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Three cheers for Aimar, Kluivert

Madrid: Valencia’s Argentine playmaker Pablo Aimar struck a first-half hattrick to lead the defending Spanish champions to a 5-1 demolition of Athletic Bilbao at Mestalla on Saturday.

Patrick Kluivert also struck three as Barcelona thrashed Alaves 6-1, while Deportivo Coruna returned to form with a 2-1 victory at Rayo Vallecano, Roy Makaay getting both their goals.

Real Madrid could not match their fellow Champions League sides, though, as they were surprisingly held to a 1-1 draw at home to Villarreal.

Aimar’s virtuoso display took Valencia provisionally top on 14 points, ahead of Real Sociedad on goal difference.

Celta Vigo, in second place on 13 points going into the seventh round of matches, could only record a goalless draw at home to Atletico Madrid, leaving them third behind Valencia and Real Sociedad.

Real Madrid’s home draw was enough to take them up to fourth place on 12 points, ahead of Malaga and Deportivo Coruna on goal difference.

Barcelona’s excellent win at home to Alaves saw them move up to seventh, a point behind Real, Deportivo and Malaga.

Real Madrid had been in with a chance to join the leaders on 14 points but the European champions, beaten 0-2 at Racing Santander last weekend, were once again a long way from their best.

Zinedine Zidane gave them the lead with a brilliant left-foot strike on 23 minutes but with Ronaldo struggling up front, they were unable to build on their advantage.

Jorge Lopez levelled the scores in first-half injury-time, winning a penalty with a push from Claude Makelele and converting it himself.

“All the players worked hard, defending the Real Madrid shirt,” coach Vicente del Bosque said. “It was a good test, without the victory.

Season’s maiden loss

Meanwhile, Serie A leaders AC Milan suffered their first defeat of the season as they went down 2-3 at Chievo on Saturday, while champions Juventus move up to third place after a 1-0 win at home to Udinese.

Chievo went in front in the 22nd minute when striker Massimo Marazzina glanced a header past Milan’s Brazilian keeper Dida.

Four minutes after the restart he Milan defence failed to deal effectively with another high ball from Corini and Paolo Maldini’s attempted clearance was headed in by former Milan striker Oliver Bierhoff.

Ukrainian forward Andriy Shevchenko pulled one back for Milan in the 59th minute with a diving header from an Andrea Pirlo cross.

After surviving some intense pressure from Milan, Chievo restored their two-goals advantage when Federico Cossato headed in a fine Ivano Della Morte cross in the 83rd minute.

Danish international striker Jon Dahl Tomasson gave Milan some late hope with an injury time goal, tapping in after Lupatelli could only parry out a Rui Costa shot.

Champions Arsenal slumped to their third defeat in eight days when they were beaten 1-2 at home by Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League on Saturday. Liverpool took full advantage as a late Michael Owen penalty secured a 2-1 home win over Tottenham Hotspur that took them four points clear at the top.

Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan scored his first league goal for Manchester United, a late equaliser in a 1-1 home draw with struggling Aston Villa, but United are now eight points behind the leaders.

Liverpool have 27 points to the 23 of Arsenal. Chelsea moved up to third on 19 after a comfortable 2-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion. Manchester United and Tottenham are also on 19.

Ronaldinho hits double

A fine move completed by Olivier Kapo helped AJ Auxerre beat lowly Rennes and take back the top position of the French first division after Paris St Germain had claimed the honour for just a few hours on Saturday after defeating Olympique Marseille.

Auxerre have 24 points from 12 matches. Paris St Germain are one point adrift while Nice are third on 22 after a goalless home draw against RC Lens.

Ronaldinho opened the scoring for PSG in the 15th minute with a free kick from the edge of the penalty area.

Twelve minutes later the World Cup-winning playmaker converted a penalty with a precise right-foot shot just inside the post after Runje had knocked Bartholomew Ogbeche off balance.

Martin Cardetti sealed PSG’s victory eight minutes from time.

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