By IAN HOLLIDAY
The last eight months or so have not been kind to Wayne Rooney. A lukewarm showing in the World Cup carried over into an equally tepid start to the Premier League season, and all the while the striker was making more headlines off the pitch than on it. But in the 77th minute of Manchester United's 2-1 victory over derby rivals Manchester City, all of that was forgotten.
Rooney called his overhead winner the best goal of his life, and given the skill it took to complete and the magnitude of the situation in which it happened, it's hard to argue with his assessment. The wonder goal gave United an eight-point lead over its rivals in the Premier League, effectively ending the Citizens' title hopes.
Elsewhere in Europe, FC Barcelona's 16-match consecutive win-streak ended with a surprising 1-1 draw at relegation-threatened Sporting Gijon. Sporting took the lead in the 16th minute and nearly held on for the shocking upset despite being out-possessed by an 81-19 percent clip. David Villa salvaged a point for Barca with an 80th-minute goal.
In Italy, Inter Milan's charge toward the top of the table took a step back Sunday at Juventus, with the hosts prevailing 1-0. Serie A leaders AC Milan and Napoli suffered no such setback this weekend, each managing comfortable wins.
The German and French tables continued their opposite trends this weekend, with Lille maintaining its 5 point lead in Ligue 1 and Borussia Dortmund drawing again in the Bundesliga. Of course, Dortmund's lead is still 10 points, so the club is likely breathing easier than its French counterparts at the moment.
Here is a rundown of all the weekend scores from Europe's top leagues:
Big clubs will often drop points against inferior opposition when faced with important midweek fixtures like Champions' League knockout stage matches. That may have been the case in Barca's surprise draw this weekend, but the two English clubs that will be in action this week suffered no such letdown. Barca's midweek opponents Arsenal bounced back from its embarrassing 4-4 draw with Newcastle last week to dispatch Wolves 2-0. Arsenal's North London rivals Tottenham also took care of business before its Champions League match at AC Milan on Tuesday. Spurs defeated Sunderland 2-1 on Saturday.
Bolton 2, Everton 0
Manchester United 2, Manchester City 1
Arsenal 2, Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
Birmingham City 1, Stoke City 0
Blackburn 0, Newcastle United 0
Blackpool 1, Aston Villa 1
Liverpool 1, Wigan Athletic 1
West Bromwich Albion 3, West Ham United 3
Sunderland 1, Tottenham 2
Monday: Fulham v. Chelsea
It's tempting to chalk up Barcelona's draw to a less-than-full-strength line-up that didn't include regulars like Pedro, Sergio Busquets, and the injured Carles Puyol, but the Catalan club should theoretically have enough depth to make up for such absences. Barca had plenty of chances in the match, and could easily have won it on a number of occasions, but it wasn't to be. The draw gives Real Madrid hope, after the Merengues were able to dispose of Barcelona's other club Espanyol 1-0. Jose Mourinho's side is still five points behind its El Clasico rivals, and it will need to seize every opportunity to make up points if it wants to bring the title back to the Spanish capital.
Hercules 2, Real Zaragoza 1
Levante 1, Almeria 0
Malaga 2, Getafe 2
Real Sociedad 1, Osasuna 0
Deportivo La Coruna 1, Villarreal 0
Espanyol 0, Real Madrid 1
Atletico Madrid 1, Valencia 2
Sporting Gijon 1, Barcelona 1
Racing Santander 3, Sevilla 2
Monday: Mallorca v. Athletic Bilbao
The goal-scoring fever that gripped England last week seemed to have caught on in Italy this weekend, though it wasn't a full-blown outbreak. Three Italian clubs scored four goals, including leaders AC Milan, which defeated Parma 4-0. Three more clubs dropped three on their opponents, including Catania, which won an exciting relegation battle over Lecce 3-2. All five of the match's goals were scored after halftime, with Catania overturing a 2-1 deficit to emerge victorious and pull two points ahead of its opponents in the Seie A table. Neither club is currently in the relegation zone, but Lecce are only two points clear with 24. Catania is in better shape with 26, four ahead of Brescia, which occupies the league's last relegation place with 22 points.
Palermo 2, Fiorentina 4
Bari 0, Genoa 0
Brescia 0, Lazio 2
Cagliari 4, Chievo 1
Catania 3, Lecce 2
Cesena 0, Udinese 3
Sampdoria 3, Bologna 1
Juventus 1, Inter Milan 0
AC Milan 4, Parma 0
AS Roma 0, Napoli 2
A 10-point lead is too large a cushion to cause Borussia Dortmund to enter panic-mode, but this weekend's results should concern the leaders. Both second-placed Bayer Leverkusen and third-placed Bayern Munich won their matches this weekend in convincing fashion, defeating Eintracht Frankfurt and Hoffenheim by 3-0 and 4-0 scorelines, respectively. Meanwhile, the leaders managed only a draw at Kaiserslautern, which is in 16th place and clearly in a relegation battle. The draw was Dortmund's second in a row and its third in five games since the Bundesliga returned from winter break.
FC Cologne 4, Mainz 05 2
Werder Bremen 1, Hannover 96 1
Bayern Munich 4, Hoffenheim 0
Eintracht Frankfurt 0, Bayer Leverkusen 3
Schalke 04 1, SC Freiburg 0
St. Pauli 3, Borussia Moenchengladbach 1
VfB Stuttgart 1, Nurnberg 4
VfL Wolfsburg 0, Hamburg 1
Kaiserslautern 1, Borussia Dortmund 1
American Carlos Bocanegra gave St. Etienne a 13th minute lead against rivals Lyon, but the club's joy was short-lived as Lyon came back to lead 2-1 at halftime and win 4-1 after 90 minutes. The victory brought the Champions League knockout stage participants up to fourth place in Ligue 1, only a point behind Marseille for a place in next year's Champions League. The loss dropped former leaders St. Etienne to sixth. All three clubs, plus Paris St. Germain, are chasing Bocanegra's former club Stade Rennes in second place and Lille, which maintained its five-point lead at the top of Ligue 1 with a 2-0 win over Toulouse on Sunday.
Stade Rennes 2, Nice 0
Valenciennes 3, Brest 0
Lille 2, Toulouse 0
Arles 0, Montpellier 0
AS Monaco 3, Lorient 1
AS Nancy Lorraine 3, AJ Auxerre 1
Bordeaux 1, Caen 2
Paris St. Germain 0, Lens 0
Sochaux 1, Marseille 2
St. Etienne 1, Lyon 4
What did you think of this weekend's results? Agree that Rooney's goal was the best of his career? Think it was the best in the Premier League so far this season? Hoping the La Liga title race will tighten further?
Share your thoughts below.