By IAN HOLLIDAY
It was a tough weekend for league leaders across Europe. In Italy, AC Milan needed an 82nd minute goal from Antonio Cassano to salvage a home draw against last-placed Bari on Sunday. Despite dominating possession and creating numerous chances (including two disallowed goals), the Serie A leaders couldn't seem to find an equalizer for most of the match, a frustration that came to a head in the 73rd minute when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sent off.
The silver-lining for Milan was the fact that its crosstown rivals and nearest title competition, Inter Milan, also drew 1-1 at next-to-last Brescia on Friday.
Defending Spanish champion Barcelona wasn't so lucky with its 1-1 draw at Sevilla on Sunday. The Catalan club's lead in La Liga is down to just five points over bitter rivals Real Madrid, which had already defeated Hercules 2-0 on Saturday. The two Spanish giants will meet twice more this season, once in the league on April 17 and again just three days later in the final of the Copa del Rey.
Bundesliga leader Borussia Dortmund also had a bad game this weekend, falling 1-0 to Hoffenheim for only its third loss of the season. Dortmund remains nine points clear of second-placed Bayer Leverkusen in the German table, while Bayern Munich climbed within two points of Hannover 96 for third place after its 6-0 demolishing of Hamburg.
In England, the Premier League took a rare break this weekend for the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, in which Man United compounded Arsenal's recent woes by eliminating the Gunners 2-0 at Old Trafford. Elsewhere, Stoke defeated West Ham 2-1, Man City did just enough to beat second-tier Reading 1-0, and Stuart Holden's Bolton advanced to its first FA Cup semifinal in 11 years with an exciting 3-2 victory over Carling Cup holder Birmingham City.
Here is a rundown of all the weekend scores from Europe's top leagues:
The draw for the semifinals was conducted before the end of the Man City v. Reading game, but the result meant that one semifinal will feature a third Manchester derby of the English season. The clubs played to a rather lackluster 0-0 draw in their first meeting in November, and United won a more lively rematch at Old Trafford 2-1 in February. Whichever club wins the matchup at Wembley will be the prohibitive favorite to hoist the cup, but the Stoke v. Bolton semifinal will provide a golden opportunity for one of the two perennial mid-table finishers to look to steal some silverware from the big clubs.
Stoke City 2, West Ham United 1
Manchester City 1, Reading 0
Birmingham City 2, Bolton 3
Manchester United 2, Arsenal 0
It took French striker Karim Benzema a while to start scoring goals for Real Madrid, but in the club's last six matches it's been hard to get him to stop. Benzema has 8 goals in his last six matches across all competitions, including both of the club's goals against Hercules this weekend. The recent run of good form has seen Benzema surpass the injured Gonzalo Higuain for second-most goals scored this season for the Merengues. He's still 18 behind Cristiano Ronaldo, but the Frenchman has taken the sting out of Higuain's absence with his improvement.
Espanyol 2, Deportivo la Coruna 0
Levante 1, Mallorca 1
Osasuna 3, Racing Santander 1
Real Sociedad 0, Malaga 2
Villarreal 1, Sporting Gijon 1
Sevilla 1, Barcelona 1
Almeria 2, Atletico Madrid 2
Real Madrid 2, Hercules 0
Real Zaragoza 4, Valencia 0
Monday: Getafe v. Athletic Bilbao
While the Milan clubs slumped to 1-1 draws on the weekend, their challengers took advantage by posting comfortable road victories. Napoli defeated struggling Parma 3-1 on a trio of second half goals, and hard-charging Udinese continued its winning ways with a 4-0 victory over Cagliari. Udinese scored all of its goals in a 12-minute span that covered the end of the first half and the start of the second to extend its unbeaten streak to 12 matches and climb into the fourth and final champions league spot in Serie A.
AC Milan 1, Bari 1
AS Roma 2, Lazio 0
Cagliari 0, Udinese 4
Catania 1, Sampdoria 0
Genoa 1, Palermo 0
Lecce 0, Bologna 1
Parma 1, Napoli 3
Cesena 2, Juventus 2
Brescia 1, Inter Milan 1
So much for Hannover's cushion over Bayern Munich. After last week's emphatic and emotional win over the Bavarian club, Hannover came out flat against FC Cologne on Friday and never recovered, falling 4-0 to the hosts. The result, coupled with Bayern's bounceback win against Hamburg, erases the five point lead Hannover had built in the race for a champions league berth next season. With eight matches still left to go in the Bundesliga season, the side captained by American Steve Cherundolo will need to avoid further letdowns if it hopes to hold off the country's biggest club.
Mainz 05 0, Bayer Leverkusen 1
St. Pauli 1, VfB Stuttgart 2
Bayern Munich 6, Hamburg 0
Kaiserslautern 2, SC Freiburg 1
Schalke 04 2, Eintracht Frankfurt 1
Hoffenheim 1, Borussia Dortmund 0
VfL Wolfsburg 1, Nurnberg 2
Werder Bremen 1, Borussia Moenchengladbach 1
FC Cologne 4, Hannover 96 0
If Lille is holds on to capture its first Ligue 1 title since 1954 this season, it will be because of results like the one it achieved on Sunday. After surrendering its 1-0 lead over Valenciennes in the 59th minute, the club looked like it was destined to squander its chance to go three points clear of Stade Rennes at the top of the French table until Eden Hazard struck home a winner in the dying seconds of stoppage time. Lille now enjoys a three point lead over Rennes by virture of the latter's 2-0 home loss to Marseille on Friday.
Bordeaux 0, AS Monaco 1
Lille 2, Valenciennes 1
Paris St. Germain 2, Montpellier 2
Arles 3, Lorient 3
AS Nancy Lorraine 2, Caen 0
Lens 0, Toulouse 1
Nice 1, AJ Auxerre 0
Sochaux 0, Lyon 2
St. Etienne 2, Brest 0
Stade Rennes 0, Marseille 2
What did you think of this weekend's results? Looking forward to the FA Cup semis? Think Real Madrid has a chance to catch Barca? Share your thoughts below.