The five-point European review
This weekend all eyes turned to Turkey, where the Istanbul derby did not disappoint. In Germany, Bayern Munich continued to rack up the goals, while Ligue 1 leaders Paris St Germain again scored late to salvage a point. Real Madrid also had to content themselves with a draw, unlike Juventus, who got back to winning ways in Serie A, and Manchester United, who made light work of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
FIFA.com rounds up all the big stories from an action-packed weekend of European football.
Fenerbahce 2-2 Galatasaray, Matchday 31 in the Turkish Super Lig
The atmosphere was already electric as great Turkish rivals Fenerbahce and Galatasaray emerged into Sukru Saracoglu stadium on Saturday for a much-anticipated 369th Istanbul derby, and it was at fever pitch by the 18th minute, as the home side quickly built up a 2-0 lead via an acrobatic Moussa Sow volley and a stunning long-range Alex strike.
Gala were by no means out for the count in this intense encounter, and with both teams creating a host of chances, the visitors first pulled one back through Johan Elmander and then equalised courtesy of a late Hakan Balta drive.
This impressive comeback sees Galatasaray practically assured of finishing top of the table ahead of the play-off stage, newly introduced for this season. With just three matches of the first phase left to play, Aslanlar (The Lions) enjoy a nine-point lead in the standings and boast a superior goal difference over second-placed Fenerbahce.
Having triumphantly returned to the English Premier League after a 28-year absence, Swansea City have consistently shown that they are not in the top flight to make up the numbers. Following their shock success over Manchester City last week, the Welsh side pulled off another remarkable victory at Fulham, scoring three times without reply and moving up the table into eighth place. England U-21 international Scott Sinclair appears to have found the ideal stage upon which to display his skills, while goalkeeper Michel Vorm has been one of the revelations of the season.
Despite having players of quality such as Marcell Jansen and Heiko Westermann at their disposal and changing their coach mid-season, Hamburg continue to stumble towards the dreaded relegation zone. Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at home to Freiburg will have done nothing to calm the nerves of Die Rothosen’s fans, who have now seen their side secure just one point in five matches. Thorsten Fink, handed the reins of the northern club in October 2011, will need to quickly find a way to reinvigorate his charges if they are to avoid playing second division football next year.
Gokhan Inler’s performances with Napoli are gradually marking him out as a player to watch. Following his goal in last week’s UEFA Champions League defeat at Chelsea, the Swiss midfielder’s tackling and presence against former club Udinese was a key factor in his side’s late comeback to snatch a point in a hotly contested 2-2 draw.
When Arjen Robben plays, he rarely disappoints. The Dutchman has played an active role in Bayern Munich recent goalfests, notching no fewer than seven goals in three matches. The excellent understanding the explosive winger enjoys with both Franck Ribery and Mario Gomez suggests that fans of the German giants will likely witness a few more resounding victories before the end of the season.
Juanfran, one of La Liga’s most impressive performers this season, has been enjoying something of an Indian summer at Levante. The defender’s career came full circle in 2010, when he returned to the club where his professional career had begun in 1994. An integral part of coach Juan Ignacio Martinez’s starting XI, the 35-year-old Spaniard again contributed towards Levante earning a clean sheet in their 1-0 win over Villarreal this weekend.
31 – While Real Madrid will clearly not have enjoyed conceding a late equaliser in their 1-1 home draw with Malaga, Jose Mourinho’s players nevertheless extended their unbeaten run against these opponents at the Santiago Bernabeu to 31 matches.
20 – Bayern Munich have the look of an unstoppable force at the moment, and it does not appear as if there are many immovable objects lining up in their path. Jupp Heynckes’ men have scored a remarkable 20 goals in the last three matches.
5 – There is everything to play for as the title race tightens up in Austria, with just five points separating leaders Red Bull Salzburg from SV Ried, who lie fifth. The scoring charts are just as close; four players share top spot with nine goals.
1 – One defeat in nine games is the surprising series of results Catania have recently put together. The Sicilian outfit maintained their fine form by beating Lazio 1-0 on Sunday, and can now realistically hope to snatch a place in the UEFA Europa League, an achievement no onlooker would have expected at the start of the season.
Five memorable moments
Minnow miracle: In their first-ever season in the Bulgarian A PFG, promoted side Ludogorets are in the process of making quite a name for themselves. The Razgrad-based club easily saw off relegation-threatened Svetkavitsa 5-0 at the weekend, consolidating their historic table-topping position in the process.
Ruinous return: Vedad Ibisevic scored twice on his return to former club Hoffenheim, as Stuttgart ran out 2-1 winners in the Baden-Wurttemberg derby. The Bosnian, who left Hoffenheim for his current employers in the January transfer window, celebrated the opener with a little too much enthusiasm in the eyes of the home support, who made their displeasure heard. The striker may have received the general message, as his reaction after heading his team’s second goal into the net was considerably less demonstrative.
Leaders’ luck: An eye-catching stoppage-time leveller from Christophe Jallet saved Paris St Germain’s blushes, as they struggled to a 2-2 draw away to Caen. The former Lorient player burst into the box, controlled the ball on his chest and slammed the ball into the net on the volley. The club from the French capital have made something of a habit of last-gasp goals this season, as Dijon, Lyon and Montpellier have all found out to their cost in recent weeks.
All for Abidal: Barcelona recorded a solid win away to Sevilla on Saturday evening, a match in which Lionel Messi scored his 150th Liga goal. But these statistics were largely forgotten as thoughts turned to defender Eric Abidal, who will undergo a liver transplant in the coming weeks, and may have to call time on his career as a result. In honour of their French team-mate, Barça’s players wore t-shirts emblazoned with messages of support prior to the game.
Short but sweet: AC Milan talisman Gennaro Gattuso has, by all accounts, been anxious to get back to playing after being sidelined for six months with a serious eye problem. The Italy international only got out onto the pitch for a couple of minutes at the end of Milan’s 2-0 win at Parma, and team-mates and fans of the high-flying Rossoneri will be hopeful that his playing time increases as the weeks go by.