It was a weekend for the established order as the leading duos in England, Spain and Italy all completed eye-catching wins. Manchester City FC and Manchester United FC secured dramatic victories against Tottenham Hotspur FC and Arsenal FC respectively while, also on Sunday, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF both triumphed 4-1. In Germany, on the other hand, there is nothing to choose between the top three as FC Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund joined FC Bayern München in a three-way tie at the Bundesliga summit. UEFA.com recaps the action.
Manchester City remain top after surviving a comeback from two goals down by third-placed Tottenham Hotspur to edge a 3-2 victory in added time. Mario Balotelli was impeded for the late penalty which he converted himself, and that left Harry Redknapp's visitors eight points off the pace. Tottenham are also five shy of Manchester United, who condemned Arsenal to their third successive league defeat thanks to goals by Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck. "Winning after City had won was the important thing," said United coach Sir Alex Ferguson. "We were really adventurous, positive and had a great belief in ourselves." Arsenal lie five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea FC, who drew 0-0 at Norwich City FC, while Newcastle United FC and Liverpool FC, in sixth and seventh, both lost.
Five points continue to separate leading duo Madrid and Barcelona, though the capital club had to fight their way back against Athletic Club to seal their result – which featured a red card for the visitors' Óscar de Marcos and a pair of Cristiano Ronaldo penalties. That kept the Portugal forward ahead of Lionel Messi in the division's scoring charts after his rival registered a hat-trick in Barcelona's win at Málaga CF. "There's a lot of time left," said Messi of the title tussle. "We will keep pushing." The weekend's biggest triumph belonged to Club Atlético de Madrid, however, as a Falcao treble inspired them to a 4-0 success at Real Sociedad de Fútbol, while the derby between Real Betis Balompié and ten-man Sevilla FC ended 1-1.
Juventus still rule the roost in Serie A after a 2-0 defeat of Atalanta BC maintained their unbeaten league record and earned them the unofficial title of winter champions as leaders at the halfway stage. "It will be very difficult to repeat the feat in the second half [of the season], but being winter champions is very satisfying," said Juve coach Antonio Conte. AC Milan are just a point back after Zlatan Ibrahimović scored twice in a 3-0 defeat of Novara Calcio, while Antonio Di Natale helped third-placed Udinese Calcio overcome Calcio Catania 2-1. As for FC Internazionale Milano, their 2-1 comeback success against S.S. Lazio – the club's seventh successive league victory – hauled them two points above the capital outfit into fourth.
The Bundesliga season resumed with a fascinating round of games that left three teams on 37 points at the top. Bayern kicked off 2012 with a 3-1 Friday reverse at fourth-placed VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach, now just a point adrift. That allowed Dortmund and Schalke to join Bayern at the summit, champions Dortmund racing to a 5-1 success at Hamburger SV and Schalke dispatching VfB Stuttgart 3-1. "All I know right now is that we have as many points as Bayern and dreams are sweet," explained Schalke coach Huub Stevens. Elsewhere, fifth-placed SV Werder Bremen could only draw 0-0 at 1. FC Kaiserslautern and new SC Freiburg coach Christian Streich began his reign with a 1-0 defeat of fellow strugglers FC Augsburg that lifted his side off the bottom.
The French Cup round of 32 threw up a fresh batch of challenges for the Ligue 1 hopefuls, with LOSC Lille Métropole, Olympique de Marseille and FC Girondins de Bordeaux all given rigorous tests. While Bordeaux survived a penalty shoot-out with third-tier US Créteil-Lusitanos and Marseille eventually saw off Le Havre AC 3-1 after extra time, holders Lille were left thankful for Gianni Bruno's 114th-minute header in their 1-0 win against fourth-division AFC Compiègne. "To go far in the French Cup, you also need to know how to squeeze through in certain matches," said Lille coach Rudi Garcia. AC Ajaccio and AJ Auxerre dropped by the wayside, in contrast, beaten by fourth-tier FC Bourg-Péronnas and Ligue 2 side LB Châteauroux respectively.
The Eredivisie title race got up and running again with a much-anticipated meeting between AZ Alkmaar and AFC Ajax which eventually finished 1-1. That opened the door for PSV Eindhoven to leap ahead of leaders AZ, but they were held to the same scoreline at FC Utrecht, while, in third, Steve McClaren began his second spell in charge of FC Twente with a 5-0 rout of RKC Waalwijk. In Greece, Panathinaikos FC took over in pole position courtesy of a 1-0 defeat of Atromitos FC and a 1-0 loss for previous pacesetters Olympiacos FC. The Greens enjoy a two-point lead, which is also Galatasaray AŞ's cushion in Turkey after their goalless stalemate at Eskişehirspor allowed nearest challengers Fenerbahçe SK to close the gap by sweeping aside Kayserispor 4-0.
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