As England’s football sides gear up for another gruelling Christmas period, teams in Spain are enjoying a well-earned rest, with La Liga finely poised and waiting to be decided in 2014.
Barcelona and Atlético Madrid sit on top of the table, both on 46 points, whilst Real trail by five points in third. Barça have somewhat stuttered their way to the top of Spanish football. The Catalonians have had to cope with injury to Lionel Messi, and if rumours are to be believed their coach Tata is already considering his place at the club.
Atlético fans will be far happier this Christmas. The club have been in inspired form this season, led by their prolific striker Diego Costa who has filled the boots of Falcao very well, netting 19 times so far in La Liga. It will be a big ask for Atlético to continue their title challenge next year, with Barça awaiting the return of Messi and Neymar from injury, but coach Diego Simeone is undoubtedly doing a terrific job to keep his side comfortably above city rivals Real.
Los Blancos have underachieved this season under new coach Carlo Ancelotti, despite Cristiano Ronaldo’s 18 goals. World record signing Gareth Bale has impressed when he has played for Real, but has been plagued with injuries since his summer move from Tottenham, and Isco hasn’t quite matched the playmaking abilities of his predecessor Mesut Özil.
The race for fourth looks tight, but Athletic Bilbao are currently in the driving seat, four points clear of Real Sociedad with 33 points. Bilbao’s transfer policy (only employing Basque players) is proving a hindrance though, with the team struggling to replace Fernando Llorente up front. Aritz Aduriz only has three goals to his name so far this season, whilst Gaizka Toquero is yet to score.
With Antoine Griezmann and Carlos Vela netting 20 times between them for Sociedad so far this season, Athletic could easily be caught up by their local rivals and last season’s surprise package. Recently promoted Villareal and Sevilla are also in the race for the final UEFA Champions League spot, on 28 and 26 points respectively.
Valencia have been disappointing so far this season, and end 2013 in 11th place. However the penniless side look set to be taken over by Singapore billionaire Peter Lim, who has promised to spend up to €50million in January on new players to push the side towards fourth place, as well as clearing the side’s €300million debt. The 2004 title winners could be major players in the January transfer window.
Down at the bottom, Real Betis are five points from safety in 20th place. Last year’s 7th placed side have struggled to adapt to playing both continental and domestic football, and lost important players in the summer as Beñat joined Athletic Bilbao, and both Alejandro Pozuelo and José Cañas signed for Swansea City.
Madrid minnows Rayo Vallecano are currently 19th on 13 points, whilst Osasuna are 18th on goal difference, below Real Valladolid who also have 15 points. Almería and Celta Vigo sit above them on 16 points, whilst Elche have 17 points, so the battle for survival is very much on in Spain.
With the table tight at both the top and the bottom over Christmas, the second half of the season could be one of the most interesting in recent La Liga campaigns.