LONDON: Lionel Messi’s hat-trick blew the Spanish title race wide open as Sunday’s Classico produced a stunning conclusion to a remarkable weekend of action across the continent. Barcelona’s 4-3 victory over Real Madrid in the Bernabeu left La Liga heading for a three-way fight to the finish with Atletico Madrid ending the weekend top of the standings. Premier League leaders Chelsea put six past Arsenal in a high-scoring weekend in the Premier League which also saw chasers to Liverpool and Manchester City run riot. Bayern Munich moved to the brink of the Bundesliga title as Juventus and Paris St Germain marched on in Italy and France.
Spain: Lionel Messi’s hat-trick gave Barcelona a 4-3 comeback win against 10-man Real Madrid in a breathtaking Classico to leave the title race on a knife edge. Barca took a seventh-minute lead at the Bernabeu through Andres Iniesta before a Karim Benzema double and Messi’s first of the night made it 2-2 at the break. Cristiano Ronaldo put Real ahead from the penalty spot 10 minutes after halftime after he was tripped by Daniel Alves but the match turned when Real skipper Sergio Ramos was sent off for clipping Neymar when he was through on goal. Messi, the all-time top scorer in ‘Classicos’ with 21 goals, tucked home the resulting penalty and struck the winner from the spot six minutes from time after Iniesta was bundled down. With nine games left, Real have 70 points, level with city neighbours Atletico Madrid who won 2-0 at bottom side Real Betis, and one ahead of third-placed Barca.
England: Leaders Chelsea humbled 10-man Arsenal 6-0, Liverpool and Manchester City also notched up big wins and Wayne Rooney’s spectacular strike from over 50 metres was one of 42 goals scored in England’s top flight. Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th game as Arsenal manager was ruined by a ruthless Chelsea performance at Stamford Bridge in a game also notable for a bizarre refereeing decision, which led to the wrong Arsenal player being sent off. Luis Suarez bagged a hat-trick as Liverpool came from behind to crush Cardiff City 6-3 and Manchester City’s Yaya Toure struck three times to inspire his side to a 5-0 rout of Fulham. Chelsea lead the table by four points from Liverpool, who have a game in hand, with Man City two points further back but with three matches in hand on the leaders. Manchester United striker Rooney opened the scoring against West Ham with an audacious looping shot from near the halfway line to help the champions to a 2-0 win which will put them in good heart for the derby against City on Tuesday.
Germany: Bayern Munich are a win away from securing their 24th German league title after beating Mainz 05 2-0 on Saturday to stay 23 points clear with a maximum 24 still available from the remaining eight games. Late goals from Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Goetze secured a league record 18th successive win to maintain their huge lead at the top, having also stretched their league unbeaten run to 51 games. They can set a record for the fastest title if they beat Hertha Berlin on Tuesday and clinch the trophy with seven games left. Fellow Champions League quarterfinalists Borussia Dortmund stayed second after a 3-0 win at Hanover 96, one point ahead of Schalke 04, 3-1 winners over Eintracht Braunschweig.
Italy: Juventus stayed 14 points clear of AS Roma and on course for a third successive Serie A title after both sides won away from home. Serie ‘A’ leading scorer Carlos Tevez gave Juventus a 1-0 win at bottom club Catania with his 16th goal of the season while the Sicilians had striker Gonzalo Bergessio sent off for elbowing Giorgio Chiellini. Roma won 2-0 at Chievo with first-half goals from Gervinho and Mattia Destro. Napoli’s grip on third place, the Champions League playoff spot, was loosened when they lost 1-0 at home to fourth-placed Fiorentina after Joaquin Sanchez headed an 87th minute winner. Juventus have 74 points from 29 games and Roma 64 with a game in hand. They are followed by Napoli (58) and Fiorentina (51).
France: Paris St Germain’s march towards a second Ligue 1 title in succession continued when they beat Lorient 1-0 on Friday and second-placed Monaco were held 1-1 at home by Lille on Sunday. The results left PSG with 73 points with eight matches left, 10 points ahead of Monaco. PSG were not at their best in Brittany but Thiago Motta’s first-half goal was enough for them to secure the points. In Monaco, Mounir Obbadi’s early strike was cancelled out by Vidock Origi’s goal six minutes before the break. Lille stayed third on 54 points, three ahead of St Etienne who beat Sochaux 3-1 on Sunday.
Portugal: Benfica beat Academica Coimbra 3-0 to stay on course for their first league title since 2009/10 as the top three all won. Two goals from Lima and one from Enzo Perez gave the Eagles their seventh successive league win to keep them seven points clear at the top. Adrien Silva, with a penalty, William Carvalho and Jefferson scored in second-placed Sporting’s 3-1 win at Maritimo. Titleholders Porto, a further five points back in third needed a late Juan Quintero goal to beat 10-man Belenenses 1-0.
Greece: Nelson Valdez scored a hat-trick before halftime as Olympiakos bounced back from Champions League elimination by Manchester United with a resounding 4-1 away win over Ergotelis in Crete on Sunday. Michel’s team, who wrapped up their 41st league title last weekend but slipped to a 3-0 defeat to United in the second leg of their last 16 tie in Europe’s elite competition, were 3-0 up by the 13th minute after Valdez netted the fastest treble in Super League history. The top five all recorded wins, with Atromitos and PAOK Salonica maintaining second and third place respectively, 18 points behind the champions.
ZURICH - Six soccer officials, including some high ranking members of world governing body FIFA, ...