Photo by Ben Queenborough / ISIPhotos.com
By JUSTIN FERGUSON
In a match where they needed all three points to keep up the pace in this year’s race for the top spot in the English Premier League, Chelsea delivered a monstrous blow to Manchester United’s dreams of a title defense — and perhaps a spot in next season’s Champions League.
The Blues’ Samuel Eto’o netted a hat trick in fewer than 50 minutes of action Sunday to lead the third-place club to a 3-1 victory against struggling Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. Manchester United, who grabbed a consolation goal in the 78th minute via substitute Javier Hernandez, saw their trip to the Bridge go from bad to worse with a Nemanja Vidic red card and a near-red card for fellow defender Rafael in the dying moments of the match.
While the shorthanded Red Devils had a few good offensive chances on Petr Cech’s goal in the first half, Eto’o took advantage of a pair of defensive mistakes to give Chelsea a 2-0 halftime lead. The veteran striker delivered the decisive strike just a few minutes after the restart, poking in a wide-open rebound after Gary Cahill’s header on a corner kick. Manchester United were only able to get a lone goal after Eto’o's third, keeping them six points behind fourth-place Liverpool and a massive 14 points behind league leaders Arsenal.
While the defending EPL champions were defeated away from home Sunday, the defending La Liga champions were held to a surprising road draw by a bottom-half club. Levante and Barcelona each scored a goal in the opening 20 minutes in a tight 1-1 draw that was preserved thanks to fantastic goalkeeping from Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas. After Gerard Pique’s 19th-minute goal canceled out Loukas Vyntra’s surprising 10th-minute opener, Levante put most of their efforts in defending a precious home point, and Navas’ five saves proved crucial in the draw against the first-place Catalans.
Here is a closer look at all the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
It took them a while to get going at Emirates Stadium on Saturday, but Arsenal kept control of the EPL lead with a 2-0 victory against sliding Fulham. After an uninspiring first half, Santi Cazorla got the Gunners going with a 57th-minute goal off a fine pass from Jack Wilshere. Cazorla found the back of the net again five minutes later, hitting a low ball past Maarten Stekelenburg that would seal all three points for the league leaders, who still have never lost at home to Fulham.
Second-place Manchester City kept up their title-chasing pace and their unbelievable team scoring form with a 4-2 victory against Cardiff City at Ethiad Stadium. While Cardiff, who defeated Man City in South Wales earlier this season, got an equalizer to Edin Dzeko’s opener from Craig Noone just before the half-hour mark, Jesus Navas quickly replied for Manchester City. Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero combined for a quick double midway through the second half, and Frazier Campbell’s stoppage-time goal was nothing more than a consolation prize against a Man City side that has gone 11-for-11 at home in league play this season.
Here are the results from this weekend’s English Premier League action:
Sunderland 2, Southampton 2
Arsenal 2, Fulham 0
Crystal Palace 1, Stoke City 0
Manchester City 4, Cardiff City 2
Norwich City 1, Hull City 0
Newcastle United 3, West Ham United 1
Liverpool 2, Aston Villa 2
Tottenham Hotspur 3, Swansea City 1
Chelsea 3, Manchester United 1
Second-place Atletico Madrid had the perfect opportunity to move into first following Barcelona’s draw with Levante, but they were unable to capitalize on Sunday in a 1-1 draw with Sevilla at the Vicente Calderon. Although David Villa got the hosts going in the 18th minute with a goal, Atletico were unable to add onto their lead against Sevilla. Ivan Rakitic gave the visitors a point in the 73rd minute with a penalty off a bad foul by Juanfran, and league-leading scorer Diego Costa was unable to get a late winner for Atletico.
For the second weekend in a row, third-place Real Madrid were the big winners in La Liga thanks to draws for both Barcelona and Atletico. Real pulled to just one point behind their rivals with a 5-0 rout of Real Betis on Saturday, a victory that would be the last match for Betis manager Juan Carlos Garrido, who took over for Pepe Mel at the beginning of December. Five different players for Los Blancos got on the scoresheet against last-place Betis, starting with Cristiano Ronaldo’s incredible long-range strike and ending with a 90th-minute finish from Alvaro Morata.
Here are the results from this weekend’s La Liga action:
Malaga 0, Valencia 0
Real Madrid 5, Real Betis 0
Elche 2, Rayo Vallecano 0
Granada 0, Osasuna 0
Espanyol 1, Celta Vigo 0
Getafe 2, Real Sociedad 2
Villarreal 2, Almeria 0
Levante 1, Barcelona 1
Atletico Madrid 1, Sevilla 1
First-place Juventus notched their 12th consecutive Serie A win Saturday with a 4-2 home victory against Sampdoria. Arturo Vidal led the way for the two-time defending champions, netting the opener in the 18th minute and a penalty kick just before halftime. Manolo Gabbiadini pulled one back in the 69th minute to give visiting Sampdoria some hope, but Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba put the match to rest nine minutes later with a fine curling strike from just outside the box.
Clarence Seedorf’s managerial debut at AC Milan was a 1-0 victory for the Rossoneri at home against Hellas Verona, who are sliding down the table after such a fantastic first-half of the Serie A campaign. But although Seedorf’s first 11 for Milan were attack-minded and fired off 25 shots, the new Milan manager had to wait until the 82nd minute for his side’s breakthrough. Kaka won a penalty, and Mario Balotelli returned to his old spot-kick form by firing the hosts through for a much-needed victory.
Here are the results from this weekend’s Serie A action:
AS Roma 3, Livorno 0
Juventus 4, Sampdoria 2
Lazio 3, Udinese 2
Atalanta 1, Cagliari 0
Bologna 2, Napoli 2
Fiorentina 3, Catania 0
Parma 2, Chievo Verona 1
Genoa 1, Inter Milan 0
Torino 2, Sassuolo 0
AC Milan 1, Hellas Verona 0
First-place Paris Saint-Germain stretched their overall goal differential to an incredible +37 Sunday thanks to a 5-0 home victory against sixth-place Nantes. Thiago Silva struck first for the Parisians in the 10th minute, and he was joined by Zlatan Ibrahimovic later in the half to give PSG a 2-0 victory at the break. Thiago Motta and Edinson Cavani kept the scoring run going inside the first 15 minutes of the second half, and Ibrahimovic sealed the deal in the 64th minute with an easy goal.
Fourth-place Saint Etienne closed the gap between themselves and third-place Lille on Friday with an impressive 2-0 home victory. Brandao and Franck Tabanou combined for a double early in the second half to send Saint Etienne on their way to a win, and the hosts could have scored more thanks to Florent Balmont’s red card for dissent following Tabanou’s goal. Lille now have dropped back-to-back matches, placing them five points behind second-place AS Monaco and 10 points behind PSG.
Here are the results from this weekend’s Ligue 1 action:
Saint Etienne 2, Lille 0
Marseille vs. Valenciennes (POSTPONED)
Bastia 1, Bordeaux 0
Lorient 2, Guingamp 0
Nice 2, Ajaccio 0
Montpellier 2, Sochaux 0
Stade Rennes 0, Evian Thonon Gaillard 0
Lyon 2, Stade de Reims 0
AS Monaco 2, Toulouse 0
Paris Saint-Germain 5, Nantes 0
What did you think of this weekend’s European league action? Do you think Manchester United are out of the race for a Champions League spot now? Surprised with Barcelona’s draw with Levante? Which other results caught your eye this weekend?
Share your thoughts below.