The weekend brought morale-boosting victories for five teams in UEFA Champions League round of 16 action this week. Bayern Munich were most emphatic in their pre-second leg preparations, though Manchester United and Olympique de Marseille passed tricky tests of their own.
City rivals Manchester United and Manchester City will meet in the FA Cup semi-finals after safely negotiating their last-eight ties. United set the bar, defeating Premier League title rivals Arsenal 2-0 to knock out the Gunners just four days after their Champions League elimination. “It was an intense game and both teams played their part,” said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. City, meanwhile, beat Championship outfit Reading 1-0. The other semi-final will see Stoke City take on Bolton Wanderers following their respective victories against West Ham United and Birmingham City.
LOSC Lille Métropole may still be leaders, but Ligue 1 remains concertinaed at the summit. Lille secured their second successive added-time victory, Eden Hazard the hero in a 2-1 win against Valenciennes FC on Sunday. “We were lucky after an average first half,” said coach Rudi Garcia. “We felt something could happen in the final minutes and eventually there was that nice goal from Eden.” Stade Rennais FC are second, three points behind, having lost 2-0 to Marseille, themselves a point further back in fourth. Third-placed Olympique Lyonnais are ahead of OM on goal difference following a 2-0 victory at FC Sochaux-Montbéliard.
Borussia Dortmund’s lead atop the Bundesliga is down to nine points after a 1-0 loss to TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, only their third league defeat of the season. “I am not worried in the slightest,” said coach Jürgen Klopp. Dortmund’s nearest challengers are Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 1-0 winners at fifth-placed 1. FSV Mainz 05. Five points further back in third are Hannover 96, who lost 4-0 at 1. FC Köln, while titleholders Bayern trail by a further two points following a 6-0 triumph over Hamburger SV, who subsequently parted company with coach Armin Veh.
While AC Milan are five points clear at the top of Serie A after being held to a 1-1 home draw by bottom side AS Bari, there was another goal glut for Udinese Calcio. The fourth-placed Friulani, 7-0 winners against US Città di Palermo recently, scored four goals at Cagliari Calcio. Last season’s top goalscorer Antonio Di Natale’s double took his season’s tally to 24 league goals – five short of last year’s haul. It was also a happy day for Francesco Totti, who described his side’s 2-0 defeat of S.S Lazio as “the derby of my dreams. Winning with two of my goals is just too wonderful.”
Karim Benzema was the toast of Madrid on Saturday night after scoring both goals in the 2-0 defeat of Hércules CF and the Frenchman’s goals took on even greater importance when FC Barcelona dropped points at Sevilla FC the following evening. Normal service appeared to have resumed when Bojan Krkić gave Barça the lead on the half-hour, but Jesús Navas’s leveller (49) denied the champions victory. “Winning here was very important and two points have slipped us by,” said Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets. “But we are still five points clear of Real Madrid and that’s a healthy margin, which we intend to keep and even build on.”