The five-point European review
Although fans’ minds in England were likely wandering towards today's Manchester derby, Chelsea stayed focused enough to cut the gap on Newcastle, who slipped up badly at Wigan. In Germany, Dortmund celebrated their Bundesliga title by winning convincingly at Kaiserlautern.
Barcelona’s resounding victory over Rayo Vallecano put Real Madrid’s Spanish title celebrations on ice for at least one more week, while AC Milan continued their dogged pursuit of Juventus in Serie A. Lyon saved their season by lifting the Coupe de France for the fifth time, but it is Montpellier who are on the verge of even greater glory in Ligue 1.
FIFA.com looks back at five key aspects of a busy weekend of European football.
Lille 2-1 Paris St Germain, Matchday 34 in Ligue 1
Lille, playing at a high tempo, took control of the encounter early on. Eden Hazard, who was expected beforehand to be instrumental, did not disappoint, displaying vision and energy throughout. Once the initial onslaught by Les Dogues had passed, however, the Parisians gained a foothold in game that had begun to fluctuate back and forth.
The first real chance of the second half fell to PSG, and Javier Pastore made no mistake with a well-placed looping header. Mamadou Sakho then inadvertently provided Lille with a great chance to get back into the match, bringing Nolan Roux down for a penalty that Hazard coolly converted. Sakho was given a red card to rub salt in the wound, and down to ten men Carlo Ancelotti’s charges looked to shore things up at the back. Hazard had other ideas, picking out Roux, who grabbed the winner with a close-range header.
The 2-1 result propels Lille to within two points of their opponents, while Montpellier, whose lead at the top is now five points, are tantalisingly close to claiming a maiden Ligue 1 title.
Chelsea have chosen just the right time to hit top gear, and now have the closely contested fourth place in the Premier League firmly in their sights. Having achieved the extraordinary feat of eliminating Barcelona from the UEFA Champions League during the week, the Blues maintained their fine form by completely overrunning Queens Park Rangers 6-1 yesterday. A rejuvenated Fernando Torres contributed a hat-trick to a result that will go some way to silencing the critics.
No fewer than three coaches have tried to work their magic on Racing Santander this campaign, but in the end it was all to no avail, as Los Verdiblancos were finally relegated following a disappointing 3-0 loss to Real Sociedad. After ten uninterrupted seasons in the Spanish top flight, the Cantabria side have struggled badly this year, and now lie twelve points adrift with just three games left to play. Pedro Munitis, club legend and first-team regular at the age of 36, will now ply his trade in the Segunda Division next season.
Marouane Fellaini has matured greatly as a player since arriving at Everton from Standard Liege in 2008, to the extent that he is now regarded as one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the Premier League. Having already found the net against Manchester United last week, the rangy Belgian scored again and played a key role in the Toffees’ 4-0 win over Fulham at Goodison Park.
During a laborious 2010/11 campaign with Juventus, Gianluigi Buffon appeared to have suffered a dip in form. With UEFA EURO 2012 now just a few months away, the goalkeeper of the least porous defence in Serie A (18 goals conceded) has reminded Italian fans all season that he is still a force to be reckoned with between the sticks. The former Parma custodian registered yet another clean sheet this weekend in La Vecchia Signora’s 4-0 triumph at Novara.
Raul initially surprised many observers when his post-Real Madrid destination of Germany was revealed. Having led the line at Schalke since 2010, the Spanish goal machine has performed admirably in the Bundesliga, scoring 40 times in 98 matches. The striker recently announced his intention to ply his trade outside Europe next season, but he bid farewell to fans in Gelsenkirchen in style, finding the net yet again in his final home appearance.
20 – Karim Benzema is currently experiencing one of the most productive spells of his career. Following his brace against Sevilla, the Real Madrid attacker has now equalled his best-ever goalscoring record of 20, set while he was still at Lyon.
8 – Florent Chaigneau had not started a Ligue 1 match for eight years, when he was still on the books of Rennes. On Friday night, Lorient’s third-choice goalkeeper did not let the rare chance pass him by, playing an important part in his club’s crucial 2-1 win over Marseille.
49 – The number of goals scored over two seasons in Serie A by Udinese frontman Antonio Di Natale, who hit the net once more in his team’s 2-0 win versus Lazio. Edinson Cavani boasts the second-best record, scoring 48 times, the most recent of which was a long-range strike in Napoli’s 2-2 draw with Roma.
400 – The number of appearances Raul Tamudo has now made in La Liga. The Rayo Vallecano forward has scored a remarkable 145 goals during that time, but he was unable to add to this season’s tally of seven against Barcelona on Sunday.
Five memorable moments
Shutouts shattered: Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul had not picked the ball out of his own net for 411 minutes, but against Wigan Athletic, he was forced to tolerate the unpleasant experience four times in one half.
No shock at the Stade de France: Lyon’s supporters would have found defeat by third-tier Quevilly in the French Cup final very difficult to accept. The tournament long shots gave their all on Saturday, even hitting the post in the second half, but they could not prevent Les Gones winning 1-0 through a Lisandro Lopez goal.
Changing of the guard: Anderlecht secured a comprehensive 4-0 victory away to reigning Belgian champions Genk, dominating the match from start to finish. The Brussels-based club, who hold a seven-point lead over Club Brugge with four games to play, now find themselves within touching distance of the title.
Sensational Suarez: Luis Suarez racked up a hat-trick in Liverpool’s 3-0 success at Norwich, topped off by an incredible lob from just inside the opposition half – reminiscent of David Beckham’s famous effort against Wimbledon in 1996 – that looped over an unsuspecting John Ruddy in the Canaries goal.
Back for good:
Firmly on the comeback trail after undergoing heart surgery in November, Antonio Cassano had warned fans what he would do if his displays were not up to scratch. “If I see that I’m not the same player as before, then I’ll thank everyone and go home,” he said. Judging by his imperious performance in AC Milan’s 4-1 win at Siena, the Italian international will not be heading home any time soon.