The new year rang in with a bang in Spanish Football. Lionel Messi came back from injury, if not at 100%; Atletico Madrid played Barcelona FC to a goalless draw, maintaining the duo tied at the top of the La Liga table; and Real Madrid won its weekend game 1-0, courtesy of Pepe, to remain in second place on the table, three points behind the top duo. Real meet both front runners in a three-week sprint in March while the top duo will only meet again, at the Camp Nou, on the last weekend of the season.
At the weekend, Barcelona FC showed they were not quite the same team without their South American superstars at full strength and Real showed its defensive flaws against tough-minded hosts Espanyol of Barcelona. Meanwhile, Atletico showed how far it has come by playing the defending champions even, if only at home, and by already having made the quarterfinals of the 2013-14 Copa del Rey beating out a tough Valencia.
Cristiano Ronaldo won his second Ballon d'Or yesterday, beating out Lionel Messi, in second place, by a comfortable margin and Franck Ribery, in third, by a large margin. The ceremony had myriad photo ops many providing an image-only one-upmanship, such as when the towering Ronaldo met up at the center stage with the diminutive Sepp Blatter, who late last year had ridiculed the Portuguese superstar while saying he favored Messi to win the coveted prize.
Then we had the diminutive Argentine, who kept fidgeting throughout the wind up to the winner's announcement while in his girlfriend's company. He was seated at Irina Shayk's left, while Ronaldo was at her right. Messi was set to strut in his fire truck-red tux only to come in second and remain fidgeting while seated. Meanwhile Ribery was being asked if he would like to leave Bayern Munich for greener pastures and he stated he was happy where he was, all along looking like he might just entertain a move. All of this took place while the presence of Fernanda Lima, and the audiovisual backdrop and entertainers' performances, kept the audience tied to themes about the forthcoming 2014 World Cup.
At the ceremony, the 2013 FIFA/FIFPro World XI, those voted as the all star team of the year, included an all Spanish Football line up: Ronaldo and Messi, alongside Marcelo, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves, Iker Casillas, Radamel Falcao, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, and Xabi Alonso.
The January transfer window, set to close in 16 days, (January 31st) is looking like it might just shut without a major move in Spanish Football despite the many rumors (Casillas, Ramos, Morata, Coentrao) to the contrary. Finally, the issue of whether Real coach Carlo Ancelotti or Barca coach Tata Martino are now settled into their roles remains open for discussion as each team has had enough disruptions to their rosters to make it difficult to tell where reactionary expediency begins and where coaching acumen and leadership take over.
Ultimately, three things are settled for now in Spanish Football: Cristiano Ronaldo is headed toward having another great year, Lionel Messi seems to be gearing up for a recovery that will have him peaking in the very late part of the La Liga and Chammpions League seasons and just in time for the World Cup, and Neymar has already begun to make noise independently of his more celebrated teammates at Barcelona.