Real Madrid required a late goalkeeping mistake from Sporting Gijon's Juan Pablo to clinch a 1-0 win at El Molinon last night and remain a point ahead of Barcelona at the top of La Liga.
In an encounter enlivened by the pre-match row between Jose Mourinho and the Sporting coach, Manuel Preciado, over the weakened side the latter was alleged to have fielded against Barça in September, it looked as though Pablo was going to frustrate the visitors, pulling off three superb second-half saves to keep the scoreline blank.
However, with eight minutes to go the keeper could only push a Karim Benzema header straight at Gonzalo Higuain and the Argentine striker had the simple task of scoring from five yards. In added time Sporting's Alberto Botia was sent off for a late tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo.
On Saturday Barcelona were again indebted to Lionel Messi as they overcame an obdurate Villarreal 3-1 at Nou Camp. With the two sides locked at 1-1 after first-half goals from Barça striker David Villa and his Villarreal counterpart Nilmar, the Argentine forward produced a breathtaking finish in the 58th minute. Twice exchanging passes with Pedro, he raced past the static defenders and, as Diego Lopez sprinted out, lifted a delicate angled chip over the Villarreal goalkeeper with his weaker right foot and into the empty net. His second in the 83rd was less spectacular but made the game safe. Pedro's shot ricocheted into Messi's path and he deflected the ball past Lopez low into the corner.
In Italy, Milan stayed at the top of Serie A and increased the pressure on Internazionale coach Rafael Benitez with a 1-0 victory in the Milan derby at San Siro last night. Zlatan Ibrahimovic got the winner against his old club from the penalty spot in the fifth minute and the Rossoneri held out for the last half-an-hour with just 10 men after Ignazio Abate was sent off.
Ibrahimovic won the penalty himself after the Swede was recklessly fouled by Inter's ageing and little-used defender Marco Materazzi. The European champions have now won just once in their last six games and are fifth in the table, six points behind Milan.
A controversial Mauro Zarate goal helped previous leaders Lazio recover from two straight defeats with a 2-0 home win over Napoli.
Edy Reja's side, Italy's surprise packages this season, had lost last weekend's city derby with Roma and the midweek game at promoted Cesena but were quickly back to their best. Zarate, the former Birmingham striker, appeared to use an arm when he grabbed the opener on 15 minutes before fellow striker Sergio Floccari doubled the lead from a Zarate assist.