Cristiano Ronaldo ended the Lionel Messi monopoly of the Ballon d’Or on Monday after his fellow professionals voted the Portuguese striker the best player of 2013. Having scored goals for fun for both Barca and Real last year, neither Messi nor Ronaldo were able to register at the weekend. Ronaldo cut a frustrated figure away to Espanyol, whilst Messi came on at half-time against Atletico but was unable to find the net. With the top three now separated by three points, next year’s Ballon d’Or could be decided by the amount of silverware won if these two are in the running yet again.
Spain has been waiting years for a new challenger to the almighty Barcelona and Madrid, and Atletico proved that they were worthy opponents on Saturday. Although possession statistics argue that Barcelona were dominant, Atletico fought bravely and pressed the title holders at every opportunity. Arda Turan was the energetic star whilst Gabi, Miranda and Filipe Luis ran their boots into the ground. Diego Costa and David Villa had opportunities to win the game but were unable to fashion that one great chance. As for Barca, Messi came off the bench and tested Thibaut Courtois in a game that can only be described as even. Consequently there was no winner and the title will instead come down to consistency throughout the entire season, something Atletico have yet to prove.
Madrid were hoping the clash of the top two would end in a stalemate which would give them a chance to catch up. As the game ended scoreless, Madrid were in prime position to come within three points of the leaders should they beat Espanyol. However, their opponents made the task as difficult as possible as it took a Pepe header to seal the win for Madrid. Cristian Stuani threatened throughout for Espanyol but the goal deflated them considerably. Ronaldo should have wrapped up the victory but perhaps his mind was elsewhere on the Sunday evening. Madrid managed to eke out the win and move closer to the summit, waiting to pounce on any slip-ups by either Barca or Atleti.
Villarreal snatched fifth place off of Sociedad on Monday night after a devastating 5-1 annihilation at El Madrigal. It was the second of three games between the two in just a week as they prepare to face-off once again on Thursday night in the Copa del Rey. Sociedad will be reluctant to return to the same venue as their Monday thrashing, especially as they were outclassed by the resurgence of Giovanni dos Santos. The Mexican scored two and set up two for Uche on a night that will make Spurs fans weep. He was unstoppable and, in a bizarre twist of fate, could find himself rested for the Copa fixture, which will be music to Sociedad’s ears! Jagoba Arrasate said it was his worst night as manager as he has to find the strength from his players to overturn their embarrassment immediately on Thursday.
Villarreal registered a fantastic win but they weren’t the only side vying for Europe to do so. Athletic Bilbao, so dominant at their new home, gave Almeria a pasting by hammering them 6-1. The attacking play of the hosts was breath-taking as they bombed forwards at every opportunity. No wonder they are unbeaten at their new stadium as the extended pitch makes it so difficult to defend against their kind of play. Former Manchester United target Ander Herrera was the architect of their success, but a January move is apparently unlikely. Nevertheless, he was the one who consistently began attacks and deserved his goal. With the transfer window still open however, Bilbao would be wise to grind out dull 1-0 wins rather than draw attention to themselves!
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