By JUSTIN FERGUSON
Saturday’s highly anticipated clash between first-place Barcelona and second-place Atletico Madrid was supposed to determine who would be the team to beat in the second half of the La Liga season.
Separation at the top of the table will have to come some other time.
Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, two of the world’s highest-scoring offenses this season, canceled each other out Saturday in a scoreless draw at the Estadio Vicente Calderon. Both teams, tied at the top of the standings with 50 points, finished with two shots on goal in the first home match of the season where Atletico Madrid failed to register all three points.
Barcelona stars Lionel Messi and Neymar both started on the bench, and neither could spark the visiting offense to a goal past in-form Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Messi forced Courtois to make the save of the match in the 80th minute following a mistake by Atletico defender Juanfran. Atletico’s best chance of the evening came shortly before Messi’s shot on goal as winger Arda Turan fired low into the grasp of Victor Valdes following a miss from league Golden Boot leader Diego Costa.
While goals were nowhere to be found at the Vicente Calderon, the Britannia Stadium saw eight goals in Sunday’s 5-3 Liverpool victory over hosts Stoke City. The Reds returned to the Top 4 in the English Premier League in a wild match that saw Liverpool surrender an early 2-0 lead in the final six minutes of the first half. But leading scorer Luis Suarez scored two for Liverpool, who got a decisive goal in the 87th minute by forward Daniel Sturridge, who was making his first start for Brendan Rodgers’ squad since late November.
Here is a closer look at all the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
Manchester City climbed into first place in the EPL on Sunday with a 2-0 road win at Newcastle United, who have now been shutout in three straight matches. Newcastle thought they had scored an equalizer to Edin Dzeko’s early goal in the 34th-minute, but Cheick Tiote’s goal was controversially ruled out due to an interference call on teammate Yoan Gouffran. The two teams went back and forth for the majority of the second half, and forward Alvaro Negredo sealed the road win for Man City with a goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Sunderland moved out of last place in the EPL table Saturday with a monumental 4-1 road win at fellow relegation fighters Fulham. Adam Johnson netted a hat trick for the visiting Black Cats, who led 2-0 at the break thanks to Johnson’s fine 29th-minute free kick and Ki Sung-Yueng’s goal just before halftime. Johnson scored his second in the 69th minute to reinstate Sunderland’s two-goal lead after a Steve Sidwell goal for Fulham, and he buried one more from the penalty spot following Phillipe Senderos’ foul on USMNT forward Jozy Altidore.
Here are the results from this weekend’s English Premier League action:
Chelsea 2, Hull City 0
West Ham United 2, Cardiff City 0
Everton 2, Norwich City 0
Sunderland 4, Fulham 1
Southampton 1, West Bromwich Albion 0
Tottenham Hotspur 2, Crystal Palace 0
Manchester United 2, Swansea City 0
Manchester City 2, Newcastle United 0
Liverpool 5, Stoke City 3
Third-place Real Madrid took advantage of rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid’s scoreless draw Sunday with a 1-0 victory at Espanyol. Los Blancos had a number of great chances to make it a multi-goal win, but only one of their 23 shots found the back of the net — a 55th-minute header from defender Pepe. Real Madrid, who have won eight of their last nine league matches since their El Clasico loss to Barcelona, now trail their two biggest rivals by only three points in the race for the La Liga crown.
Fourth-place Athletic Bilbao had no problem scoring on Saturday as they continued their unbeaten record at the new San Mames with a 6-1 rout of Almeria. Five different players found the back of the net for Bilbao, who got two goals from midfielder Ibai Gomez at the end of their blowout home victory against their 16th-place visitors. Bilbao now hold a four-point lead in the battle over Real Sociedad, who face fifth-place Villarreal on Monday, for La Liga’s final Champions League spot.
Here are the results from this weekend’s La Liga action:
Granada 4, Real Valladolid 0
Athletic Bilbao 6, Almeria 1
Celta Vigo 2, Valencia 1
Atletico Madrid 0, Barcelona 0
Elche 1, Sevilla 1
Rayo Vallecano 1, Getafe 0
Osasuna 2, Real Betis 1
Real Madrid 1, Espanyol 0
Levante 1, Malaga 0
First-place Juventus fell behind early at Cagliari, but the defending Serie A champions hit their stride after the first half-hour to win 4-1 at the Stadio San Elia. Mauricio Pinella put the hosts out in front in the 21st minute, only to see Fernando Llorente equalize 10 minutes later. Llorente would score again in the second half, the middle of three goals in the span of eight minutes that kept Juve’s lead atop second-place AS Roma at a commanding eight points.
Sassuolo climbed out of the relegation zone Sunday in one of the most thrilling matches of the year in Serie A, a 4-3 home win over fallen giants AC Milan. Robinho and Mario Balotelli combined to give Milan an early 2-0 lead on the road, but then Domenico Berardi happened. The teenager netted a quick hat trick on the Milan defense before the halftime whistle and added his fourth goal shortly after the second half kickoff. Although Riccardo Montolivo pulled one back for Milan in the 86th minute, the 11th-place Rossoneri were unable to score an equalizer in yet another disappointing result away from home.
Here are the results from this weekend’s Serie A action:
Parma 3, Livorno 0
Bologna 0, Lazio 0
Torino 0, Fiorentina 0
AS Roma 4, Genoa 0
Atalanta 2, Catania 1
Juventus 4, Cagliari 1
Napoli 3, Hellas Verona 0
Sassuolo 4, AC Milan 3
First-place Paris Saint-Germain took advantage of slip-ups from nearest threats AS Monaco and Lille with a hard-fought 2-1 victory at last-place Ajaccio. The hosts stunned the defending champions with an early goal, but Ezequiel Lavezzi’s 41st-minute goal ensured PSG would not go to the locker room behind. Blaise Matuidi finished off a slick passing routine in the 74th minute with a game-winning header, extending PSG’s lead to five points in their hunt for a repeat Ligue 1 title.
Second-place AS Monaco fell victim to the latest of 17th-place Montpellier’s many draws to open up the French weekend. Montpellier, who have drawn 12 of their 20 matches this season in Ligue 1, equalized Layvin Kurazawa’s 52nd-minute goal with a penalty rebound from M’baye Niang. Monaco came close to winning the match several times in the final minutes, but star forward Radamel Falcao and company were off-target, allowing PSG to move ahead in the race for the title.
Here are the results from this weekend’s Ligue 1 action:
Montpellier 1, AS Monaco 1
Paris Saint-Germain 2, Ajaccio 1
Toulouse 1, Bordeaux 0
Guingamp 0, Saint Etienne 0
Lyon 2, Sochaux 0
Stade Rennes 0, Nice 0
Valenciennes 3, Bastia 2
Nantes 1, Lorient 0
Marseille 2, Evian Thonon Gaillard 1
Stade de Reims 2, Lille 1
What did you think of this weekend’s European league action? Who do you think will be the first to pull ahead in the La Liga race, Barcelona or Atletico Madrid? Think Liverpool can keep their spot in the Top 4 after their shootout win against Stoke City? Which other results caught your eye?
Share your thoughts below.