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La Liga: Messi’s Ballon d’Or highlights gulf dividing Barça and Real

Barcelona’s striker takes best player award for fourth consecutive time and scores his first goal of the year in derby win. Mourinho’s Madrid beat Real Sociedad 4-3 with a double strike from Ronaldo.

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Leo Messi with the Ballon d'Or trophy.

Well suited: Lionel Messi won the Ballon d’Or trophy for a record fourth time.

As liga action resumed after a short break for Christmas, it seemed not much had changed in Spanish football. Barcelona continued their winning run and got their manager Tito Vilanova back following surgery after his cancer was found to have returned, José Mourinho was still stirring the pot at Real Madrid by continuing to leave Iker Casillas on the bench, Fernando Llorente still wants out of Athletic Bilbao and Lionel Messi once again stood in Cristiano Ronaldo’s way to take the FIFA Ballon d’Or.

The Argentine was awarded the prize for the fourth consecutive time in Zurich on Monday night, beating teammate Andrés Iniesta and the Portuguese forward to the prestigious honour in a year when he scored a record-breaking 91 goals. Ronaldo, who has made no secret of his desire to win the accolade again – he received it during his time at Manchester United – will feel rather hard done by considering he was so influential in helping his Madrid side win la liga last season.

But at not even the halfway stage of the 2012/13 season, the record-breaking league title win last year by Mourinho’s team is long-forgotten. They may be the same players, as ‘The Special One’ has pointed out, but they are certainly not playing as they did and the race for the title is long gone as they sit 16 points behind the leaders Barcelona.

The manager, however, is determined to stamp his authority on the team and despite the furore he caused before Christmas when he dropped ‘San’ Iker Casillas from the lineup, he did so again at the weekend. But it did not take long for the keeper to get on the pitch when his replacement, Antonio Adán, was sent off after only six minutes for bringing down Carlos Vela in the area against Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabéu.

The club captain took to the pitch to huge cheers and chants of ‘Iker, Iker, Iker” by the crowd. He was unable to save Xabi Prieto’s subsequent penalty kick, which cancelled out Karim Benzema’s second-minute strike, and the Basque midfielder went on to score two more for the visitors in what was another nervous night in the Spanish capital. But a goal by Sami Khedira and a Ronaldo brace secured three points to end a run of three games without a win for the reigning Spanish champions.

Mourinho remains at the helm but the Bernabéu has given its verdict: his name was loudly whistled when announced ahead of kick-off.

Over in the Camp Nou, Barcelona manager Vilanova got back to work in the dugout having only missed one match following his surgery before Christmas. His side made light work of dispatching their city rivals Espanyol with four goals in the opening 30 minutes. Xavi Hernández opened the scoring in the ninth minute before Pedro Rodríguez scored twice, leaving Messi to round off the win with his first goal of 2013 from the penalty spot. The result leaves Los Culés 11 points clear of Atlético Madrid in second and 16 ahead of Real Madrid in third place.

The coach was frank when addressing his illness. “I always try to be positive. What happened to me can happen to anyone,” he said. “I want to thank all those who have supported me through these times and all the doctors who have treated me. Also, my players and this club for the way they have handled it.”

Vilanova will continue his treatment as he returns to work.

Misery for the ‘Lion King’

The opening of the transfer window last week saw Llorente begin to negotiate his exit from Athletic Bilbao. El Rey León, as he was affectionately known, has endured a miserable season on the bench and has been booed by his own supporters in stark contrast to last year, when he could seemingly do no wrong.

While it has been reported that he is a transfer target for Premier League sides Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, Bilbao have confirmed he is set to start contract talks with Juventus; a deal with the Italian side fell through last summer.

Having come up through their youth ranks, the 27-year-old has since scored 115 goals in 317 appearances for his boyhood club, since his debut in 2005.

One new face in la liga is Domingos Paciência. The former Sporting Lisbon manager was brought in by Deportivo La Coruña to replace fired coach José Oltra and he got off to a winning start as his struggling side beat high-flying Málaga to move closer to an escape from the relegation zone.

A first win since November was secured by a single goal from Pizzi in the second half, when he turned Martín Demichelis before sending his shot past goalkeeper Willy Caballero.

Depor remain in the relegation zone for now, while Málaga stay put in fourth place.

RESULTS:

Real Zaragoza 1 – 2 Real Betis

Levante UD 3 – 1 Athletic Bilbao

Granada CF 1 – 2 Valencia CF

Deportivo La Coruña 1 – 0 Málaga CF

Sevilla FC 1 – 0 Osasuna

Celta de Vigo 3 – 1 Real Valladolid

Real Madrid 4 – 3 Real Sociedad

FC Barcelona 4 – 0 RCD Espanyol

RCD Mallorca 1 – 1 Atlético Madrid

Rayo Vallecano 3 – 1 Getafe CF





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Published: Jan 8 2013
Category: Featured, Spain News, Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=7699
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