The five-point European review
Though snow, freezing temperatures and ice were the order of the day across Europe this weekend, the title races continued apace in the continent’s most prestigious championships. Liga high-flyers Real Madrid and Barcelona both won, Italy’s top three all dropped points, while in England Manchester United and Chelsea shared the points in a six-goal thriller, allowing leaders Manchester City to ease two points clear. Paris Saint-Germain and Montpellier had productive weekends in France, while Borussia Dortmund opened up a two-point gap in Germany.
FIFA.com rounds up the headline stories from another action-packed weekend in Europe’s biggest leagues.
Chelsea 3-3 Manchester United, Matchday 24 in the English Premier League
Chelsea and Manchester United served up a spectacular show at Stamford Bridge. The points seemed to be the home side’s when David Luiz headed them into a 3-0 lead just after half-time. Sir Alex Ferguson had other ideas, throwing Paul Scholes and Javier Hernandez into the fray and looking on with satisfaction as two Wayne Rooney penalties got title-chasing United back into the game before Chicharito sealed the comeback with a close-range header late on.
Despite their fine performances between the posts, David de Gea and Petr Cech could do little to prevent Sunday’s goal glut, the latest in a series of high-scoring meetings between United, league leaders Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea this season, games that have yielded an amazing average of 5.25 goals. Though delighted to have salvaged something from their visit to London, the Reds now find themselves two points adrift again of neighbours City, who saw off Fulham 3-0.
On the fringe of the relegation zone only two months ago, Sunderland have shot up the table since Martin O’Neill’s arrival in the dugout. Under the stewardship of the Northern Irishman, the Wearsiders have collected an impressive 22 points out of a possible 30, the latest three of them coming in Saturday’s 1-0 win at Stoke City. While Nicklas Bendtner, Sebastian Larsson and Stephane Sessegnon have been firing the bullets up front, the former Manchester United duo of Kieran Richardson and John O’Shea have been helping to keep things tight at the back.
No sooner had Inter Milan regained their form than it has promptly deserted them. Knocked out of the Coppa Italia, beaten by lowly Lecce in the league and then held to a 4-4 draw by Palermo, I Nerazzurri were humbled 4-0 at Roma on Sunday, coach Claudio Ranieri saying his team had "failed to turn up".
Djibril Cisse has experienced every emotion in an incident-packed few weeks. Following a tempestuous first half of the season at Lazio, the Frenchman moved to England in a bid to revive his career and made the best possible start, scoring his first goal for new employers Queens Park Rangers 12 minutes into his debut. His second outing for the Londoners did not quite so well, Cisse picking up a red card in the 2-1 home defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Accustomed to helping his side fight for European places in recent seasons, Villarreal keeper Diego Lopez is now doing everything he can to help them avoid the drop. The Spanish stopper turned in an outstanding display in Sunday’s encounter with Sevilla, for whom Javi Varas was also in fine form. Lopez came out on top, though, as the Yellow Submarine won 2-1 to pull out of the drop zone.
An unknown in Belgium a few short months ago, 18-year-old Michy Batshuayi continues to catch the eye. The Standard Liege striker proved the difference as his side won 2-0 at Lierse, scoring the first of their goals. Instinctive finishing, pace to burn and two-footed with it, the exciting Batshuayi looks to be the complete package.
12 – Surprise Bundesliga contenders Borussia Monchengladbach have got their defensive act together this season. In shipping only 12 goals in 20 outings, Lucien Favre’s side have chalked up nine clean sheets.
7 – Inspired once again by Robin van Persie, Arsenal were in devastating form against Blackburn Rovers, romping to a 7-1 win. The Dutchman hit a hat-trick to consolidate his position at the top of the scoring charts with 22 goals. His opener, which came after only 79 seconds, was his 100th for the Gunners.
8 – Bayern Munich substitutes have been making quite an impact this season, accounting for eight of their side’s goals. The latest sub to get on the scoresheet was Ivica Olic in the 1-1 draw with Hamburg, the Croat having now struck twice from the bench, as has David Alaba, while Arjen Robben has hit three as a replacement and Nils Petersen one.
Five memorable moments
In winter’s grip: Football has not been immune to the big freeze that has swept across Europe in the last few days, with the Caen-Auxerre and Sochaux-Lille matches falling victim to the weather in France, where Saint-Etienne’s meeting with Lorient had to be abandoned after only ten minutes.
The rub of the green: Success breeds confidence, and good fortune too, as Montpellier showed in notching their 42nd goal of the season. The league’s most prolific scorers claimed the points against Stade Brest when Geoffrey Dernis inadvertently deflected team-mate Remy Cabella’s shot off his back and into the net.
Mainz’s main man: Mainz and Mohamed Zidan are enjoying each other’s company again. Back at the club where he enjoyed one of his most productive spells, this time on loan from Borussia Dortmund, the Egyptian opened the scoring in the 1-1 draw with Schalke 04, a result that allowed the reigning German champions to open up a two-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga.
The story goes on: The season’s revelations in Israel, Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona continued their fairytale campaign with a 1-0 win over Maccabi Haifa, which moved them within touching distance of a wholly unexpected league title. Still undefeated, the unfancied northerners, who only came into being in 2000, are 12 points clear of the pack with only six games remaining.
Tempting fate: Barcelona took their unbeaten run at their Camp Nou stronghold to 46 games with a 2-1 defeat of Real Sociedad. The home fans had their hearts in their mouths , however, when a black cat (a symbol of bad luck in Spain) ran across the pitch during Saturday’s game.
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