Real Sociedad finally tasted defeat on Sunday at Athletic Club Bilbao.
Real went into their 20th match knowing they could extend their lead to seven points following Real Madrid CF's 2-2 draw at RCD Espanyol. But goals from Joseba Etxebarria on 18 and 75 minutes ended their hopes, and after Real's Nihat Kahveci was sent off Santiago Ezquerro made the final score 3-0.
Comeback for Madrid
Madrid had to come from behind for their point. Roger and Raúl Tamudo struck late in the first half for Espanyol, but long-range efforts from Roberto Carlos and Luis Figo levelled matters, although Madrid failed to take advantage of Alex Fernández's late dismissal. Valencia CF moved to within a point of the Merengues after beating RCD Mallorca 1-0, while FC Barcelona's new coach Radomir Antic watched from the stands as his charges went down 3-0 at Club Atlético de Madrid to fall to 15th place.
In Serie A, the two Milan clubs stayed level on points at the top. Leaders AC Milan beat Modena FC 2-1 with late goals from Andrea Pirlo and Filippo Inzaghi, while Internazionale FC sent Torino Calcio to the bottom of the table with a 2-0 victory, Christian Vieri and Okan Buruk registering early in the second half.
Juventus FC are now three points behind the Milan rivals after they were held 1-1 by relegation-threatened Atalanta BC, the Turin side coming from behind. S.S. Lazio, in fourth, drew 1-1 with fifth-placed AC Chievo Verona thanks to Diego Simeone's 88th-minute equaliser.
Top three level
Things are even closer in France's Ligue 1, with the top three teams level on points. AS Monaco are the new leaders on goal difference after beating CS Sedan-Ardennes 3-0, while OGC Nice are second courtesy of a 1-0 win against En Avant Guingamp 1-0. Olympique de Marseille, who began the weekend in pole position, dropped to third after a 3-1 defeat by FC Girondins de Bordeaux - who are now sixth, just three points off the lead.
In fourth place are champions Olympique Lyonnais, held 1-1 by FC Nantes Atlantique, while also in sight of the leaders are AJ Auxerre, 2-0 conquerors of FC Sochaux-Montbéliard, and Paris Saint-Germain FC, seemingly out of the race a month ago but now seventh after overcoming RC Strasbourg 1-0.
Arsenal FC are six points clear in the English Premiership, but needed a last-minute Robert Pires goal to see off Fulham FC 2-1 at Highbury. Manchester United FC are second with a game in hand thanks to a 2-0 victory at Southampton FC, Newcastle United FC third after their match with Middlesbrough FC was postponed. Sunderland AFC slumped to the bottom after conceding three own goals in eight first-half minutes to lose 3-1 at home to Charlton Athletic FC.
FC Bayern München drew 0-0 at DSC Arminia Bielefeld, yet head the German Bundesliga by seven points after SV Werden Bremen lost 1-0 at Hamburger SV. BV Borussia Dortmund climbed up to second after easing past the team they pipped to last season's title, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 2-0. Leverkusen now lie 14th, only one point off the relegation zone.
However, the team of the weekend were Omonia Nicosia FC, who leapt to the top of the Cypriot first division with an 11-1 thrashing of Alki Larnaca FC, popular German-born striker Rainer Rauffmann scoring six goals with a hat-trick in each half.