Barcelona: Barcelona and Real Madrid, the two heavyweights, are at the top of the Spanish league as they head for the winter break.
Lionel Messi’s Barcelona will head into 2020 with a two-point advantage over second-place Madrid after completing 18 of 38 rounds.
Barcelona got off to a slow start with only two wins in the first five rounds before newcomer Antoine Griezmann started to click with Messi and Luis Suarez, and the Catalan club ended the year without a loss in seven rounds.
“There are times when you win the league by a wide margin and when everyone expects you to wrap it up months in advance that it loses excitement,’’ Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde, who is seeking a third consecutive league crown with the team, said Tuesday.
Madrid has only one loss - a 1-0 defeat at Mallorca in October - but it has drawn seven games, including its last three. Their continued scoring problems since Cristiano Ronaldo left two summers ago have left it without a goal in five encounters.
“We had difficulties at the beginning of the season, but now we are much better and strong defensively, improving every day,’’ Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said after Sunday’s 0-0 home draw with Athletic Bilbao.
A Sevilla side that has been revitalized by former Madrid and Spain manager Julen Lopetegui, and by the new players brought in by sporting director Ramon ‘Monchi’ Rodriguez, is in third place at five points back.
Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid has experienced trouble up front after losing Griezmann in the summer, but its revamped defense has kept it in fourth place, seven points behind Barcelona.
Messi leads the league with 13 goals in just 13 appearances due to an injury that kept him out of the opening games. He is also credited with six assists by the league as he continues at age 32 to be the team’s best scorer and playmaker.
An honorable mention goes to Karim Benzema for stepping up his play after the injury-hit Eden Hazard failed to make an impact since joining Madrid on a club-record transfer from Chelsea. Benzema is second in the league with 12 goals in 17 matches.
The breakout player is Real Sociedad midfielder Martin Odegaard, who is playing at the Basque club on loan from Madrid.
Odegaard has excelled as a precise passer and is leading one of the most attractive attacks in the league. Sociedad is in fifth place, just one point behind Atletico.
Sevilla continues to introduce talented newcomers in powerful defender Diego Carlos and physical forward Lucas Ocampos, both of whom have stood out and are likely on the radar of bigger clubs.