It proved a prosperous weekend for many of the leaders of Europe's various league championships as the likes of Manchester United FC, AZ Alkmaar, FC Porto, Olympiacos CFP and R. Standard de Liège all recorded victories. Not everyone had things their own way, however, and both Sivasspor and Celtic FC saw their advantages reduced following draws.
Liverpool late show
Sunday's showdown between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC captured the lion's share of the attention in England, with both clubs eager to keep pressure on United, who had kept their 12th consecutive Premier League clean sheet as a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty earned a home win over Everton FC. It is Liverpool who now look best placed to challenge the titleholders as they eventually prevailed 2-0, courtesy of two last-gasp Fernando Torres strikes, with Chelsea reduced to ten man following Frank Lampard's dismissal on the hour. The Reds lie two points shy of United, with Aston Villa FC level with Chelsea another three points back following their 0-0 home draw with Wigan Athletic FC. Fifth-placed Arsenal FC were also held at home, to West Ham United FC.
AZ march on
AFC Ajax's 1-0 loss to SC Heerenveen on Saturday allowed Eredivisie leaders AZ to stretch their lead to nine points and they are in formidible form. Their 2-0 victory at Sparta Rotterdam on Saturday was their ninth consecutive league win, all nine coming without conceding as they pursue their first Dutch title since 1981. Ajax's slip also presented FC Twente with the chance of moving second, but Steve McClaren's men could only record a goalless home draw with FC Utrecht. There was better news for PSV Eindhoven in fifth, though, as they ended a run of three draws with a 3-0 triumph at struggling De Graafschap in caretaker coach Dwight Lodeweges' first game in charge.
Porto remain on top in Portugal after they triumphed 3-1 at CF Os Belenenses thanks to goals from Hulk, Cristián Rodríguez and Lucho. It keeps the Dragons a point clear of SL Benfica – who saw off basement outfit Rio Ave FC 1-0 – which ought to make Sunday's meeting between the two rivals at the Estádio do Dragão a gripping occasion. Third-placed Sporting Clube de Portugal are a further two points behind Benfica as they could only draw 0-0 at struggling CD Trofense, which was also the result of the game between CD Nacional and fourth-placed Leixões SC. UEFA Cup hopefuls SC Braga overcame visitors FC Paços de Ferreira 2-0.
Turkish Süper Lig pacesetters Sivasspor are now on top by goal difference alone after their sequence of five straight victories ended with a 0-0 draw at Kayserispor. It allowed Trabzonspor to join them on 38 points after they returned to winning ways with a 2-0 triumph at Ankaraspor AS, who slipped to sixth. One rung higher up the ladder are Beşiktaş JK, for whom Rodrigo Tello made the difference in a 1-0 home success against Antalyaspor. Fourth-placed Fenerbahçe SK were frustrated on home turf by Gaziantepspor in a 1-1 draw, while third spot belongs to Galatasaray AŞ following their 2-0 win at Denizlispor. Elsewhere, Guinean striker Souleymane Youla plundered a hat-trick as Eskisehirspor swept Istanbul BB SK aside 6-1.
Sunday's high-profile encounter in Greece ended with leaders Olympiacos galvanising their title push with a 1-0 win at fourth-placed AEK Athens FC, Luciano Galletti burying the winner with just five minutes gone. That kept the Piraeus side eleven points clear of closest rivals PAOK FC, who at least kept up some semblance of a challenge by prevailing 2-0 at home to Ergotelis FC. Third-placed Panathinaikos FC triumphed 2-1 triumph at Levadiakos FC, while fifth-placed Larissa FC won by the same scoreline at Iraklis FC.
Celtic's Scottish Premier League lead was cut to two points after they were unable to find a way past basement side Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC on Sunday. In Terry Butcher's first match as the club's new manager, Inverness held their visitors to a goalless draw, while 24 hours previously Rangers FC prevailed 2-0 at home against third-placed Dundee United FC. The lead in Belgium is also two points, although Eerste Klasse frontrunners R. Standard de Liège fared a lot better against the bottom team than Celtic, beating KSV Roeselare 3-0. RSC Anderlecht kept up the pressure by winning 3-1 at KV Kortrijk. Lastly, the Albanian championship got back under way with a 3-2 triumph for KF Tirana at the home of city rivals KS Dinamo Tirana, a result that moved the victors to within a point of top side KS Vllaznia.
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