The five-point European review
There were no games between direct title contenders across the major European leagues this weekend, but that did not prevent pacesetters AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund from dropping points to modest opposition. Real Madrid, by contrast, suffered no such setback, making light work of Osasuna.
In France and England, the respective leaders remained top without actually playing. Paris Saint-Germain lost at Nancy, handing Montpellier the chance to stretch their lead against Marseille next week. In the Premier League, Manchester City stumbled at home to Sunderland, and will be relying on Blackburn Rovers to do them a favour against rivals Manchester United on Monday. FIFA.com rounds up all the highlights from an intriguing weekend of European football.
Juventus 3-0 Napoli, Matchday 30 in Serie A
Juventus trimmed AC Milan’s lead at the top of Serie A to two points yesterday evening with a resounding victory over Napoli. Aware that a win was essential following Milan’s surprise 1-1 draw with Catania the previous day, La Vecchia Signora took control in the second half through goals from Leonardo Bonucci, Arturo Vidal and ex-Napoli star Fabio Quagliarella, and in the process maintained the club’s unbeaten record this season. As for Napoli, they remain in fourth, having failed to take advantage of third-placed Lazio’s 3-1 loss to Parma.
Bayern Munich wrapped up a good week for the club by emerging victorious from their trip to mid-table Nuremberg, Arjen Robben grabbing the winner 20 minutes from time. The triumph was doubly satisfying for the Bavarians, as it also cut the gap on leaders Borussia Dortmund to just three points ahead of the teams’ crucial clash on 11 April. The defending champions let two points slip through their grasp at home to Stuttgart on Friday night, in a jaw-dropping 4-4 draw which saw Die Schwaben equalise deep into injury time.
Trailing 3-1 to Sunderland with ten minutes to play, Manchester City dug deep to rescue a point in a match that would eventually finish 3-3. The result extends the Citizens’ remarkable unbeaten home run – which dates back to December 2010 – to 20 games, but also ends a series of 15 consecutive victories at the Etihad Stadium this season. It is the second draw in a row for Roberto Mancini’s men, who will now have to wait and see if Manchester United can stretch their lead over City to five points by defeating Blackburn at Ewood Park.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who had failed to find the net in Pamplona since joining Real Madrid in 2009, was hugely instrumental in his side’s 5-1 triumph away to Osasuna, netting a brace and setting up two more. After providing the cross for Karim Benzema’s fine volleyed opener, the Portuguese attacker, who has now racked up 133 goals in 133 matches for Real, made it 2-0 with an explosive long-range effort that could well go down as one of the strikes of the season. With a deflected free-kick – his first such goal this campaign – 20 minutes from the final whistle, Ronaldo took his personal haul to 37, one more than Lionel Messi, who also scored in Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.
Having contributed a goal and two assists to Newcastle’s win over West Bromwich Albion last week, French playmaker Hatem Ben Arfa put in an outstanding performance once again yesterday, laying two goals on a plate for Papiss Cisse in a 2-0 win over an out-of-sorts Liverpool.
Loaned out by Spanish outfit Grenada after failing to establish a regular place in the team, Yohan Mollo has provided a real boost to Nancy’s attack since his arrival in the January transfer window. The former Monaco winger was in sparkling form against PSG, leading a number of dangerous counter-attacks down the left flank. Mollo’s match-winning performance in the home side’s 2-1 win included a weighted pass for Bakaye Traore’s first-half opener and a well-placed last-minute winner. The result represents the first defeat in Ligue 1 under Carlo Ancelotti for the Parisians, who nevertheless remain in second spot behind Montpellier, whose match against Marseille was postponed until 11 April. Nancy, meanwhile, are up to 11th.
1,095 – Fernando Torres finally hit the net in the league for Chelsea during their 4-2 success at Aston Villa on Saturday. The Spanish striker’s injury-time strike ended a run of 1,095 minutes without scoring a Premier League goal.
7 – Arsenal had won seven games in a row prior to visiting London rivals Queens Park Rangers. They were unable to make it eight, however, as the relegation-threatened home side pulled off a surprise 2-1 victory.
3 – Inter Milan had taken a total of three points from their last five matches at home. I Nerazzurri put two and a half months of disappointment behind them by seeing off Genoa 5-4, offering new coach Andrea Stramaccioni a winning start in what was a hugely entertaining encounter.
1500 – Against Osasuna, Real Madrid recorded the 1,500th league win in the club’s history, and became the first team in Spain to achieve such a feat.
Five memorable moments
Timely triumph: After having spent 16 matchdays stuck in last place in La Liga, Real Zaragoza gave themselves a shot in the arm by coming away from Gijon with all three points. Los Blanquillos’ last-gasp 2-1 win not only propelled them up two places, but it left Sporting propping up the table in their place.
Champions up to challenge: Third-placed Lille, who possess the most productive attack in Ligue 1, hosted Toulouse on Sunday, one spot below them in the standings and holders of the best defensive record in the championship. This tightly contested match between two on-song sides saw the reigning champions emerge with a 2-1 success, and move up to within four points of second-placed PSG. Toulouse, on the other hand, proved incapable of extending their six-match unbeaten run.
Psychological advantage: During the Andalusian derby between Real Betis and Malaga, Ruben Castro opened the scoring for the Seville-based outfit, who went on to win 2-0. To celebrate his crucial strike, the Spaniard ran to the sidelines to embrace the club psychologist, whose recent work has evidently been much appreciated by the players.
Hannover’s home comforts: Hannover remain unbeaten at home this season after beating Borussia Moenchengladbach 2-1 this weekend. Die Fohlen are the latest in a long line of high-flying sides to come unstuck at the AWD Arena, following the defeats suffered by Dortmund and Munich there earlier in the campaign.
Petrov support: Recently diagnosed with leukaemia, Aston Villa captain Stilian Petrov has put his football career on hold in order to combat the disease. Prior to Villa’s match with Chelsea, both sets of players showed their support for the Bulgarian midfielder with specially printed t-shirts, while fans displayed banners and delivered a standing ovation in the 19th minute of the match, in reference to the No19 shirt worn by Petrov.