The Ballon d’Or has hogged the sports headlines over the past few days. Cristiano Ronaldo won the prestigious prize on Thursday and presented his five golden balls to the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday ahead of Real Madrid’s 5-0 win over Sevilla.
Los Blancos were the best team in Spain and also in Europe last season, led by their prolific Portuguese, who netted 10 goals from the quarter-finals onwards to help Zinedine Zidane’s retain the Champions League.
Real flew out to Abu Dhabi on Sunday for the Club World Cup and are big favourites to claim a trophy that will crown them officially as world champions.
Right now, however, they are not the best team in Spain. In fact, if La Liga is anything to go by, they are only the fourth best, although that is likely to change. What looks unlikely to change, though, is Barca’s status at the top of the table.
After back-to-back draws against Valencia and Celta Vigo, Ernesto Valverde’s side faced another tough test on Sunday with the trip to Villarreal and the Catalans could not afford to drop more points as Valencia, Atletico and Madrid had all previously won this weekend.
In the pre-match press conference, Valverde was asked about the Ballon d’Or and said: “They can state it publicly or not if they don’t like to, but for me the best players are here at Barcelona, starting with Lionel Messi and followed by everyone else.”
Always diplomatic and respectful, Valverde gave his honest opinion and it is difficult to argue with his assessment. In La Liga, Barca are out on their own (five points clear of Valencia), led from the front by Messi, and with Madrid away at the Club World Cup, the Catalans could open up an 11-point gap on their rivals (albeit having played one more game) by the time the Clasico comes around on December 23.
After an indifferent first 45 minutes against Villarreal in which Marc-Andre ter Stegen made two fine saves, Barca took control of this game in the second half – although Raba’s red card for a violent tackle on Sergio Busquets gave the visitors more space to cause damage.
Messi started a marvellous move for the first goal, which was culminated as Luis Suarez rounded returning goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo (back in the Villarreal goal after recovering from his fourth cruciate ligament injury).
And the Argentine made sure of all three points by beating Asenjo in the closing stages, leaving two defenders on the turf in the process after a fine ball by Busquets. That strike also saw the 30-year-old draw level with Gerd Muller on 525 goals for a single club in the top European leagues.
There will be many more to come and with another clean sheet kept, Thomas Vermaelen impressive again, Paco Alcacer producing another great cameo and Suarez scoring, there was plenty to celebrate for the league leaders here.
So, while there were may have been no Ballons d’Or this week for the Catalan club, Messi and Barca are the best in La Liga right now. The rest are playing catch-up.