By IAN HOLLIDAY
For several weeks in March and early April, it looked like an Arsenal victory at the Emirates against Manchester United on May 1 could make for a dramatic English title race. It did, but not for the Gunners.
Aaron Ramsey's 56th minute goal gave Arsenal a 1-0 win on the day, but it's Chelsea that will benefit most from the result. The Blues are just three points behind United in second place after a controversial 2-1 victory over Tottenham on Saturday. A win over the Red Devils at Old Trafford on Sunday would put Chelsea in poll position on goal differential and set up a mad dash for first in the season's final two weeks. Of course, the opposite result would put the Red Devils six points ahead, effectively, if not mathematically, clinching the title for Sir Alex Ferguson's side.
Between them, Barcelona and Real Madrid had lost just four times in La Liga all season going into this week's matches. That total jumped to six on Saturday, as both sides rested some key players ahead of their deciding UEFA Champions League semifinal match Tuesday. Cristiano Ronaldo wasn't even on the bench for the Merengues' 3-2 home loss to struggling Real Zaragoza, and Barca fielded a lineup that included Lionel Messi and Xavi, but not David Villa or Andres Iniesta, in a 2-1 defeat at Real Sociedad.
In other European action from the weekend:
In Italy, AC Milan needs just one point from its final three matches to claim its first Scudetto since 2004 after defeating Bologna 1-0 on Sunday. The club holds tiebreakers over Inter Milan and Napoli, eight and nine points behind, respectively.
While the Rossoneri are one point shy of the Serie A title, the German title race has already been decided. Borussia Dortmund claimed its seventh league title with a 2-0 win over Nurnberg and a 2-0 loss from Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday.
In France, the title chase looks to be down to two clubs: Lille and Marseille. Last year's champions went into the weekend ahead after Lille's recent stumbles, but they could only manage a 1-1 draw with Auxerre, and fell back to second place after Lille's 5-0 demolition of relegated Arles.
Here is a rundown of all the weekend scores from Europe's top leagues:
As the title race tightens up, the race for champions league qualification is winding down. Fourth-placed Manchester City has opened up a seven-point lead on both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, its closest competition for the Premier League's final champions league spot. The Citizens could clinch their place as early as next week if results break in their favor, and would almost certainly stake their claim to champions league play with a win in their game in hand against Tottenham on May 10.
Birmingham City 1, Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
Liverpool 3, Newcastle United 0
Arsenal 1, Manchester United 0
Manchester City 2, West Ham United 1
Blackburn 1, Bolton 0
Blackpool 0, Stoke City 0
Sunderland 0, Fulham 3
West Bromwich Albion 2, Aston Villa 1
Wigan Athletic 1, Everton 1
Chelsea 2, Tottenham 1
The revolving door of clubs in Europa League poll position continued this week as both Sevilla and Atletico Madrid got 1-0 away wins to keep the pressure on former front-runner Athletic Bilbao. Those two clubs are now provisionally ahead of the Basque side, which will visit eighth-placed and likely out-of-the-running Espanyol Monday night. A win would move Bilbao back up to fifth with 54 points, two better than Sevilla and Atletico.
Real Madrid 2, Real Zaragoza 3
Real Sociedad 2, Barcelona 1
Deportivo la Coruna 0, Atletico Madrid 1
Racing Santander 2, Mallorca 0
Malaga 3, Hercules 1
Levante 0, Sporting Gijon 0
Almeria 0, Sevilla 1
Villarreal 2, Getafe 1
Osasuna 1, Valencia 0
Monday: Espanyol v. Athletic Bilbao
Lazio's dreams of playing champions league football next year could take a giant step toward becoming reality if the club can defeat visiting Juventus Monday night. The Roman side was fortunate not to fall out of fourth over the weekend, as its closest competition Udinese fell 5-2 at Fiorentina. A win Monday would move Lazio to 63 points, four ahead of Udinese and derby rivals AS Roma with three matches to play. The club will have another golden opportunity to help its cause next week when it travels to Udinese.
AC Milan 1, Bologna 0
Catania 2, Cagliari 0
Chievo 1, Lecce 0
Fiorentina 5, Udinese 2
Parma 3, Palermo 1
Sampdoria 3, Brescia 3
Bari 2, AS Roma 3
Cesena 1, Inter Milan 2
Napoli 1, Genoa 0
Monday: Lazio v. Juventus
Bayern Munich and Hannover 96 have been flip-flopping league positions for weeks now, and did again this weekend. With just two weeks left in the Bundesliga season Bayern now holds the upper hand over the side captained by American Steve Cherundolo. The Bavarian club is in third place with 59 points, two ahead of Hannover's total, but if it comes down to goal differential, the German giants have an even bigger advantage. Bayern is +33 in goal differential. That's 30 better than Hannover, which has an impressively low total for a club competing for the champions league.
Borussia Dortmund 2, Nurnberg 0
FC Cologne 2, Bayer Leverkusen 0
Hamburg 0, SC Freiburg 2
Hannover 96 0, Borussia Moenchengladbach 1
Mainz 05 3, Eintracht Frankfurt 0
Hoffenheim 1, VfB Stuttgart 2
Bayern Munich 4, Schalke 04 1
Kaiserslautern 2, St. Pauli 0
Werder Bremen 0, VfL Wolfsburg 1
While the Ligue 1 title race is less congested than it has been for most of the season, the battle to avoid relegation is as closely contested as ever. Historically bad Arles is already assured of going down, and 19th-placed Lens is nine points adrift of safety with five matches to play, but the remaining relegation spot is still very much up for grabs, with seven clubs within three points of the drop zone. Currently out of safety is AS Nancy Lorraine, in 18th place on 38 points. Above Nancy are five clubs on 39 points, occupying places 13 through 17 in the league. Even 11th-placed Toulouse won't feel its safety is assured yet, as the club is just four points above the drop zone on 42.
Marseille 1, AJ Auxerre 1
Montpellier 0, Brest 0
Nice 0, Caen 4
Toulouse 2, Lyon 0
St. Etienne 1, AS Monaco 1
Lens 2, Lorient 3
Lille 5, Arles 0
Sochaux 1, AS Nancy Lorraine 0
Stade Rennes 0, Bordeaux 0
Paris St. Germain 3, Valenciennes 1
What did you think of this week's results? Think Chelsea can make a push for the English title? Impressed by AC Milan's or Dortmund's seasons? Looking forward to Tuesday's Clasico?