By IAN HOLLIDAY
Will this be the year that the spending sprees that brought Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema and Jose Mourinho, among others, to Real Madrid finally translate into a La Liga title? There's a lot of season left to be played, but this weekend's results will be cause for optimism among fans of the Merengues.
Ronaldo netted a hat-trick on Sunday and Benzema bagged two of his own in a 7-1 rout of Osasuna that assured Real of first place heading into next weekend's international break. Meanwhile, bitter rivals Barcelona had to come from behind twice to earn a 2-2 draw at Athletic Bilbao, the club's fourth in 11 matches. Last year, Barca had only six draws all season.
An apparently weaker Barcelona than previous years' editions, coupled with the confidence Real gained by defeating its rivals in last year's Copa Del Rey final, could translate to the club's first league title since 2007-08.
Elsewhere, Manchester City looks like it could be on its way to ending a much longer title drought. If league winners are measured by their ability to overcome adversity and take all three points on the road, City's 3-2 win at Queens Park Rangers on Saturday — in which the club came from behind after going down early and found a late winner after allowing an equalizer — was a good example of the club's credentials.
One of the weekend's most exciting games was played in the Netherlands, where FC Utrecht defeated Ajax in a 6-4 goalfest. The result leaves last year's Dutch champions in fifth place, 11 points off the pace set by AZ Alkmaar, which defeated ADO Den Haag 3-0 on Sunday. American Jozy Altidore netted AZ's third goal.
The showdown in Italy between Juventus and Napoli ended up being postponed because of torrential rain and flooding in Naples. This cleared the way for Udinese and Lazio to each grab a share of the Serie A lead with wins over Siena and Parma, respectively. There were no changes in the league lead in either France or Germany, though Paris St. Germain missed an opportunity to extend its lead, drawing 1-1 at Bordeaux.
Here's a rundown of all the weekend scores from Europe's top leagues:
Few people, if asked to pick the club they thought would score the most goals in the Premier League this weekend, would have chosen Bolton. The Stuart Holden-less Trotters have had a hard time scoring goals this season, managing just 13 through their first 10 games. Even more of a problem has been the club's defense, which surrendered a league-worst 27 goals in that same 10-game span. Both of those trends reversed themselves Sunday, as Bolton got braces from Chris Eagles and Ivan Klasnic en route to a 5-0 demolition of Stoke City and some small measure of payback for last year's FA Cup semifinal, which saw Stoke defeat Bolton by the same scoreline.
Wolverhampton Wanderers 3, Wigan Athletic 1
Bolton 5, Stoke City 0
Fulham 1, Tottenham 3
Newcastle United 2, Everton 1
Arsenal 3, West Bromwich Albion 0
Aston Villa 3, Norwich City 2
Blackburn 0, Chelsea 1
Liverpool 0, Swansea City 0
Manchester United 1, Sunderland 0
Queens Park Rangers 2, Manchester City 3
Real Madrid's seven-goal showing helped to counteract a La Liga round that saw four scoreless draws, including two of the three matches played on Saturday. Mallorca and Sevilla finished 0-0 on Saturday, as did Real Betis and Malaga. In fact, Valencia was the only La Liga club to score on Saturday, defeating Levante 2-0 to leapfrog its local rivals in the standings. Granada v. Racing Santander and Espanyol v. Villarreal were the other scoreless draws of the weekend, which took place on an otherwise goal-filled Sunday that saw at least four total goals in every other match.
Mallorca 0, Sevilla FC 0
Real Betis 0, Malaga 0
Levante 0, Valencia 2
Real Madrid 7, Osasuna 1
Granada 0, Racing Santander 0
Real Zaragoza 2, Sporting Gijon 2
Espanyol 0, Villarreal 0
Rayo Vallecano 4, Real Sociedad 0
Athletic Bilbao 2, Barcelona 2
Getafe 3, Atletico Madrid 2
Udinese and Lazio weren't the only clubs to jump above unintentionally idle leaders Juventus in the Serie A table this weekend. Last year's Scudetto winners AC Milan moved up to third place with a 4-0 win over Catania on Sunday. After a relatively slow start, the Rossoneri find themselves just one point out of first place on 20 points. Juve, which is on 19 points, could reclaim the lead with a win over Napoli, but the postponed match is likely to be rescheduled for December, at which point the table will undoubtedly look very different. Inter Milan's match at Genoa was also postponed due to weather.
AC Milan 4, Catania 0
Atalanta 1, Cagliari 0
Cesena 0, Lecce 1
Chievo Verona 1, Fiorentina 0
Lazio 1, Parma 0
Udinese 2, Siena 1
Palermo 3, Bologna 1
Novara 0, AS Roma 2
Postponed: Genoa v. Inter Milan
Postponed: Napoli v. Juventus
While La Liga scoreboards saw a lot of goose eggs this weekend, the Bundesliga was the exact opposite, with all 18 teams scoring at least once. Leading the way were last year's champions Borussia Dortmund, which destroyed Wolfsburg 5-1 to continue their run of improved domestic form. Dortmund is now level on points with Werder Bremen and Borussia Moenchengladbach, but in second place on goal differential. All three clubs are on 23 points, which is five behind pacesetters Bayern Munich, which defeated last-placed Augsburg 2-1 on Sunday.
Hannover 96 2, Schalke 04 2
FC Augsburg 1, Bayern Munich 2
Borussia Dortmund 5, VfL Wolfsburg 1
Hertha Berlin 1, Borussia Moenchengladbach 2
Nurnberg 1, SC Freiburg 2
TSG Hoffenheim 1, Kaiserslautern 1
Werder Bremen 3, FC Cologne 2
Bayer Leverkusen 2, Hamburg 2
Mainz 3, VfB Stuttgart 1
None of the top six teams in Ligue 1 was able to secure all three points this weekend, with Paris St. Germain, Montpellier, Lille and Rennes all posting draws and Lyon and Toulouse losing at Sochaux and Auxerre, respectively. The result is a rather static top four, with PSG on 30 points, Montpellier on 27 and Lille on 24. Lyon, Rennes and Toulouse are bunched together in fourth through sixth with 23, 22 and 22 points, respectively.
AJ Auxerre 2, Toulouse 0
AS Nancy Lorraine 2, Brest 1
Caen 3, Dijon FCO 0
Lorient 2, AC Ajaccio 0
Marseille 2, Nice 0
Sochaux 2, Lyon 1
St. Etienne 1, Montpellier 1
Stade Rennes 1, Valenciennes 1
Bordeaux 1, Paris St. Germain 1
Lille 1, Evian Thonon Gaillard 1
What did you think of this weekend's results? Think Real Madrid will take the La Liga title back from Barcelona? What about Man City winning the Premier League? What teams will surprise us in the next two thirds (or so) of the season?