The Good, the Bad and -- Real Madrid chasing history

Europe in a nutshell: Spanish goalkeepers continue to raise the bar, great goals, AC Milan and Manchester United chase Champions League places, and Real Madrid chases a historic season.

THE GOOD. AC Milan’s star has fallen far enough that it is indeed newsworthy to report that Sunday’s 2-0 win over Napoli at the San Siro drew the Rossoneri to within two points of Serie A’s third and final Champions League spot. Juventus has 36 points, Roma is on 35, three teams are tied at 26 points, and AC Milan now has 24.

Juve could only manage a 1-1 tie with Sampdoria on Sunday, and AS Roma took advantage by winning 1-0 at Genoa, closing the gap to one point. The second half of Roma’s win provided an awkward moment when Seydou Keita attempted to give the captain’s armband to Francesco Totti, who was coming on as a sub, and none too happy about something.

Chelsea beat Hull City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, 2-0. Manchester City kept pace on a Frank Lampard goal at Leicester City, winning 1-0. City will count itself fortunate not to lose ground over the busy holiday schedule without Sergio Aguero, and City may well try to hang on to Lampard, whose scoring rate has been outstanding during his loan from New York City of MLS.

The EPL’s game of the week involved a pair of clubs owning the most English titles, Manchester United, with 20, and Liverpool, which has 18. The only other English club in double figures is Arsenal, with 13.

Man U won 3-0 at Old Trafford, but it was United’s 24-year-old keeper, David de Gea, who was named man of the match. Peter Schmeichel, a former United captain and two-time ‘World’s Best Goalkeeper’, was duly impressed by the Spaniard.

The win was the sixth-straight in the EPL for United, which after quite a bit of turmoil over the last couple of years finds itself just eight points behind Chelsea, and firmly in third place -- while Raheem Sterling may be seeing de Gea stopping his shots in his nightmares.

German clubs have only two games remaining before the Bundesliga takes what is the longest winter break among major European leagues. The break begins next Monday, and clubs won't resume play until Jan 30.

Augsburg entered the weekend third in Germany, but lost 4-0 at home after allowing four goals in the second half to Bayern Munich. After 15 league games, Bayern finds itself in familiar territory, unopposed at the top, and nine points ahead of second-place Wolfsburg, which could only manage a 1-1 tie with Paderborn. With every other club at least 15 points behind the monster in Munich, the question is simply when, not if, Bayern will clinch its third consecutive German title.

There are so many things to love about the Bundesliga, but Bayern’s recent custom of hiding the silverware in February is not one of them.

Arjen Robben had two of Bayern’s goals on Saturday, including this patented jink and curl. Robben must have mental powers that make defenders believe that one of these days -- he’ll go to his right.

THE BAD. The top two teams in France both lost this weekend, while Lyon’s 3-0 win over Caen finds the club just two points behind Marseille in first, and a sole point behind Paris Saint-Germain in second.

Marseille lost 1-0 at AS Monaco, which had a good few days – after winning its Champions League group midweek, while PSG lost at Guingamp, which is now in 13th. It was the second disappointing result for PSG in a matter of days, after losing at Barcelona midweek in a showdown to determine their UCL group winner.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has devoted quite a bit of invective toward his former coaches and teammates in Barcelona. So it was nice to see this brief moment in the tunnel at the Camp Nou before such a big game. Lionel Messi came over and said something to both Zlatan and former Barca teammate Thiago Motta, which drew a wonderful reaction and a broad smile from both of them.

The Spanish press nearly lost its mind trying to find out what Leo said, but Zlatan responded via his instagram account: “No, no, that stays between us.”

REAL MADRID CHASING HISTORY. Real Madrid’s 4-1 win at Almeria on Friday was the 20th in a row for Los Blancos in all competitions.

The result is more impressive considering the world’s most dominant player had one of his worst games. Cristiano Ronaldo probably should’ve been substituted, he was that bad, but somehow, he managed to score Madrid’s last two goals, killing a game that was closer than it sounds. (How hot is Cristiano? He has 25 league goals in just 15 La Liga games, and those 25 goals are more than 36 different Pichichi winners scored in their entire league leading seasons).

Iker Casillas, who is once again the unquestioned No. 1 in Madrid, took control in a moment that could’ve easily changed this game. Saving a La Liga penalty for the first time in four years -- this would have made it 2-2 in the 62nd minute.

The world record for consecutive wins is 24, held by Brazil’s Coritiba, but that record is only three years old. With Madrid now heading to the Club World Cup in Morrocco, its next opponent will be a CONCACAF team. Cruz Azul of Mexico is in the semifinals after it beat Western Sydney on Saturday, the ratings in Mexico will soar on Tuesday, but Real’s biggest obstacle to breaking the world record will be on Jan. 4, after returning from Spain’s break, against fifth-place Valencia at the Mestalla.

Every record is nice, but in order for this Madrid team to go down in history it must win La Liga, and becoming the first club to defend its European Cup title since Milan in 1989 & 1990 would cement this version of Madrid among history’s best -- with Bayern and Chelsea looking the most likely impediments to Real’s 2015 global domination.

Winning La Liga also got a little easier after Real’s biggest rivals both had a weekend to forget. Barcelona finished in a scoreless tie at Getafe on Saturday, and Atletico Madrid’s 1-0 loss to Sevilla on Sunday, was its first loss at home since March 2013. Madrid’s lead over Barca is four points, and reigning champion Atletico is now seven points adrift.

This Madrid team seems to have far better chemistry than recent editions, and when a player who isn’t even one of your biggest stars, like Isco, can score goals of this caliber, as he did on Friday, the sky’s the limit.

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