The five-point European review
The winter break in the German Bundesliga continues for one more week, but there was a full weekend programme in all the other major leagues in Europe. The biggest game of the lot was the Milan derby, and all in all, it was a satisfactory round of matches for the big guns as the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Paris St Germain all claimed victory. FIFA.com rounds up the latest events in Europe’s major leagues.
AC Milan-Inter Milan, Matchday 18 in Italy
Argentine hitman Diego Milito scored the only goal after 54 minutes of the 277th Milan derby to seal Inter's eighth win in their last nine league fixtures. I Nerazzurri claimed the bragging rights in the north Italian metropolis, but the 2010 UEFA Champions League winners remain fifth in the table, six points off new leaders Juventus.
The men from Turin took top spot off AC Milan, who have now lost three games this term. Last season, the champions beat their city rivals in both league meetings.
For the first time in more than 15 years, Benfica are top of the Portuguese Liga Sagres at the halfway point of the campaign. The nation's most successful club have 12 wins and three draws so far, as a 4-1 victory over Vitoria Setubal rounded off a near-perfect first half of the domestic season for the Lisbon giants. However, Porto defeated Rio Ave Vila do Conde 2-0 to remain hot on the heels of the leaders. The champions are just two points in arrears after recording 11 wins and four draws so far.
Following a 3-1 victory over Almeria in March 2011, Barcelona went 13 games at their home Camp Nou without conceding a goal in the league. That exceptional run came to an end against Real Betis on Sunday evening, as both Ruben Castro (32) and Roque Santa Cruz (52) put the ball past Barça keeper Victor Valdes. The underdogs still went home empty-handed though, losing 4-2.
Paul Scholes of Manchester United came out of retirement last weekend and featured in the biggest tie of the FA Cup third round against Manchester City, exactly 225 days since he officially hung up his boots. The the 37-year-old went one better on Saturday by opening the scoring after 45 minutes of the Red Devils' Premier League clash with Bolton Wanderers, a game United went on to win 3-0. Scholes now seems set to write yet another new chapter in an extraordinary footballing career.
Real Madrid star Gonzalo Higuain marked five years at the club with his 85th goal for the men in white. It was an important one too, cancelling out Mallorca's opener and setting Real on their way to a 2-1 victory. Argentina striker Higuain is now level with the legendary Ronaldo, who finished on 85 goals for the men from Madrid, although the Brazilian required 17 fewer games.
Loic Remy scored twice in the second half as Olympique Marseille won 2-0 against champions Lille in the big match of the weekend in France. L'OM remain sixth, as the leading group also won their games. Paris St Germain beat Toulouse 3-1, Montpellier edged out Olympique Lyon 1-0, and Rennes beat Caen 2-0.
63 - Leaders Real Madrid have set a new La Liga record with 63 goals in the first half of the campaign.
1,000 - In the 1-1 home draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers, Tottenham Hotspur conceded their 1,000th goal in the English league. Spurs are the first Premier League club to pass this unwanted milestone.
18 - Italy's most successful club Juventus are on their best run for more than 60 years. The Old Lady drew 1-1 with Caligari to remain unbeaten and top of the standings 18 games into the season.
2 - The meeting between Atletico Madrid and Villarreal was significant for coaches Diego Simeone and Jose Antonio Molina. Each was in charge of their new clubs for only the second time. The pair are good friends too, having played together for Atletico in a La Liga-winning side of the mid-90s. Simeone was the happier of the pair afterwards as Atletico won 3-0.
Five memorable moments
It never rains but it pours: a torrential downpour caused the Serie A fixture between Catania and Roma to be abandoned in the second half. Some 25 minutes after the restart, and with the match poised at 1-1, the referee took the players off the field in the hope of resuming once the rain stopped, but the pitch was waterlogged and declared unplayable. The remaining 20 minutes will be played at a later date.
That elusive clean sheet: Blackburn Rovers and Norwich City are the first clubs in Premier League history to concede at least one goal in each of their first 21 fixtures.
The only way is up: despite a less-than-satisfactory goals-against record, Blackburn still finished the weekend on a high, as their 3-1 victory over Fulham saw them escape the drop zone for the first time in almost four months. That could change again on Monday evening, but only if fellow strugglers Wigan Athletic beat leaders Manchester City.
Down to earth with a bang: Club Bruges had won five out of six matches since Christoph Daum took the reins in November, but the big game in the Belgian Jupiler League proved a setback for the German coach and his men as they fell 3-0 away to leaders Anderlecht. Bruges remain third, six points off the club from the Brussels suburbs.
Mass exodus: more than 50 Ligue 1 players are on international duty at the CAF African Cup of Nations 2012 from 21 January to 12 February. The leading group including Lyon, Lille, Marseille and Rennes will be hardest hit, as each will be without a minimum of four players for the duration, including the likes of Bakary Kone of Burkina Faso, Andre Ayew of Ghana and Senegal striker Moussa Sow.