It was a profitable weekend for almost all the leaders in Europe’s leading leagues. Barcelona, AC Milan, Lille and Borussia Dortmund all chalked up narrow victories, and most benefited from title rivals taking points off each other. The exception to the rule came in England, where Manchester United fell to an unexpectedly clear-cut defeat. It is also the time of year when the desperate fight against relegation takes on ever-sharper contours, providing tension and excitement galore at the wrong end of the standings. reviews a weekend of dramatic action around Europe.

Premier League: United and Arsenal both wobble
In the big match of the weekend, Liverpool repaired a great deal of wounded pride with an unexpectedly smooth 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Anfield. Dirk Kuyt will remember the game for as long as he lives: the Dutch poacher scored all three to hand the Red Devils a third defeat of the season.

United’s pain was eased by second-placed Arsenal’s disappointing home draw with Sunderland. By contrast, Manchester City won ugly, beating bottom club Wigan Athletic 1-0 to reduce the arrears to United to seven points. Fifth-placed Spurs were held to a 3-3 draw by Wolverhampton Wanderers, with double winners Chelsea travelling to promoted Blackpool on Monday evening.

Top three: Manchester United (60 points), Arsenal (57), Manchester City (53)
Bottom three: Birmingham City (30), Wolverhampton Wanderers (29), Wigan Athletic (27)
Leading scorers: Dimitar Berbatov (19 goals), Carlos Tevez (18), Darren Bent, Andrew Carroll, Kevin Nolan (all 11)
Weekend stat: 3 – Manchester United negotiated the first 25 matches of the season without defeat, but have now lost three of their last five in the league.

Bundesliga: Dortmund forge on, Bayern slip again
Only a choke of epic proportions can now deny Borussia Dortmund a seventh German championship. BVB, the only undefeated team since Christmas, beat Cologne 1-0 and have now won 19 of their 25 matches this season.

Bayer Leverkusen beat struggling Wolfsburg 3-0 and remain 12 points off Dortmund. Hannover and Bayern Munich were third and fourth before facing off this weekend, but the champions are down to fifth after losing 3-1 to the season’s surprise package. The result sparked a full-blown crisis at Bayern, who last lost three on the spin more than a decade ago. Down at the bottom, there were crucial wins for Borussia Monchengladbach (1-0 against Hoffenheim), Werder Bremen (3-1 away to Freiburg) and Stuttgart (1-0 at home to Schalke).

Top three: Dortmund (61 points), Leverkusen (49), Hannover (47)
Bottom three: Stuttgart, Kaiserslautern (both 25), Monchengladbach (22)
Leading scorers: Mario Gomez (18 goals), Demba Papiss Cissé (17), Theofanis Gekas (14)
Weekend stat: 50 – Dortmund’s victory over Cologne was their 50th league win under boss Jurgen Klopp.

La Liga: No trouble for top three
Barcelona continued their seemingly inexorable progress towards a 21st domestic crown with a fourth straight victory, although they were restricted to a 1-0 success over lowly Real Zaragoza. Real Madrid were without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo but still eased to a 3-1 win over Racing Santander.

Valencia tightened their grip on third spot with a 2-1 victory away to Mallorca. Los Chés’ cause was aided by fourth-placed Villarreal’s 3-1 defeat away to Atletico Madrid. Athletic Bilbao in fifth underscored their UEFA Europa League ambitions with a 2-0 victory over Sevilla.

Top three: Barcelona (74 points), Real Madrid (67), Valencia (54)
Bottom three: Alicante (26), Almeria (25), Malaga (23)
Leading scorers: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo (both 27), David Villa (17)
Weekend stat: 17 – After losing the relegation six-pointer 2-1 to Almeria, Alicante slid into the drop zone for the first time this term.

Serie A: Milan duo accelerate clear
The race for the Scudetto appears to be developing into a one-city, two-horse race. Leaders AC Milan beat long-time foes Juventus 1-0, while Inter romped to a 5-2 triumph at home to Genoa.

Third-placed Napoli were held to a goalless stalemate by Brescia, allowing  Lazio, 2-0 winners against Palermo, and Udinese, who beat Bari by the only goal of the game, to move within two and three points respectively.

Top three: AC Milan (61 points), Inter (56), Napoli (53)
Bottom three: Lecce (28), Brescia (25), Bari (16)
Leading scorers: Antonio di Natale (22 goals), Edinson Cavani (20), Samuel Eto’o (18)
Weekend stat: 1 – AC Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso netted his first league goal since 23 January 2008.

Ligue 1: Last-gasp Lille retain wafer-thin advantage
A 90th-minute strike by Pierre-Alain Frau handed Lille a dramatic 2-1 win in the top of the table clash with fourth-placed Olympique Marseille. The result means Les Dogues stay top of the standings on goal difference from Rennes, who won 1-0 away to Montpellier to keep their hopes of a maiden national title well and truly alive.

Lyon racked up a thumping 5-0 success against Arles-Avignon to nose ahead of Marseille on goal difference. Ominously, both Olympiques remain only four points off the lead. Paris St. Germain missed the chance to go third with a 1-0 defeat to Auxerre.

Top three: Lille, Rennes (both 49), Olympique Lyon (45)
Bottom three: Monaco (26), Lens (25), Arles-Avignon (11)
Leading scorers: Moussa Sow (17 goals), Kevin Gameiro (15), Nene, Yousseff el Arabi (both 13)
Weekend stat: 3 – Lyon are up to third for the third time this season, having previously climbed to the same height after 17 and 21 matches.

In Belgium, Anderlecht missed the chance to go top in the head-to-head clash with leaders Genk. The champions remain level on points in second after scrambling a 1-1 home draw, Roland Juhasz firing a last-minute leveller for the Brussels side.

There was less drama in the big game in Switzerland, where leaders Basel beat second-placed Zurich 3-1 and stretched their advantage to seven points. The highest-scoring clash of the day saw third-placed Lucerne share the spoils with Thun in a six-goal thriller.