FC Barcelona's first league reverse this season and the ongoing battle for supremacy in Germany figured high on the list of highlights from the past few days of action across Europe.
Unbeaten in their opening 21 Liga engagements this term, European champions Barcelona finally succumbed to a defeat in their domestic title defence on Sunday. Club Atlético de Madrid delivered the breakthrough blow, winning 2-1 at home to the immense pleasure of their city rivals Real Madrid CF, who downed Xerez CD 3-0 – Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice – to move within two points at the summit. Ten points further back, third-placed Valencia CF could only draw 1-1 at Real Sporting de Gijón, while Sevilla FC moved fourth by downing CA Osasuna 1-0.
The situation is even tighter in the race for Bundesliga honours after Bayer 04 Leverkusen – still unbeaten – and FC Bayern München both prevailed. Just one goal separates the two clubs, after Leverkusen saw off titleholders VfL Wolfsburg 2-1 and Bayern beat BV Borussia Dortmund 3-1. FC Schalke 04 are three points back following their 2-0 victory over 1. FC Köln.
Tension reigns in France too as promoted side Montpellier Hérault SC claimed a fifth consecutive win – overcoming Grenoble Foot 38 1-0 – to temporarily move level with titleholders FC Girondins de Bordeaux. That ratcheted up the pressure on Laurent Blanc's men, beaten in their two previous outings, but they responded with a hard-fought 3-1 success against AS Saint-Etienne. Lining up behind Montpellier, LOSC Lille Métropole, Olympique Lyonnais and Olympique de Marseille also emerged triumphant.
While the picture is nowhere near as muddy in Serie A, pacesetters FC Internazionale Milano had their lead cut to seven points after they failed to register in the league for the first time since 26 September, drawing 0-0 with fourth-placed SSC Napoli. That allowed in-form AS Roma to close in on the summit thanks to their ninth successive win – 4-1 over US Città di Palermo. Third-placed AC Milan downed Udinese Calcio 3-2, while there were maiden successes for Alberto Zaccheroni and Edoardo Reja at Juventus and S.S. Lazio.
The FA Cup was the focus in England, where holders and favourites Chelsea FC enjoyed a straightforward 4-1 victory over second-tier Cardiff City FC. No Premier League teams fell by the wayside in the fifth-round fixtures, but Aston Villa FC came within three minutes of losing out to Championship outfit Crystal Palace FC before Stiliyan Petrov salvaged a 2-2 draw and a replay with a late header.
North of the border, Rangers FC extended their Scottish Premier League advantage to ten points by defeating Hibernian FC 3-0 after Celtic FC had drawn 4-4 with Aberdeen FC. Olympiacos FC closed within three points of Panathinaikos FC as they won 3-1 at Asteras Tripolis FC while the Greek Super League frontrunners lost 2-0 at home to FC Kavala.
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