Euro Roundup: Title victories and hollow celebrations

Over the next few weeks, we’ll hear plenty of talk about a ‘winter break’ in England, but this week, the only football around is in Europe.

There’s a full fixture list in France, Italy and Germany in midweek, and nothing bigger than a huge clash between the German top two, Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig. It’s German football’s ‘English week’ – that is, a week chock full of football! Who says the continentals don’t embrace the funny English customs?

France

They may not have been the biggest games in France this weekend, but they were surely the most decisive: PSG succumbed to yet another chastening defeat, this time to Guingamp, and Mario Balotelli fired Nice to another win to put them seven points clear of the champions.

In fact, it was a stunning weekend for Nice. Not only did they win and PSG lose, but so too did Monaco – who lost their heads in a 3-1 defeat to Lyon, producing a limp display with Prince Albert looking on from the stands.

An on-form Mathieu Valbuena fired Lyon to victory over 10-man Monaco, and that just crowned off a wonderful weekend for Nice, who are four points clear at the top of the table, and after Leicester City’s success in England last season, we know better than to write off Nice right now.

Elsewhere, St Etienne lost their usually very busy goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier to injury before the weekend, and his replacement, Jessy Moulin, got himself sent off within ten minutes of his big game. Down to ten men, Les Verts couldn’t stop bottom club Lorient from recording only their fourth win of the season – though it couldn’t lift them off the bottom of the table. And Marseille recorded their third victory in a row and move up to sixth place. Are they now back to being a force in French football again?

Germany

The first game of the weekend in Germany was the best: a fiery 2-2 draw between Borussia Dortmund and Hoffenheim.

That result means that Hoffenheim have maintained their unbeaten record in the league, and are one of only two teams in Europe’s top leagues to remain without a defeat. The only other unbeaten side is Real Madrid.

But this weekend, it was Dortmund who will see the point as a positive result. Reduced to ten men in the first half when they were losing the game, a point away from home to a side above them in the table is no mean feat.

Friday night’s game may have been the best spectacle, but Saturday saw RB Leipzig pile the pressure onto Bayern Munich by winning a day before Carlo Ancelotti’s side faced bottom side Darmstadt.

It took a goal late in the second half from Douglas Costa to seal a victory and bring Bayern back to the top of the table again. Both sides are locked on 36 points, with Bayern ahead on goal difference, so all eyes will be on the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night as the ding dong battle rages on.

Elsewhere, there was an important victory for Wolfsburg as Ingolstadt also won. Had the Wolves not beaten high-flying Eintracht Frankfurt, they’d have found themselves in the relegation zone by the end of the weekend.

Italy

The biggest game in Italy was arguably the biggest game in the world this weekend, as top met second in Turin.

Last week, the big game was between AC Milan and Roma, second versus third, and whilst Roma came out on top, you felt it was something of a battle to become the people’s champion. The people’s champion to face the menacing Goliath of a beast that is Juventus. But both were really only putting themselves forward to be the next representative of the mortals to fall at the sword of a frightening Juventus side.

In the end, Goliath wasn’t to be stopped, and Juventus’s victory puts them seven points clear of the chasing pack and almost certain now, surely, of yet another title. Edin Dzeko may be joint top scorer in Serie A, but that matters little to a well-oiled Juve.

Elsewhere, Roma’s weekend got even worse as Napoli hit an incredible scoring vein to put five past Joe Hart in the Torino goal, leaving last season’s tributes to the black and white beast only a point behind this season’s. Mostly thanks to Dries Mertens.

Spain

In Spain this week, the Barcelona derby saw Espanyol bested by Barcelona in a way so many teams have been before: by the brilliance of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.

It puts some gloss onto the league table for the champions going into the winter break, given that Real Madrid were six points clear before the start of the weekend.

Real weren’t in action this week, though, thanks to their victory in the Champions League final last season. Their reward – aside from the usual rewards of Champions League glory – was another trip to Japan to win in the Club World Championship, and come back home again after the winter break with more games to play.

The table now makes better reading for Barcelona, albeit in a fairly hollow way. After yet another year of barely believable goalscoring, though, are we really going call the title race over?

The numbers are so crazy as to be genuinely funny.

Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid will spend Christmas in an unfamiliar sixth place, despite their 1-0 victory over Las Palmas, with the Champions League places occupied by Sevilla and Villarreal, whose victory on Saturday kept Valencia out of the relegation places at the other end. Athletic Bilbao’s Monday night victory over Celta means Atleti will spend the holidays looking over their shoulders, too.

With Real Madrid winning the Club World Cup (meaning Zinedine Zidane has more trophies than defeats as Real Madrid boss), Barcelona closing the gap at the top, Atletico Madrid celebrating a victory and Valencia celebrating 17th place, it was quite the weekend of denial and hollow celebrations in Spain… Feliz Navidad!