All the winners and losers from across Europe this weekend

This weekend, England’s top clubs took a break from the intrigue of the various races and battles across the Premier League. Those ‘fortunate’ enough to have been knocked out of the FA Cup early have been jetting off to warm-weather training camps, while those still left in the competition, however, were tasked with totally extinguishing whatever magic remained in the Cup; either by fielding teams of children seemingly nabbed unwillingly from their classrooms, or by playing out drab draws and complaining about the effect the ensuing replay will have on their chances of winning other, more important trophies.

On the continent, however, no such problems apply. Instead, our more sophisticated European cousins decided years ago that domestic cup competitions weren’t worth winning. So, on the eve of some smack-down Champions League knockout fixtures, European heavyweights were in league action, which is, of course, a much easier task than playing a weakened side against lower-league opposition in the FA Cup. Thanks, The FA, for giving our boys such a fighting chance in European competition. Again.

With Champions (and Europa) League destiny fast approaching, we’ll have a look at continental big-hitters in their quests for silverware and momentum, as well as a look at the winners and losers of the weekend. We travel around the continent for you, dear reader, so you don’t have to put up with snooty waiters, beer in ‘chalices’, and a distinct and depressing lack of Nando’s. You’re welcome.

Germany

Guardiola

Bayern Munich faced Darmstadt on Saturday, and ended up trailing at half time in a Bundesliga match for the first time since September. On that occasion, five goals in 20 barely-believable minutes from Robert Lewandowski helped the Bavarians beat Wolfsburg 5-1. This time, two goals from Thomas Muller (including a lovely overhead kick) and the now standard Robert Lewandowski strike sealed victory for Bayern on the eve of their Champions League last 16 tie against Juventus.

With the news of Pep’s departure at the end of the season and injuries to Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez and Holger Badstuber leaving a gaping hole in the centre of Bayern’s defence, the Champions really needed a win going into their European showdown with last season’s Champions League runners-up Juventus. Look out for academy-graduate Joshua Kimmich who is stepping-in to fill the defensive void adeptly, and for January panic-buy Serdar Tasci who is stepping-in to fill the defensive void ineptly.

Despite victory at the weekend, form hasn’t been great, problems are mounting, and with Juve hitting top form at the right time, Bayern look in real danger of an early Champions League exit. No Pep-shaped mark on the Champions League in Bayern Munich colours could turn his Bavarian adventure into a straight-up flop, say the hypesters. Has the bar of success ever been set higher at any point in footballing history?

That much-needed victory for Bayern Munich put them 11 points clear of ‘title-rivals’ Borussia Dortmund, but only temporarily. Fresh from their 2-0 Europa League win over Porto, Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund side imposed themselves against a Chicharito-including Bayer Leverkusen team who are hotly tipped to make third place in this German league their own.

On this occasion, Dortmund won the game 1-0 thanks to a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang strike. The former St Etienne striker has now scored 21 goals in 21 Bundesliga games this season, but this one wasn’t without its controversy.

Leverkusen manager Roger Schmidt was incensed that an alleged foul on Stefan Kiessling wasn’t given, and when Dortmund broke up the other end and scored, Schmidt was sent off for his reaction. Except, he didn’t leave the field. So the referee took the players off instead.

The match was halted for ten minutes, but the embarrassing incident could surely have been avoided if referee Felix Zwayer had just walked across the pitch and sent Schmidt to the stands himself, rather than asking Leverkusen captain Stefan Kiessling – ironically the alleged injured party – to do his dirty work for him. Schmidt has since apologised for his part in the incident, and will likely face some sort of sanction for refusing to leave after being sent off, or at least, sent off via Kiessling!

Elsewhere, the surprising form of Hertha Berlin sees Salomon Kalou’s side remain in the Champions League spots after a draw with Wolfsburg who sit in a very disappointing eighth spot. But with only seven points separating Wolfsburg from fourth place, the race for the Champions League in Germany is very tight indeed.

Winners of the weekend: Hoffenheim, whose victory over high-flying Mainz moves them within a few points of safety as those around them succumbed to defeat this weekend. Their 28 year-old manager Julian Nagelsmann took charge of only his second game as a manager and celebrated his first win.

Losers of the weekend: Hannover, whose defeat at home to Augsburg leaves them eight points from safety.

Italy

Totti selfie

There is only one place to start in Italy this week. After 14 straight wins, Juventus succumbed to their first non-win in Serie A since 28th October as they were held to a Friday-night draw by Roberto Donadoni’s Bologna.

But a draw is hardly the end of the world for Max Allegri’s side. And with Bayern Munich coming to town this week, Juve, admittedly, have bigger fish to fry. The form the Old Lady have showed since late October in order to drag themselves into a title race is sensational, and it’s that sort of form that makes people believe that they can actually beat Bayern Munich over two legs. Munich are in unconvincing form, Juventus sensational form – recent goalless drawing excluded.

Napoli are the only team who can realistically beat the Bianconeri to the title this season, they play on Monday night when – thanks to Bologna’s impenetrable defence – they can retake top spot.

Below the title battle, Champions League race is getting serious. Inter, Roma and Fiorentina all managed wins this weekend as the pace is being set to ‘blistering’. The main talking points, however, were at the Stadio Olimpico where Roma beat Palermo 5-0.

Arguably the worst miss in footballing history saw Edin Dzeko’s miserable Serie A spell continue, before sheer persistence, mental strength and the world class quality the Bosnian possesses saw that bad spell end!

He managed to score within minutes of that glaring miss as Roma ran out 5-0 winners, and Dzeko now has three goals in two Serie A games.

The moment of the match surely belonged to former Chelsea man Mohamed Salah, though. His awesome finish from an impossible angle stole the show, even in a match overshadowed by a terrible miss and the pre-match news that the ultimate in club legends, Francesco Totti, was sent home after criticising his manager Luciano Spalletti, prompting speculation that he may never play for the Rossoneri again. To overshadow that is some going – that’s how good Salah’s finish was!

Winners – Roma, who may have lost Francesco Totti, but they look a much better force under Spalletti and are a real contender for the Champions League now. Though Napoli will be the weekend’s winners if they manage to beat Milan on Monday night and regain top spot.

Losers – Sampdoria, who battered Champions League-chasing Inter Milan, winning in all the stats except the one that counts – goals. That defeat leaves Samp only two points above the relegation zone.

France

CavaniPSG

There’s some debate over just how early PSG can win this season’s Ligue 1 title. They currently sit 24 points clear of Monaco after victory over Reims at the weekend, with only 11 games to go. According to my maths – admittedly not my strong suit – that means that even if Monaco win all their games up until they face PSG on (presumably) March 20th, the Parisians will be crowned champions with a victory that very night. Should Monaco lose, it’ll be even earlier.

Their dominance over Ligue 1 is staggering, but PSG will hardly be judged by their league form. Failure to beat Chelsea in the Champions League will make this a poor season for PSG even if they win a domestic treble for the second season in a row. Poor Laurent Blanc – as you may remember from Germany, Blanc’s bar is set to Pep Guardiola standards!

Chelsea fans may have reason to believe that they can scupper Blanc’s attempts to garner success, however. Although Zlatan ‘zlataned’ Reims this weekend with two goals and two assists, both Angel di Maria and Marco Verratti had to come off injured. Blanc says neither are serious, we’ll all just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, the race for the Champions League is also a wonderful watch in France, as the league table still looks like a ten car pile-up.

Marseille and St Etienne played out a 1-1 draw that was remarkably boring for a game with a sending-off and a last-minute equaliser; Lyon lost away to Lille; and Nice could only draw with Bordeaux.

That leaves Monaco eight points clear of the chasers in second, and there seems to be only one Champions League spot left to play for – but third and 11th are separated by only five points. Whatever you say about PSG’s dominance, you can’t argue that Ligue 1 isn’t competitive – sit back and watch the carnage ensue!

Winners – Monaco, who have established a gap between themselves and the chasing pack.

Losers – Lyon, who had the chance to go third but blew it against Lille.

Spain

Barca

Barcelona’s victory this weekend stretched their unbeaten run to 32 games, and stretched their lead at the top of the La Liga table to eight points, as both Madrid clubs failed to win.

The stats are crazy, but then again, with Barcelona the stats are always crazy. Not only does Luis Suarez have 41 goals in 37 games this season, he also has ten assists to his name, and has been directly involved in 23 goals in his last ten games. Arsenal, beware.

Real Madrid’s draw against Malaga leaves them adrift by some margin, behind even Atletico now, as both Madrid clubs must surely look to the Champions League as their only realistic hope of silverware this season.

To make matters worse for Real, Cristiano Ronaldo missed a first half penalty in their draw on Sunday, whilst Atleti could only manage a 0-0 draw, though that was against Villarreal.

The Yellow Submarine have more or less sewn-up the final Champions League spot, and although they’re unlikely to finish in the top three, they are eight points ahead of Sevilla who will be hoping to get into the Champions League via the same route they entered it this season – by winning the Europa League.

Another team looking to do the same thing are Valencia, excuse me, Gary Neville’s Valencia, to give them their full title. They beat Granada 2-1 to make it three wins in a row in all competitions scoring ten goals in that run. Talk of relegation is well and truly extinguished, as are the hopes of their Europa League opponents Rapid Vienna, whom they crushed 6-0 last midweek.

Surely this Valencia side have now turned a corner, now only seven points off Europe in the league, but no longer looking over their shoulders, they can mount a serious challenge for Europa League silverware and a place in the Champions League next season. My how things suddenly look rosy for Neville – and maybe that ‘audition for the United job’ is going pretty well, after all.

Winners: Barcelona, who have now built a surely unassailable lead at the top of the table with a simply ridiculous second treble in a row now up for grabs.

Losers: Real Madrid, who have only won one La Liga title in eight seasons and, barring something dramatic, won’t win it again this year. Their only hope is the Champions League, which Madrid usually prefer to win anyway….