Pacesetters tighten their grip
The battle for UEFA Champions League places intensified in Spain this weekend with only two points now separating the quartet fighting it out for fourth place. At the top of the table Real Madrid took a major step towards the title when they won and a Barcelona side missing the wiles of Lionel Messi slumped to defeat at the Camp Nou.
The French championship race also seems to have taken a decisive turn. In Sunday evening's meeting between the top two Lyon stamped their authority with victory over Bordeaux. Down in Marseille, meanwhile, l'OM beat Saint Etienne to keep the pressure on third-placed Nancy, who saw off Monaco on Saturday. With ten matches still to go, a mere three points separate the Phocéens from the men from Lorraine. At the other end of the table PSG's travails continued with defeat at Rennes. With Sochaux winning 2-1 at Toulouse, the heat is on the Parisians, who now lie just one place off the drop zone.
After suffering their first league defeat of the season in Naples last week, leaders Inter resumed their march on the scudetto by marking their centenary in style at the San Siro. Visitors Reggina were no match for Roberto Mancini's men, who tuned up for Liverpool's Champions League visit on Tuesday with a comfortable win in front of some of the club's legendary names from the past. Roma consolidated their second place with victory over Napoli, while Juventus won at Genoa to stay third.
Over in Germany, frontrunners Bayern took another step to the Bundesliga title. Led by an inspired performance by Franck Ribery, the Munich giants downed Karlsruhe, while closest challengers Werder Bremen fell to a heavy defeat and Hamburger SV drew.
The FA Cup took centre stage in England at the weekend and threw up two major shocks with both Chelsea and Manchester United making unexpected exits. In the league, leaders Arsenal failed to take advantage and could only draw at Wigan, while a resurgent Liverpool tightened their hold on fourth place.
Premier League: Arsenal stutter as big two's cup dreams
It proved to be a busy weekend in England with a clutch of league games and four FA Cup quarter-final ties on the card. Perhaps wearied after their midweek exertions in Milan, Arsenal missed the chance to go four points clear when they drew a blank at Wigan. The Gunners are now at the mercy of Manchester United, who have a game in hand on their London rivals. The Red Devils had a weekend to forget in the Cup, however, going down to a surprise 1-0 defeat to Portsmouth at their Old Trafford fortress.
Sir Alex Ferguson's side were not the only giants to fall by the wayside in a weekend of upsets. Chelsea followed them out of the competition on Saturday evening when battling Barnsley belied their lowly position in the English second tier to record a famous 1-0 win at their Oakwell ground.
While the storm clouds gather at Stamford Bridge, the skies continue to clear at Anfield, where Liverpool served further notice of their improving form with a comfortable 3-0 win over Newcastle. The Reds remain fourth on goal difference ahead of city rivals Everton, who won 1-0 on the road at Sunderland.
Top three: Arsenal (66 pts), Manchester United
(64), Chelsea (58)
Bottom three: Bolton (25), Fulham (20), Derby County (10)
Top scorers: Cristiano Ronaldo (21 goals), Adebayor (19), Torres (16)
Weekend stat: Four points are all that separate Middlesbrough in 12th from Bolton in 18th. The relegation battle looks certain to go to the wire.
Ligue 1: Lyon take off, Paris grounded
Billed as a title decider, Sunday's showdown between l'OL and Bordeaux at the Stade Gerland lived up to all expectations. A Mathieu Bodmer double and a Karim Benzema strike saw the serial champions take a 3-1 lead with half an hour remaining only for Bordeaux to pull one back and exert some serious pressure on the Lyon goal. The leaders rode their luck, however, to record a potentially decisive 4-2 win that takes them six points clear of Laurent Blanc's charges.
Nancy and Marseille continued their duel for the third and final Champions League slot. After Pablo Correa's men had seen off Monaco 2-0 on Saturday, l'OM followed suit on Sunday with a 2-0 win of their own against Saint-Etienne.
Down in the basement, Sochaux revived their hopes of survival with a vital 2-1 win away at struggling Toulouse to pull level on points with crisis-stricken PSG. The Parisians' already fragile confidence took a further dent with a 2-0 reverse at Rennes, a result that prompted coach Paul Le Guen to describe their position as "very difficult". Bottom placed Metz continued to polish up their stats by winning 3-2 at Strasbourg.
Top three: Olympique Lyonnais (58 pts), Girondins
Bordeaux (52), Nancy (48)
Bottom three: PSG (31), Sochaux (31), Toulouse (29), FC Metz (18)
Top scorers: Benzema (17 goals), Niang (12), Wendel (12), Bellion, De Melo (11)
Weekend stat: Sunday's victory over Les Verts was Marseille's eight straight home win.
Serie A: Centenary joy for Inter, Roma stay sharp
With the likes of Mazzola, Bergomi, Matthaus, Brehme, Baggio, Klinsmann and Djorkaeff watching from the stands, Inter Milan made sure their centenary party was no damp squib by strolling to a 2-0 defeat of Reggina. After falling to Napoli last week, the leaders stayed six points clear of chasing Roma, who won by the same scoreline in Naples.
David Trezeguet was on the scoresheet again as Juventus consolidated their third place with another 2-0 win at Genoa. The result takes la VecchiaSignora four points clear of Fiorentina, who slipped up in Siena. After losing out to Arsenal in the Champions League, AC Milan consoled themselves with a 3-1 win over lowly Empoli to move within a point of la Viola and the all-important fourth ticket to Europe's blue riband club competition.
At the wrong end of the table, rockbottom Cagliari saw their slim hopes of salvation evaporate when they went down 2-1 in a relegation six-pointer at Catania.
Top three: Inter Milan (64 pts), AS Rome (58),
Bottom three: Empoli (25), Reggina (22), Cagliari (18)
Top scorers: Borriello (16 goals), Trezeguet (16), Ibrahimovic (15), Mutu (14)
Weekend stat: 65,000 Nerazzurri fans were at the San Siro on Saturday to celebrate Inter Milan's 100th birthday. And Roberto Mancini and Co ensured the party went with a swing, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic notching his 15th goal of the season to close in on Marco Borriello and David Trezeguet at the top of the goalscoring charts.
Bundesliga: Bayern march on, Werder collapse
Bolstered by the superlative form of French star Franck Ribery, Bayern Munich maintained their upward curve, the former Marseille man sealing his side's 2-0 defeat of Karslruhe with a superb solo effort. With closest challengers Werder Bremen crashing to a 6-3 reverse against defending champions Stuttgart and Hamburger SV playing out a goalless draw at Nurnberg, the men from Munich moved seven points clear and look to be on their way to title number 21.
After defeating Porto to advance into the last eight of the Champions League, Schalke 04 maintained their focus with a 2-0 win away to Arminia Bielefeld to close in on fourth. Bottom side Energie Cottbus stayed alive by beating Wolfsburg 3-0 at home and cut the gap on fellow strugglers Duisburg and Nurnberg, both of whom drew.
Top three: Bayern Munich (50 points), Werder
Bremen (43), Hamburger SV (42)
Bottom three: FC Nurnberg, MSV Duisburg (18), Energie Cottbus (17)
Top scorers: Toni (14 goals), Gomez (14), Petric (11)
Weekend stat: Stuttgart sharpshooter Mario Gomez's hat-trick against Werder Bremen took his tally for the season to 14, equalling his 2006/07 haul.
La Liga: Breathing space for Real as Villarreal
Real Madrid bounced back from midweek disappointment by snatching the points against Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu. The narrow 2-1 win relieved some of the pressure that had been building on coach Bernd Schuster and took on even greater significance when Barcelona fell to a 2-1 defeat at home to Villarreal in Sunday's late game. Shorn of the cutting edge of Lionel Messi, the Blaugranas now have an eight-point deficit to make up on their deadly rivals.
Sitting pretty in third place the Yellow Submarine is now six points clear of the increasingly tense struggle for fourth, with only two points separating Atletico Madrid, Espanyol, Sevilla and Racing Santander. After the Colchoneros and Periquitos had lost on Saturday, the Sevillanos edged out bottom club Levante 2-1, while revelations Racing cantered to 3-0 win over Real Betis.
Top three: Real Madrid (62 pts), FC Barcelona
(54), Villarreal CF (50)
Bottom three: Recreativo Huelva (29), Real Murcia (23), UD Levante (19)
Top scorers: Luis Fabiano (20 goals), Diego Milito (15), Guiza (14)
Weekend stat: Raul bagged his 200th Liga goal on Saturday evening, an achievement that drew the admiration of the massed ranks at the Bernabeu. It proved to be a week of landmarks for the legendary No7, who scored his 61st Champions League goal against Roma on Wednesday.
The first silverware of Russia's fledgling 2008 season was handed out on Sunday as reigning champions Zenit St Petersburg won the Super Cup by beating last season's cup winners Lokomotiv Moscow 2-1 at the capital's Luzhniki Stadium. However, the weekend's most dramatic news came in Portugal, where Benfica coach Jose Antonio Camacho resigned in wake of a 2-2 home draw with Uniao Leiria that left the Lisbon giants trailing Porto by a mammoth 14 points. While the Spaniard was citing a lack of motivation for stepping down, the runaway leaders' procession towards a third successive title continued, with a solitary Ricardo Quaresma goal sufficient to see off visitors Academica Coimbra.
Considerably more intriguing is the title race in Greece, where the top two both won at the weekend, Olympiacos staying within a point of Panathinaikos with a 1-0 win away at Veria, this as the leaders were beating Larisa 2-0.
In the Netherlands, meanwhile, PSV and Ajax both enjoyed a weekend off due to a police strike, but any hopes of another runner entering the two-horse race for the Eredivisie title proved to be in vain. Of the top six, only Heerenveen tasted victory, winning 3-0 at home to fourth-placed NAC Breda, while Feyenoord, in fifth, could see their faltering bid for a first title since 1999 put to bed when they travel to face AZ Alkmaar on Wednesday.