011 on 15 December.
With Real Madrid having seen off Sporting Gijon 3-0 a couple of hours earlier, Barça’s players knew there was no margin for error against Levante at Camp Nou. In the end, the Catalans did what was asked of them and more, dispatching the Valencia-based outfit 5-0, the 15th time that the team has won by that scoreline under Pep Guardiola.
Two goals from Cesc Fabregas, and one each for Isaac Cuenca, Lionel Messi and Alexis Sanchez, as well as two assists from Andres Iniesta, propelled the defending champions to victory, who demonstrated in the process that they can rely on their new signings just as much as they can their established stars. Iniesta’s delightful backheel pass to Fabregas for the opening goal was a case in point.
“We’ll head to the Bernabeu in a determined mood and without fear, focusing on just playing our game,” stated Fabregas after the match. While Real have a game in hand over their eternal rivals, a defeat at home to Barcelona next Saturday could potentially hand their challengers a crucial psychological advantage in the race for the title, just before they set off to Japan in search of a second FIFA Club World Cup crown in three years.
Manchester City remain unbeaten in the English Premier League this season, and their impressive 5-1 defeat of Norwich City this weekend enabled them to maintain their five-point lead over second-placed Manchester United, who overcame Aston Villa 1-0 away from home.
The Red Devils have thus far been unable to claw back the points they lost in the shock 6-1 derby loss to their city rivals at Old Trafford in late October, but will have the chance to gain some semblance of revenge in the FA Cup in January, after Sunday’s third round draw paired the Manchester giants together.
The 14th matchday in England also saw comfortable 3-0 successes for Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur over Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers respectively, and a resounding 4-0 win for Arsenal at Wigan Athletic.
Paris Saint-Germain pulled off a critical 3-2 victory over Auxerre at the Parc des Princes on Sunday, steadying the ship after a difficult November that saw them register three consecutive defeats in Ligue 1 and the UEFA Europa League, one of which included a comprehensive 3-0 reverse at the hands of fierce rivals Marseille.
Given their lofty ambitions for this season, symbolised by some eye-catching pre-season transfer activity, Antoine Kombouare’s charges were in desperate need of this morale-boosting win, which sees them reclaim second spot in the table, after Lille had leapfrogged them on Saturday evening.
Claudio Marchisio continues to come up with the goods at decisive moments for Juventus. Having already notched a brace against AC Milan, and the winner versus Inter Milan, he broke the deadlock again on Sunday in I Bianconeri’s match with Cesena, starting and then finishing off a fine move with aplomb in the 70th minute. The final result of 2-0 sees the Turin outfit maintain their position at the summit of Serie A.
Montpellier’s Olivier Giroud has already demonstrated his considerable finishing abilities this season, as evidenced by his current status as Ligue 1’s leading scorer, but his passing skills were not as widely recognised. The rangy striker set up no fewer than three goals for his team-mates in his club’s 4-0 success over Lorient, and even managed to bag his 12th of the season for good measure. After a hat-trick last week, the newly-capped France international continues to enjoy a memorable season.
Angel Di Maria was again instrumental for Real Madrid in their 3-0 triumph at Gijon. Exhibiting his trademark combativeness, he took advantage of hesitation by Sporting defender Damian Suarez after half an hour to steal the ball on the left flank and drive on to score from what appeared to be an impossible angle. The Argentinian later provided Cristiano Ronaldo with an excellent assist for his side’s second goal, before Marcelo put the finishing touches to Real’s performance with a great individual effort in second-half injury time.
300 – The number of matches that talismanic Udinese front man Antonio Di Natale has now played in Serie A, following his participation in I Zebrette’s impressive win over Inter Milan. The Italian international did not enjoy the perfect 90 minutes he would doubtless have wished for, however, missing a penalty and the chance to score his 140th top-flight goal.
14 – Real Madrid recorded their 14th successive victory – all competitions combined – against Sporting Gijon this weekend, a string of results that places them just one win short of the all-time club record, set back in 1961. Equalling the achievements of Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano and Co will be no mean feat, however, as Los Blancos’ next fixture just happens to be an El Clasico encounter with Barcelona.
13 – Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar had been furiously chasing Mario Gomez in the Bundesliga scoring charts in recent weeks, and the Dutchman finally pulled level with the Bayern forward’s tally of 13 via an audacious backheel flick against Augsburg. That opener paved the way for a comfortable 3-1 win for the Gelsenkirchen-based side, who climb to fourth in the table as a result.
33 – Gervinho’s goal for Arsenal against Wigan finished off a tremendous team move that included 33 passes in a row, which is ten more than any other side has managed this season in the Premier League. The Gunners’ convincing 4-0 win sees them rise to fifth in the standings, while Thomas Vermaelen’s headed goal ended an incredible run of 179 consecutive corners without scoring.
Five memorable moments
Ribery on a roll: Following their surprising defeat by Mainz, Bayern returned to winning ways and reclaimed top spot in the Bundesliga with a 4-1 victory versus Werder Bremen, courtesy of doubles from Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. A thorn in the side of the away team all game, the Frenchman also had a hand in his club's fourth goal, provoking the penalty from which Robben would go on to score, the second spot-kick the Dutchman had converted that afternoon.
Hazardous for keepers: Eden Hazard scored the winning goal in Lille’s 3-2 success in Ajaccio from the penalty spot ten minutes from time, but it was the manner in which the ball hit the net that got fans talking. Sensing that home goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was about to dive, the Belgian delicately chipped the ball right down the middle, Panenka-style. The result sees Lille stretch their unbeaten run away from home to eight matches.
Pazzo penalty: Giampaolo Pazzini, nicknamed ‘Il Pazzo’ (‘The crazy one’), was guilty of missing a last-minute penalty that would have given Inter Milan a share of the points against Udinese on Saturday, in a match I Nerazzuri lost 1-0. “He’ll have two or three sleepless nights reflecting on that moment, that’s all,” said Inter coach Claudio Ranieri philosophically after this latest home defeat.
Like father like sons: Brothers Jordan and Andre Ayew were once again the architects of a Marseille triumph, this time propelling their side to a 2-1 away win over Caen on Friday night. Elder sibling Andre opened the scoring before Jordan notched the winner in the second half. L’OM continue their climb up the league table, which will doubtless please former club star Abedi Pele, father of the two goalscorers.
Ciao Socrates: The football world was in mourning on Sunday upon hearing the sad news that legendary Brazilian international Socrates had passed away. Fiorentina, for whom the midfielder starred during 1984/85, paid homage to their former hero by observing a minute of silence prior to the kick-off of their Serie A win over Roma.