The five-point European review
On another eventful weekend, Europe’s top footballers laid on plenty of fiery action to counter the big freeze which has the continent in its icy grip. In England, Norwich City are matching Manchester United every step of the way, at least over the last six matches. In Germany, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich continue to set the pace at the top, with AC Milan taking over first place in Italy. The fans in Lille were treated to a remarkable goalfest, and in Spain, Real Madrid’s unlikely hero was a Serbian striker based in Pamplona, who dealt Barcelona’s title hopes a potentially fatal blow. FIFA.com rounds up the latest events in Europe’s major leagues.
Lille-Bordeaux, Matchday 23 in Ligue 1
Third-placed Lille and visiting Bordeaux played out an astonishing nine-goal thriller with twists and turns every step of the way. Nicolas Maurice-Belay fired the visitors into a second-minute lead, but David Rozehnal levelled it up just six minutes later. Bordeaux then worked their way into a seemingly comfortable winning position courtesy of goals from ex-Lille man Ludovic Obraniak (17), Maurice-Belay (50) and Yoan Gouffran (60), to lead 4-1 with an hour played.
However, the home side refused to accept defeat and fought back through Eden Hazard (65) and Mathieu Debuchy (75). In what appeared to be the crowning glory of a stunning comeback, Nolan Roux brought the crowd to its feet with a last-minute equaliser, but silence fell over the ground again in the second minute of added time as Obraniak, who only left Lille for Bordeaux in the January transfer window, sealed a dramatic 5-4 win for his new club against his old.
It sounds unlikely, but it is fair to say that Norwich City are the team of the moment in the English Premier League. The Canaries’ 3-2 victory over fellow top-flight newcomers Swansea City means Norwich are level with Manchester United as the second most successful team over the last six matches. Grant Holt struck a brace and Anthony Pilkington added another in a 16-minute blitz as Paul Lambert’s side came from behind to win at the Liberty Stadium in South Wales. The men in yellow and green are up to eighth after taking 13 points from their last six games.
On Saturday, AC Milan racked up a crucial victory and banished an odd hoodoo in the process, as I Rossoneri beat a team from the top five in Serie A for the first time this term. The 2-1 win away to Udinese means the champions return to the top of the standings, as the weather caused Juventus’ game to be called off. In six previous matches against Juve, Lazio, Udinese and Inter Milan, AC had amassed a paltry two points.
Martin Harnik failed to impress in mid-season training for Stuttgart and was dropped last week after two poor performances on the trot. Coach Bruno Labbadia’s warning shot clearly worked: the Austria international came off the bench to salvage a deserved point in a 2-2 draw with Bayer Leverkusen last time out, and he did even better on his return to the starting line-up at the weekend, firing a hat-trick as Stuttgart demolished sorry Hertha Berlin 5-0.
Since leaving Red Star Belgrade for Osasuna in summer 2010, Dejan Lekic has hardly made a name for himself as a deadly marksman. The Serbian striker shot to prominence at the weekend, however, with a double for the men from Pamplona as the underdogs racked up a famous 3-2 victory over Barcelona. There was just as much joy in the Real Madrid camp, as their win against Levante and Barça’s defeat means that statistics suggest that they may be home and dry: no team has ever failed to win La Liga after holding a ten-point lead at this stage of the campaign.
Peter Odemwingie was the undisputed man of the match as West Bromwich Albion emphatically claimed the Black Country bragging rights with a thumping 5-1 win away to Wolverhampton Wanderers. The Nigeria international moved onto seven goals for the season with a hat-trick as the Baggies ran up their biggest away win of the term and climbed to 14th in the table.
140 – Thomas Muller, winner of the adidas Golden Shoe as the top scorer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, scored Bayern’s second in a 2-0 victory over Kaiserslautern on Saturday. That was unremarkable in itself, except that the 22-year-old had been suffering the first true goal drought of his career and finally hit the target again after a barren 140-day spell. Muller last scored back on 24 September 2011 in a 3-0 victory over Leverkusen.
4 – Emmanuel Adebayor became the first player since Cesc Fabregas in October 2009 to lay on four goals in a Premier League match. The striker set up the first four in Tottenham Hotspur’s 5-0 victory over Newcastle United, crowning a superb individual display by scoring the fifth himself.
7 – Montpellier have not conceded a goal in their last seven matches, although the title-chasing southerners still do not boast the best defence in France's top-flight . However, their 45 goals scored is the best strike rate in the Ligue 1 table.
13 – Before the weekend, Real Zaragoza had gone a miserable 13 matches without a win in La Liga, but a shocking run of 11 defeats and two draws finally came to an end as the bottom club won 2-0 away to Espanyol, their first win in over four months.
Five memorable moments
Ton up for Jupp: Bayern’s 2-0 success against the Red Devils from Kaiserslautern handed Jupp Heynckes his 100th victory as Munich coach. Goals from Mario Gomez and Thomas Muller ensured Bayern remain hot on the heels of champions and Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund.
Carpe diem: Livio Nabab rarely hits the headlines for French side Caen, as the striker hardly rates as an automatic pick for the team. However, Nabab seized the spotlight in his team’s away meeting with Lyon, replacing injured first-choice centre-forward Mbaye Niang early on and then opening the scoring in spectacular fashion. Caen went on to record an unexpected 2-1 victory.
Parting is such sweet sorrow: Thierry Henry certainly knows how to say goodbye: in his last English top-flight outing before returning to New York Red Bulls for the new USA season, the distinguished former France international scored a 90th-minute winner for Arsenal in a 2-1 triumph away to Sunderland.
Slumbering giants awake: After almost three decades of mediocrity, former German giants Borussia Monchengladbach are firmly back among the nation’s elite. The surprise package of the season and their star winger Marco Reus eased to a 3-0 victory over fellow high-flyers Schalke, although the meeting between the sides lying third and fourth was effectively over after just half an hour. Reus, former Germany international Mike Hanke and Juan Arango, recently named Venezuela’s best player of all time, made it an evening to forget for the Royal Blues and their own star Raul.
Joy and sorrow at the death: Nelson was a peripheral figure at Real Betis for fully two years after a series of wrangles with the club and problems with his own fitness, including a nine-month injury lay-off. A fantastic late winner against Athletic Bilbao should go a long way to restoring good relations between the player and the fans. For their part, Bilbao have now dropped eight points to stoppage-time goals this term.