Our European tour starts in France, where Lyon, as is to be expected by now, are standing alone atop the Ligue 1 standings, but aren’t running away with their seventh straight title just yet.
With their upcoming Champions League clash with Rangers in mind, Lyon manager Alain Perrin sat several key players for Saturday’s tie at Caen, and as a result, may have sacrificed three points, as the home side used an early goal to pick up a 1-0 victory.
19-year old hot shot Karim Benzema, Lyon’s leading scorer, didn’t come on until the match was inside the last half-hour, along with influential attackers Juninho and Sidney Govou. Regular starting defenders Fabio Grosso and Francois Clerc were also rested, and their absence in the back was undoubtedly felt on the decisive goal, which Yoann Gouffran (pictured) slotted home in the 18th minute.
However, second-placed Nancy couldn’t fully capitalize on the leaders’ defeat, as they could only manage a 0-0 draw against Valenciennes, which only trimmed the deficit at the top to four points. The upstart side may rue that missed opportunity in the end, as Lyon don’t give away points often, though their defeat on Saturday was already their fourth of the league campaign, after suffering only five (06/07), four (05/06), and three (04/05) in the previous three seasons.
Elsewhere in Ligue 1, Marseille, who welcome Liverpool in on Tuesday, picked up a 2-0 home win over Monaco. Since a poor league start, Marseille have turned it on lately to shoot their way towards the top half of the table, and with the way that they are currently playing, won’t just hand three points to Liverpool.
Next, we go to Germany and the Bundesliga, where Bayern Munich have gotten back to their winning ways this season after their forgettable fourth-place finish last term. But, with only one more league match before the winter break, Ottmar Hitzfeld can’t be too pleased about a 0-0 draw against Duisburg, who came into the match one spot from bottom.
However, Werder Bremen couldn’t close the gap, as they fell 4-3 at Hannover 96. Mike Hanke rounded off his hat-trick with the winning strike on 77 minutes to deliver the three points and move Hannover into fifth place, eight points behind Bayern, who are top with 35.
Werder’s defeat keeps them second on 33, but they hang on to second, ahead of Hamburg SV (31), who struggled to a goalless draw against bottom-placed Energie Cottbus. However, with a must-win Champions League tie away to Olympiakos on Tuesday, such a sloppy performance for Werder comes at the worst of times.
The land of haggis and Sir Alex Ferguson (two equally vile things to some, I’m sure – I’ll pass on the former unless it’s for dinner with the latter) is up next, where Celtic and Rangers are setting the pace in the SPL. Days after qualifying for the Champions League round of 16, Celtic nearly came crashing back down to earth in a big way, as they dominated at home to 11th-placed St. Mirren, but fell behind in the 74th minute. However, dandy Derek Riordan netted an equalizer 11 minutes later, and the SPL leaders escaped with a 1-1 draw.
With that result in mind, Rangers might feel fortunate to have had their match with Gretna, originally scheduled for Sunday, (unfairly) postponed in order to aid their preparations for Wednesday’s match with Lyon. But, with Celtic’s slip-up, it means Rangers lost a glorious chance to move top of the SPL, and instead drop two points behind (33 to 31).
With Scotland behind us, it’s time to go to Holland, where the Big Three are fighting it out in the Eredivisie.
PSV have their own big Champions League match coming up on Wednesday (vs. Inter), and may well should have postponed their home match against European hopefuls Roda JC instead of not showing up until the match was nearly over. PSV were unbeaten at home this season, but it didn’t matter to Roda, who were 4-0 up just after the hour mark. The reigning Dutch champions scored two late goals, but they were mere consolation after a disappointing performance.
The win moves Roda into fifth on goal difference, where they need to be in order to be a part of the Eredivisie’s Champions League qualifying round/UEFA Cup playoffs. And, it also knocks PSV out of the top spot, after Ajax picked up a 3-2 win at Willem II to move one point ahead of their rivals (31 to 30). Feyenoord could have jumped ahead of PSV as well, but were held to a 0-0 draw at VVV Venlo, and thusly are two points behind the new leaders through round 14.
Last but not least, we round out the tour with Greece and Turkey, where Olympiakos and Fenerbahce warmed up for their big Champions League matches with comprehensive victories in domestic action. Olympiakos throttled Levadiakos 4-0 to draw level with AEK Athens atop the Greek Super League, but only for an instant, as AEK moved back ahead by three points after matching Olympiakos with a 4-0 win over Apollon Kalamarias on Sunday. The two rivals tangle next Sunday, but Olympiakos’ focus for the time being is on Werder Bremen, who they must at least draw with in order to progress into the Champions League round of 16.
As for Fenerbahce, in case you didn’t read our match report already, tuned up for their tie with CSKA Moscow with a 2-0 win over Istanbul rivals Galatasaray to tighten things atop Turkey’s top flight, where there is now a new leader after Sivasspor defeated Denizlispor 2-0 on Sunday. The up-and-coming side are now two points ahead of Galatasaray, and Fenerbahce are three points behind through round 15 of 34.
The action is heating up around Europe as the year winds down, and a big week lies ahead both domestically and continentally for several top clubs. Christmas is going to come early for some, while it’ll be cold and coal for others.