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European Weekend Review – March 21

The tension levels were ratcheted up in Italy this weekend as a defeat for leaders AC Milan added fresh uncertainty to the title race, in contrast to the situations in England and France, where leaders Manchester United and Lille both managed big wins.

It was the perfect end to the perfect week for Inter Milan, who qualified for the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday and have now closed to within two points of Milan. A 1-0 loss for the leaders at Palermo on Saturday gave Inter their chance, and they responded with victory by the same scoreline against US Lecce, Giampaolo Pazzini’s winner setting up a tantalising Milan derby in two weeks’ time. “It won’t be a decisive match and I don’t want to talk about revenge against my old side,” said Inter coach Leonardo, who was at the Rossoneri helm last season. “We go into the match in great form but we have a lot of players on international duty beforehand.”

Manchester United won what could prove to be three crucial points in the Premier League title race as Dimitar Berbatov struck an 88th-minute winner in a 1-0 success against Bolton Wanderers, United having earlier lost Jonny Evans to a red card. “You have to keep believing and trusting each other,” said midfielder Michael Carrick. “Experience helps because we have done it a few times before.” The result took the victors five points clear of Arsenal, who have a game in hand but were left frustrated after drawing 2-2 at West Brom. Chelsea are now third thanks to their 2-0 victory against Man City.

Lille gave another demonstration of their title credentials by fighting back from behind to win 2-1 at Stade Brestois 29. “The pressure is on our pursuers now,” said Lille coach Rudi Garcia, whose charges surged five points clear after that result, with Rennes only able to draw 1-1 with fellow high-fliers Lyon. Lille’s cushion was then cut to four points on Sunday as titleholders Marseille moved into second spot with a 2-1 victory at home against traditional rivals Paris Saint-Germain.

After being held by Sevilla FC last weekend, Barcelona returned to winning ways with a 2-1 defeat of Getafe. Bojan Krkić marked his 100th league game with his second goal in as many matches to help keep the Azulgrana five points clear of Real Madrid, winners of the Madrid derby by the same scoreline. Karim Benzema and Mesut Özil scored for José Mourinho’s side, with Spain still abuzz at the possibility of a Champions League semi-final between the ‘Clásico’ rivals. Further back, Valencia slipped to a 1-0 loss at home against Sevilla that allowed Villarreal to take over in third spot on goal difference.

Borussia Dortmund’s lead has been cut to seven points after Petar Slišković earned 1. FSV Mainz 05 a 1-1 draw with an 89th-minute leveller. That allowed Bayer Leverkusen to close the gap at the top and they duly profited, seeing off Schalke and their interim coach Seppo Eichkorn 2-0. Hannover held on to third spot and a Champions League qualifying berth by beating Hoffenheim 2-0, but Bayern Munich are just two points back following their 2-1 success at Freiburg. “Once you know the Champions League, then you always want to play in the Champions League,” said Bayern forward Franck Ribéry. Elsewhere, Mladen Petrić scored a hat-trick as Hamburg beat Koln 6-2.

Olympiacos won the Greek title on Sunday following a 6-0 rout of AEK Athens FC. Former AEK striker Raffik Djebbour scored twice as the victors claimed a 13th championship in 15 years after stretching their league lead to an unassailable ten points. In Glasgow, the Old Firm bragging rights went to Rangers, who won the Scottish League Cup for the 27th time at the expense of Celtic.