We start off this round-up of the weekend’s action in Spain, where injury-hit leaders Barcelona suffered their first defeat this season, going down 2-1 at Atletico Madrid. Jose Antonio Reyes provided Diego Forlan the opportunity to lash home the opener after just nine minutes and former Barcelona winger Simao Sabrosa doubled Los Colchoneros advantage after 23 minutes, before Zlatan Ibrahimovic halved the deficit almost instantly. From here, Ibrahimovic was later denied well by defender Luis Perea and Victor Valdes did well to deny Sergio Aguero for the hosts. As the champions turned up the pressure, Atletico defended with unusual resistance and determination to secure a win that allowed their city rivals, Real Madrid, to cut the deficit at the top to just two points after a dominant second-half performance saw off a dogged Xerez side. Alvaro Arbeloa opened proceedings and then Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed a brace, thanks to two assists from Kaka, to reignite the title race. With Seydou Keita, Daniel Alves, Eric Abidal, Yaya Toure, Dmitro Chygrynskiy, Gerard Pique, Rafa Marquez and Xavi all out, Barcelona will have to work hard to maintain their advantage.
Third place Valencia could only draw at Sporting de Gijon and, with Real Mallorca playing on Monday, Sevilla were able to jump up to fourth, just three points off Valencia, after a 1-0 win over Osasuna thanks to Luis Fabiano. Perhaps the most impressive performance came from Malaga, who put some daylight between themselves and the relegation zone after a terrific 3-0 away win at Racing Santander, who looked a shell of their usual selves following their Copa del Rey elimination at the hands of Atletico Madrid.
Sporting de Gijon 1 – 1 Valencia
Xerez 0 – 3 Real Madrid
Villarreal 2 – 1 Athletic Bilbao
Racing 0 – 3 Malaga
Getafe 2 – 2 Almeria
Espanyol 2 – 0 Deportivo
Valladolid 1 – 1 Zaragoza
Sevilla 1 – 0 Osasuna 1 – 0
Atletico Madrid 2 – 1 Barcelona
Tenerife – Mallorca
The weekend in Italy was kicked off on Friday night in preparation for the last 16 round off the Champions League. AC Milan warmed up for their showdown at Old Trafford against Manchester United with a 3-2 win over Udinese. With Sir Alex Ferguson watching in the stands, he would have noted the great performance of Ronaldinho, who has been outstanding in a familiar wide-left role in an attacking trident for the Rossoneri. The former FIFA World Player of the Year laid on all three if the hosts goals, which Klaas-Jan Huntelaar grabbed two and the returning Alexandre Pato slotted the other. Leading Serie A marksman Antonio Di Natale made a goal and later scored one to take his haul to 17 so far. The win only temporarily moved Milan into second, with Roma reclaiming the position after a dominant 4-1 win over Palermo. It was yet another win for the league’s most in-form club. Midfielder Matteo Brighi scored twice, with the other two goals coming from Jon Arne Riise and Julio Baptista. Roma’s gap to Inter is now down to seven points, as the leaders drew away at Napoli 0-0. Jose Mourinho will probably feel fairly pleased to come away from Naples with a point after the hosts struck the woodwork twice. His side did hit the post once and substitute McDonald Mariga teed up Diego Milito for a great opportunity that could not be converted.
Elsewhere, Alberto Zaccheroni claimed his first win as coach of Juventus after a controversial 3-2 win at home over Genoa. The visitors will feel aggrieved as the winner came from a penalty, converted by Alessandro del Piero, which was awarded on the basis of contact by defender Sokratis Papastathopoulous on del Piero. Replays, however, show that contact was made outside of the box. Something incredible did occur in this fixture though – Amauri broke his long scoring drought to equalise for the Bianconeri. In other massive news, Edy Reja’s first game as Lazio coach was a terrific success, with the Biancocolesti triumphing 2-0 away at Parma. Goals from Mauro Zarate and Guglielmo Stendardo capped off a good performance which included Argentine midfielder Cristian Ledesma, who had been outcast from the squad for asking for a transfer.
Finally, Fiorentina suffered a demoralising 2-0 loss to Sampdoria ahead of the Viola’s midweek tie against Bayern Munich. For Samp, this was a continuation of their good form which has now propelled them into joint fourth with Napoli, doing this all without enigmatic forward Antonio Cassano, who initially was dropped after falling out with Gigi del Neri and has now picked up an undisclosed injury. Fans of Fiorentina are growing increasingly unhappy with the management of their side, with many believing that manager Cesare Prandelli has taken his eye off the ball as many in the media have tipped him to take over as manager of the Italian national team after the World Cup. Despite topping their Champions League group and eliminating Liverpool, the Viola have struggled since and find themselves in 11th position, eight points off fourth and eight points from the relegation zone. This is a little sad, considering the club has made forward progress every year since Prandelli took charge. The club has some big issues and perhaps needs a clear out (Per Koldrup has been slated in most Italian newspapers as mainly useless) – Adrian Mutu’s suspension for drug use has certainly not helped matters either.
Milan 3 – 2 Udinese
Roma 4 – 1 Palermo
Sampdoria 2 – 0 Fiorentina
Parma 0 – 2 Lazio
Livorno 0 – 1 Bologna
Catania 0 – 0 Atalanta
Juventus 3 – 2 Genoa
Chievo 0 – 1 Siena
Cagliari 3 – 1 Bari
Napoli 0 – 0 Inter Milan
The leaders in the Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich, both saw off potentially tricky visitors in the form of Wolfsburg and Borussia Dortmund respectively. Leverkusen outplayed Wolfsburg but required two defensive lapses to win 2-1. Jupp Heynckes saw his side control the midfield area and possession, with Bayern Munich’s on loan midfielder Toni Kroos and Swiss international Tranquillo Barnetta particularly impressive. This was in stark contrast to Wolfsburg Zvjezdan Misimovic, with the playmaker barely touching the ball. Dortmund took the lead at Munich thanks to Egyptian forward Mohamed Zidan. However, the hosts powered back, with goals from van Bommel, van Buyten and Gomez which allowed the title challengers to secure a 3-1 victory. The other major news of the weekend was Ruud van Nistelrooy bagging a brace that helped his Hamburg side claim all three points away at Stuttgart. Van Nistelrooy came off the bench in the second half with the score at 1-1 and demonstrated his lethal prowess inside the box. Finally, Werder Bremen answered critics questioning their erratic form with a thumping 5-1 away win at Hannover, with all their goals coming in the first half.
Mönchengladbach 2 – 1 Nürnberg
VfB Stuttgart 1 – 3 Hamburg
VfL Bochum 2 – 1 TSG Hoffenheim
Bayer Leverkusen 2 – 1 VfL Wolfsburg
Hannover 96 1 – 5 Werder Bremen
Hertha BSC 1 – 1 Mainz
Bayern Munich 3 – 1 Borussia
Schalke 04 2 – 0 FC Köln
Eintracht 2 – 1 SC Freiburg
In a low scoring weekend in France, Montpellier and Lille kept the pressure on champions Bordeaux, with all three sides claiming victory. Not to be out done, the trio of Lyon, Marseille and Auxerre also won to keep up the chase for third. Indeed, just days before their Champions League clash with Real Madrid, Lyon were far from impressive but managed to scrap a win thanks to Cesar Delgado. Ligue 1 is a strange one regarding the relegation zone, with the bottom three, as mentioned before, miles away from the teams above them. It seems as if Grenoble, Boulogne and Le Mans almost have accepted their fate as early as February.
Le Mans UC 72 0 – 0 FC Sochaux
Valenciennes FC 2 – 1 OGC Nice
AS Monaco FC 1 – 2 Marseille
Montpellier HSC 1 – 0 Grenoble Foot 38
Lille 3 – 1 US Boulogne
AS Nancy 0 – 0 Lorraine – PSG
O. Lyon 1 – 0 RC Lens
FC Lorient 1 – 1 Toulouse FC
AJ Auxerre 1 – 0 Stade Rennais FC
Bordeaux 3 – 1 AS Saint-Etienne
Next time, I will be looking at the midweek Champions League clashes. For a bit of fun, I will predict the scores of these games and we can see next time if I was correct in the very slightest.
AC Milan 2 – 1 Manchester United
Lyon 1 – 3 Real Madrid
Bayern Munich 2 – 0 Fiorentina
Porto 1 – 1 Arsenal