The five-point European review
Borussia Monchengladbach advanced their unlikely title challenge in the Bundesliga with a handsome win over Bayern Munich, La Liga heavyweights Barcelona and Real Madrid continued their private tussle by both winning 4-1, and Arsenal missed the chance to exact revenge on Manchester United. Over in Italy it was business as usual for Serie A’s big guns, while Ligue 1 took a break as the Cup took centre stage in France.
FIFA.com recaps the weekend’s events in Europe’s major leagues.
Still smarting from an 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford earlier in the season and intent on staying in contention for a UEFA Champions League place, Arsenal were not lacking in determination when they hosted Sir Alex Ferguson’s side on Sunday. After a cagey opening 20 minutes, however, it was title-chasing United who gradually began to take the upper hand, their domination rewarded by Antonio Valencia’s header on the stroke of half-time.
The chances flowed more freely after the break as Arsenal sought to find a way back into the game, Robin van Persie eventually pulling them level with a cross-shot. The visitors then had the final say when Danny Welbeck rifled home after being set up by man-of-the-match Valencia, silencing the increasingly vocal home faithful. The three points ensured that United stay in touch with leaders Manchester City, who edged out Tottenham Hotspur in a five-goal thriller earlier in the day.
Out of the limelight since their 1970s heyday, Borussia Monchengladbach are once again nearing the heights in Germany, moving to within a point of leaders Bayern Munich after defeating them 3-1 on Friday. The keys to the Foals new-found success are the inspirational midfield orchestrating of Marco Reus, a well-grooved front line and a miserly defence that has conceded only 12 goals all season, the best record in the Bundesliga.
Celtic are also on a high, having turned a 15-point deficit on Rangers into a four-point lead. The Bhoys made it 12 wins in a row when they downed St Mirren 2-0 on Saturday, while their arch-rivals dropped yet more points in drawing 1-1 at home to Aberdeen. The architect of Celtic’s win was captain Scott Brown, who laid on the first before curling home an excellent clincher.
Earning a move to Chelsea after playing a major hand in Genk’s Belgian championship success last season, teenage goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is continuing to impress between the posts. On loan at Atletico Madrid, Courtois turned in a faultless display as Los Colchoneros strolled to a 4-0 win at Real Sociedad.
Named 2011 Male Athlete of the Year by US Soccer on Friday, Clint Dempsey celebrated the following day by scoring a hat-trick in Fulham’s 5-2 defeat of Newcastle United, further proof that the tireless and instinctive 28-year-old attacking midfielder is at the peak of his powers.
Regarded by Franck Ribery as the most important player in Germany right now and by his coach as one of his most valuable assets, Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski is enhancing his reputation in the Bundesliga. The Pole got his name on the scoresheet twice in his side’s 5-1 thrashing of Hamburg, taking his goal tally for the season to 14.
211 – Roma icon Francesco Totti still has plenty to offer his club, as he proved once again in helping himself to a brace in the 5-1 defeat of Cesena. With 211 goals to his name, the Roma skipper is now the highest-scoring one-club man in Serie A history, having eclipsed the legendary Swede Gunnar Nordahl, who struck 210 goals for AC Milan between 1949 and 1956.
1,000 – Nuremberg celebrated their 1000th Bundesliga match in style, easing past Hertha Berlin 2-0. Founded 111 years ago, Der Klub have won 319 of those games, drawn 251 and lost 430, and have secured nine league titles, the last of them coming in 1968.
216 – In the 216th official meeting between the teams, Real Madrid saw off Athletic Bilbao 4-1 at the Bernabeu. Only one other fixture has been contested on more occasions in Spain: the clásico between Madrid and Barcelona, which has been played 217 times.
3 – The number of points Doxa Drama have amassed 13 games into the season in Greece, the league’s bottom club coming away pointless again on Saturday, when they lost 3-1 to Aris Salonika.
Five memorable moments
Spoils shared in Seville: The southern Spanish city came to a standstill on Saturday evening as Real Betis and Sevilla crossed swords for the first time in three years. After scoring a classy goal apiece in the first half, the arch-rivals had to settle for a point in a game that left the fans looking forward to the return fixture.
The spot-kick kings: Goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso was at it again as Bordeaux followed up their penalty-shootout win over Saint-Etienne in the previous round by edging out Creteil from the spot in the last 32 of the French Cup. Just as they had done against Les Verts, Bordeaux also missed a penalty during normal time.
Ouch, that hurts: A clutch of Bundesliga players made a painful start to 2012 as the German league season resumed after the midwinter break. Bayern Munich Daniel Van Buyten had to hobble off after breaking a bone in his foot, Schalke’s Benedikt Howedes fractured his cheekbone, and Werder Bremen’s Sebastian Prodl suffered a broken nose.
The revival continues: Inter have spring in their step again under Claudio Ranieri, overcoming Lazio 2-1 to make it seven straight wins, with the in-form Diego Milito on target yet again.
Worlds apart: Premier League stragglers Wigan lost again, while top dogs Manchester City picked up another three points. A total of 39 points separates the two sides after 22 games, the league leaders having scored 60 goals to the bottom club’s 19 and conceded 18 to their 45.
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