Arsenal under threat as Inter excel
It was a weekend of mixed fortunes for the leaders of Europe's major leagues, although all managed to survive the weekend without conceding pole position. Nevertheless, Arsenal, Lyon and Bayern Munich unexpectedly dropped points and, while the French and German giants' dominance was protected by the failure of their rivals to take full advantage, the Gunners have been left peering anxiously over their shoulder at Manchester United and Chelsea, both of whom closed the gap in England.
Indeed, with Real Madrid and Barcelona both claiming maximum
points in Spain, the weekend's biggest winners were undoubtedly
Inter Milan, whose defence of their Serie A title continued in
spectacular style at the same time as Roma were struggling
As always, FIFA.com takes you through all of the weekend's European action.
Premier League: Grim up north for Arsenal
Could the wheels be coming off the Gunners' Premiership bandwagon? Certainly, an Arsenal side that looked imperious as recently as last week now appear to be staggering towards the new year, this after taking just one point from a possible six in their last two matches. Once again, it is away fixtures in the north of England that are proving their undoing, with a 1-1 draw at Newcastle followed by a deserved 2-1 defeat at the Magpies' local rivals and fellow strugglers, Middlesbrough.
Liverpool also slipped up in surprising circumstances, crashing
to an equally merited 3-1 away defeat to Reading, but that was of
precious little comfort to Arsenal, who saw both their closest
challengers edge nearer. Manchester United were at their efficient
and free-scoring best against basement boys Derby, with Ryan
Giggs' 100th league goal, a Carlos Tevez double and a late
Cristiano Ronaldo penalty securing a resounding 4-1 win. Chelsea
had it almost as comfortable against another of the relegation
contenders, Sunderland, with Andriy Shevchenko scoring in just his
eighth start this season to set the Blues on the road to a 2-0 home
Top three: Arsenal (37 pts), Manchester United (36) Chelsea (34)
Bottom three: Sunderland (13 pts), Wigan Athletic (9), Derby County (6)
Top scorers: Adebayor, Ronaldo (9 goals each), Anelka, Keane, Benjani, Yakubu (8)
Weekend stat: Arsenal's record at northern venues is truly miserable. Since losing 1-0 to Manchester City on 26 August 2006, they have dropped no fewer than 31 points away to the likes of Bolton, Sheffield United, Everton, Blackburn and, of course, Middlesbrough.
Ligue 1: Nancy fail to capitalise
Lyon warmed up for their decisive UEFA Champions League match away to Rangers in the worst possible fashion, going down 1-0 to Caen in a match the French champions had petitioned to be postponed. Yet despite going down to a solitary 17th-minute striker from Yoan Gouffran, Alain Perrin's side were still able to breathe a sigh of relief as Nancy spurned the chance to close the gap at the top to just two points at home to Valenciennes in a 0-0 stalemate.
At the other end of the table, Marseille continued their fine
recent resurgence under Eric Gerets with a morale-boosting 2-0 win
over southern rivals Monaco. Julien Rodriguez and captain Lorik
Cana were the unlikely goal heroes at the Velodrome as Marseille
prepared for their own 'do or die' Champions League
showdown with Liverpool on Tuesday with a victory that takes them
three points clear of the relegation zone. PSG also climbed out of
the bottom three with a 1-0 win over Auxerre that relieves a little
of the pressure on Paul Le Guen.
Top three: Lyon (37 pts), Nancy (33), Bordeaux (29)
Bottom three: Lille (18 pts), Sochaux (13), Metz (7)
Top scorers: Benzema (12 goals), Bellion (10), De Melo (10)
Weekend stat: Thirteen may be unlucky for some, but Marseille will be delighted to have climbed to that position in Ligue 1 given their early season travails. They did so with a win over Monaco that stretches their unbeaten run in French league and cup competitions to six matches.
La Liga: Big two win as Atletico climb
Ronaldinho returned to the starting line-up, and the scoresheet, as Barcelona prevented Real Madrid from stretching their lead in race for the Spanish title. A superb Ruud van Nistelrooy goal had secured the reigning champions a hard-fought 1-0 win away to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday and, for 24 hours at least, increased the gap at the top to an imposing seven points. However, despite falling behind inside three minutes at home to Deportivo La Coruna, Barcelona - with Samuel Eto'o also back in the side - battled back to claim all three points thanks to a Ronaldinho penalty and the winner from Andres Iniesta 19 minutes from time.
That kept the situation unchanged at the very top, although Atletico Madrid did join their city rivals in the top three with a tempestuous 1-0 win over Madrid's third top flight club, Getafe. Diego Forlan scored the all-important goal in a match overshadowed by the dismissal of four players inside a 12-minute period: Atletico's Sergio Aguero and Jose Antonio Reyes and Lucas Licht and goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri of Getafe.
Top three: Real Madrid (35 pts), Barcelona (31), Atletico Mafrid (30)
Bottom three: Real Betis (14), Deportivo La Coruna (13 pts), Levante (7)
Top scorers: Luis Fabiano (10 goals), Messi (8), Raul (8)
Weekend stat: Between them, Barcelona and Real Madrid have staged 15 home matches at the Camp Nou and Bernabeu this season and, not only are they unbeaten at these colossal venues, no-one has even forced a draw.
Serie A: Inter march on
The weekend saw Italian champions Inter Milan continue their seemingly inexorable march towards a second successive title. The 15-times champions comfortably earned another three points with a thumping 4-0 win at home to Torino and duly extended their lead to five points as their nearest challengers, Roma, could only manage a 1-1 draw at Livorno.
Meanwhile, Italy's record champions Juventus remained on track to stay on Inter's heels in their first season since re-entering the top flight with a 1-0 win at home to Atalanta. UEFA Champions League winners AC Milan were, of course, absent due to their FIFA Club World Cup commitments.
Top three: Inter (37), Roma (32), Juventus (29)
Bottom three: Empoli (13), Reggina (10), Cagliari (10)
Top scorers: Trezeguet (11), Ibrahimovic (9), Bellucci, Cruz (8 goals each)
Weekend stat: Fiorentina, who not so long ago were protecting a long unbeaten run, have now failed to win in their last four matches after going down 2-0 at Palermo.
Bundesliga: Weekend of missed chances
German football fans analysing the weekend's results from the Bundesliga would doubtless have been forced into a double-take such were the number of opportunities spurned by the league's big guns. Most remarkable was that neither leaders Bayern Munich nor Hamburg could win their home matches against sides from the lower reaches of the table, while Werder Bremen fared even worse, losing 4-3 at Hannover 96 thanks to three goals from German international striker Mike Hanke.
All this ensured that Bayern were not punished for their goalless draw against MSV Duisburg, a result mirrored by Hamburg against Energie Cottbus. The only major success story at the weekend, in fact, was Bayer Leverkusen. Michael Skibbe's side beat Hansa Rostock 3-0 to climb to fourth position, just five points adrift of leaders Bayern.
Top three: Bayern Munich (35), Werder Bremen (33), Hamburg (31)
Bottom three: Hansa Rostock (14), MSV Duisburg (13), Energie Cottbus (12)
Top scorers: Van der Vaart, Toni, Klose (9 goals each)
Weekend stat: Leverkusen's 3-0 victory against Rostock was their
fifth consecutive win in the German top flight.
Rangers might have had the weekend off ahead of their vital Champions League match with Lyon, but they were still the big winners in Scotland as Celtic slumped to a shock 1-1 draw at home to St Mirren. In fact, the reigning champions needed an 85th-minute equaliser to claim a share of the spoils and move two points clear at the top of the Premier League, a lead that Rangers can overhaul with victory in their game in hand against bottom side Gretna.
In Greece, meanwhile, AEK Athens remain three points clear thanks to a superb 4-0 win over Apollon Kalamaria 4-0 on Sunday. Greece international striker Nikos Liberopoulos scored either side of half-time and Rivaldo and Ismael Blanco were also on target to keep Olympiakos and Panathinaikos at arm's length after 11 rounds of matches.