By JUSTIN FERGUSON
With their road form at an alarming low and their rivals on a blistering run through Spain, Barcelona needed something special to get back into the thick of the La Liga title race as they headed into the Santiago Bernabeu.
The defending champions got exactly what they needed in a Clasico for the ages thanks to their legendary goalscorer.
Lionel Messi netted a hat trick, which included match-tying and match-winning penalty conversions, to lead Barcelona to a thrilling 4-3 victory against Real Madrid on Sunday. Real Madrid, who lost their first place spot in La Liga with the streak-snapping loss, pulled ahead of Barcelona on a brilliant double from Karim Benzema, but Messi’s heroics and a Sergio Ramos red card doomed Los Blancos to a tough rivalry loss.
The Barcelona lead from Andres Iniesta’s fantastic 7th-minute opener only lasted until the 20th minute, when Benezma notched the first of two quick goals. Messi equalized for the defending champions just before the halftime whistle on an impressive sequence, but Ronaldo pulled the hosts back ahead in the 54th minute on a controversial penalty call. Barcelona grabbed a penalty of their own when Ramos tackled Neymar in the box, and Iniesta was able to earn another with six minutes remaining, setting up the Messi hat trick and moving Barcelona to just one point behind the Madrid rivals for first place.
While the massive rivalry match of the weekend in Spain was a close one, the London derby match between first-place Chelsea and third-place Arsenal was a complete blowout as the Blues won 6-0 at Stamford Bridge. Samuel Eto’o and Andre Schurrle put Chelsea up 2-0 in the opening seven minutes, but the biggest shock of the match came in the 15th minute when referee Andre Marriner wrongfully sent off Kieran Gibbs for a handball penalty committed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. After Eden Hazard converted the ensuing spot kick after the mass confusion, Oscar and Mohamed Salah doubled Chelsea’s early three-goal lead against a struggling 10-man Arsenal side.
Here is a closer look at all the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
Nineteenth-place Cardiff City went ahead twice at home against second-place Liverpool, but few would have guessed that after seeing the 6-3 scoreline after the high-scoring Reds’ victory Saturday. Luis Suarez netted a hat trick to extend his Golden Boot lead while Martin Skrtel equalized and gave Liverpool the lead for good midway through the match at Cardiff City Stadium. Suarez’s favorite strike partner Daniel Sturridge also scored for Liverpool, who have now broken a club record for goals in a league season with eight matches left to play.
Fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur secured a crucial victory in their quest for European qualification Sunday with a stunning 3-2 comeback win against ninth-place Southampton at White Hart Lane. Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana combined to give the visiting Saints a 2-0 lead at the half-hour mark, but Christian Eriksen netted a 31st-minute response and a 46th-minute equalizer to keep hope alive for Spurs. Eriksen solidified his status at Tottenham’s hero in stoppage time of a tense second half by teeing up fellow midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson for an important last-minute winner.
Here are the results from this weekend’s English Premier League action:
Chelsea 6, Arsenal 0
Liverpool 6, Cardiff City 3
Everton 3, Swansea City 2
Hull City 2, West Bromwich Albion 0
Manchester City 5, Fulham 0
Newcastle United 1, Crystal Palace 0
Norwich City 2, Sunderland 0
Manchester United 2, West Ham United 0
Tottenham Hotspur 3, Southampton 2
New first-place club Atletico Madrid were the big winners from Sunday’s El Clasico result after their 2-0 road victory against last-place Real Betis. After a largely frustrating first half for visiting Atletico, Betis forward Braian Rodriguez was sent off for a handball — a call that changed the match almost instantly. Gabi scored three minutes after Rodriguez’s dismissal with a stunning long-range effort, and Diego Costa headed in a Koke cross in the 64th minute to put Atletico ahead of Real Madrid thanks to La Liga’s head-to-head tiebreaker rules.
Athletic Bilbao strengthened their grip on the fourth and final Champions League place for La Liga with a 1-0 home win against Getafe, who sit just one point above the relegation zone with nine matches to play. Bilbao’s lone goal from their dominance of the match came in the 40th minute, when Markel Susaeta successfully found the back of the net from an Ander Herrera free kick. Getafe’s Lafita made Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz work hard for his clean sheet at the San Mames, but the midfielder was unable to take advantage of his pair of scoring chances.
Here are the results from this weekend’s La Liga action:
Malaga 2, Celta Vigo 0
Granada 1, Elche 0
Espanyol 0, Levante 0
Real Valladolid 1, Rayo Vallecano 1
Athletic Bilbao 1, Getafe 0
Sevilla 2, Osasuna 1
Atletico Madrid 2, Real Betis 0
Valencia 2, Villarreal 1
Barcelona 4, Real Madrid 3
First-place Bayern Munich’s unbeaten Bundesliga run was extended to 51 matches this weekend at Mainz as the defending champions posted a 2-0 road victory. Bayern dominated the flow of the match by out-shooting Mainz 23-4, but they only found the back of the net inside the final 10 minutes as midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Gotze found the target. Bayern can now clinch the Bundesliga title with seven matches left to go this Tuesday with a win at Hertha Berlin, who came close to getting a result at Allianz Arena earlier this season.
Fourth-place Bayer Leverkusen freefall continued with a 3-2 home loss to Hoffenheim, a defeat that extended Leverkusen’s winless skid to nine matches across all competitions. Stefan Kiessling and Simon Rolfes each netted equalizers for Leverkusen against a determined Hoffenheim squad looking to end a losing streak of its own. However, USMNT defender Fabian Johnson delivered a cross for Anthony Modeste’s game-winning goal in the 89th minute, giving Hoffenheim some sweet revenge on Leverkusen for their close loss in the fixture earlier this season.
Here are the results from this weekend’s Bundesliga action:
Freiburg 3, Werder Bremen 1
Borussia Dortmund 3, Hannover 0
Bayern Munich 2, Mainz 0
Schalke 3, Eintracht Braunschweig 1
Stuttgart 1, Hamburg 0
Wolfsburg 1, Augsburg 1
Borussia Monchengladbach 3, Hertha Berlin 0
Eintracht Frankfurt 5, Nurnberg 2
Hoffenheim 3, Bayer Leverkusen 2
First-place Juventus struggled to put away last-place Catania away from Turin on Sunday, but Carlos Tevez’s 59th-minute strike was enough to give Juve another victory on their quest for a third straight Scudetto. Southampton loanee Pablo Osvaldo headed a pass to another former English Premier League player just before the hour mark, and Tevez was there to lash home the match’s only goal. Catania, who sit four points below the relegation line in Serie A, saw any real hopes of a result fade a few minutes after Tevez’s goal when Gonzalo Bergessio picked up his second yellow card.
Fourth-place Fiorentina needed a late goal to pull themselves closer to Champions League contention as the Viola won 1-0 at third-place Napoli on Sunday. Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam was sent off in the 37th minute, but it took Fiorentina 50 more minutes to find the breakthrough they needed. Manuel Pasqual delivered a pass to Joaquin with not much time left at the Stadio San Paolo, and the Fiorentina forward was there to nod it past Pepe Reina for the narrow road victory.
Here are the results from this weekend’s Serie A action:
Torino 3, Livorno 1
AS Roma 2, Chievo Verona 0
Parma 1, Genoa 1
Bologna 1, Cagliari 0
Atalanta 2, Inter Milan 1
Sampdoria 5, Hellas Verona 0
Udinese 1, Sassuolo 0
Fiorentina 1, Napoli 0
Juventus 1, Catania 0
Lazio 1, AC Milan 1
First-place Paris Saint-Germain also struggled to put away a bottom-half side on the road, but the defending champions were able to get the goal they needed to defeat Lorient 1-0. Thiago Motta willed in the match’s lone goal in the 41st minute after a scramble in the box from a Zlatan Ibrahimovic effort. Lorient were able to keep PSG from scoring again in the second half, but they also could not find enough offensively to net an equalizer as the defending champions kept their domestic momentum going.
Second-place AS Monaco fell two more points behind PSG in the title race with a 1-1 home draw against third-place Lille. Monaco’s Mounir Obbaddi put the hosts up early with a side-footed finish off a pass from Dimitar Berbatov, but Lille were able to respond before halftime with a Divock Origi equalizer past Danijel Subabsic. Although both sides had excellent chances to grab a winner in the second half, the match ended in a frustrating draw for two sides that needed all three points for their respective Ligue 1 races.
Here are the results from this weekend’s Ligue 1 action:
Paris Saint-Germain 1, Lorient 0
Stade Rennes 1, Marseille 0
Bastia 2, Stade de Reims 0
Bordeaux 1, Nice 1
Nantes 2, Montpellier 1
Toulouse 1, Evian Thonon Gaillard 1
Ajaccio 3, Valenciennes 2
Saint Etienne 3, Sochaux 1
Lyon 1, Guingamp 0
AS Monaco 1, Lille 1
What did you think of this weekend’s European league action? Impressed with Barcelona’s road Clasico win against Real Madrid? Stunned at Arsenal’s performance at Stamford Bridge? Do you think Chelsea will win the league title this season?
Share your thoughts below.