Real Madrid CF stretched their lead after returning to Liga action with a victory and the top three all prevailed in the first round of Serie A games in 2012, while cup issues dominated elsewhere.
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A late equaliser dented FC Barcelona's Liga defence as leaders Real Madrid CF resumed their campaign with a resounding win, while the top three all engineered victories in the first round of Serie A action in 2012. Cup concerns held the attention in England and France, meanwhile, with Manchester United FC edging rivals Manchester City FC and five Ligue 1 teams sent packing in the French Cup. UEFA.com recaps the highlights.
Madrid enjoyed getting back to grips with the Liga season as they sparkled in a 5-1 defeat of Granada CF, Karim Benzema plundering a double and Cristiano Ronaldo hitting his 21st league strike this term. "Our third goal was crucial; we became more dangerous in wider spaces after it," said Madrid's assistant coach Aitor Karanka. "[Gonzalo] Higuaín and Benzema again proved they can play together."
The result helped extend the Merengues' lead to five points as title holders Barcelona could only draw 1-1 at derby rivals RCD Espanyol, Álvaro Vázquez cancelling out Cesc Fàbregas's opener for the visitors with four minutes left. Four points back from Barça, Valencia CF recovered from falling 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with third-bottom Villarreal CF.
The leading trio quickly got themselves up and running in 2012 as the Serie A season resumed with valuable wins for the title hopefuls. Champions AC Milan emerged 2-0 victors at Atalanta BC, thanks in part to Zlatan Ibrahimović's 12th league strike this term, and that kept them level at the top with Juventus, for whom Alessandro Matri struck in their 1-0 success at US Lecce.
Antonio Di Natale, joint top scorer with Ibrahimović, registered twice as third-placed Udinese Calcio beat AC Cesena 4-1 and FC Internazionale Milano swept aside Parma FC 5-0, but there was misery for S.S. Lazio, in fourth, as they were dispatched 4-0 by struggling AC Siena. "This evening, we just weren't there," said Lazio coach Edoardo Reja. "
It was the worst performance in my entire Lazio career."
The FA Cup dominated the landscape in England and, in particular, the third round tie between holders Manchester City and Manchester United. Wayne Rooney gave visitors United an early lead and City were hit by a red card for Vincent Kompany soon after, before Danny Welbeck and Rooney compounded their misery. City rallied after the break but their defence was ended by a 3-2 defeat in which retired United midfielder Paul Scholes made a surprise return.
Elsewhere, the likes of Chelsea FC, Tottenham Hotspur FC, Liverpool FC and Newcastle United FC all progressed, though Wigan Athletic suffered the one major shock as they succumbed 2-1 to fourth-tier Swindon Town FC. "This is something special − the best moment of my life," enthused Swindon manager Paolo Di Canio.
Toulouse FC were the highest-profile victims as five top-flight sides exited the French Cup in the round of 64. Alain Casanova's men slipped to a 1-0 reverse at third-tier Gazélec Ajaccio, joining fellow Ligue 1 tenants FC Sochaux-Montbéliard, Stade Brestois 29, FC Lorient and SM Caen on the sidelines.
Meanwhile, Paris Saint-Germain FC flirted with disaster in Carlo Ancelotti's first competitive match until Diego Lugano's late header secured a 2-1 success at fifth-division Saint-Colomban Locminé. "I thought it would be difficult and it was," explained the Italian. "We were lucky to score, but it was important to continue in the competition." Bucking the trend, holders LOSC Lille Métropole and Olympique de Marseille both advanced with ease.
FC Porto equalled a club record by going 53 Liga games unbeaten with a 0-0 draw at title rivals Sporting Clube de Portugal, but it was SL Benfica who finished the weekend the happiest by going top for the first time this season with a 4-0 triumph at UD Leiria. "It's good to be alone on top, but there's a long and hard way to go," said Benfica coach Jorge Jesus, whose troops moved two points clear.
In Turkey, Galatasaray AŞ came back from 2-0 down to win 4-2 at Samsunspor and extended their own lead to seven points, while Panathinaikos FC closed the gap to Greek leaders Olympiacos FC to four points and also boast two games in hand. In Cyprus, finally, AEL Limassol FC replaced APOEL FC in pole position after the UEFA Champions League contenders lost 2-1 at Alki Larnaca FC.