Ronaldo fitness holds key
Off the pitch Real Madrid's signing of Cristiano Ronaldo is already paying off with Adidas set to double their €30m annual sponsorship of the club and extending the current deal, which was due to end in 2012 to 2014.
On the field his importance was underlined when, after an unbeaten run of seven games at the start of the season with him in the side, they lost their first match without him and were then knocked out of the Spanish Cup by a third division team over two legs while he was still injured. Ronaldo has scored seven goals in the league and six in the Champions League but the chance he missed in the first half with the score 0-0 against Barça may haunt him.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic's spectacular second-half volley won the game for Barcelona who go into the new year two points clear of their eternal rivals. Madrid will hope Ronaldo can stay fit and that Barcelona will be distracted by end-of-season elections that could take place before the end of the campaign.
Villa keen on English home
Having lost Cristiano Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso in the summer, the Premier League could be about to welcome Sergio Aguero, who simply cannot stay at Atletico Madrid, and David Villa, who has to leave Valencia in 2010. Villa told Valencia he would not accept a move outside of Spain last July. But after dream moves to Barcelona and Real Madrid fell through he is now open to a move to England, and Valencia's economic plight is such that they will have to do business at the end of the season for the player who is outscoring everybody in Spain with 12 league goals.
Aguero, meanwhile, is languishing just above the drop zone at the shambles that is Atletico Madrid. The Argentine recently said he would not desert the club but that is understood to merely refer to the fact that if he is sold to Chelsea it will either happen in the summer, or if it happens in January, he will immediately be loaned back to Atletico for the rest of the season.
Jose is still an Anglophile at heart
It was during the build-up to Internazionale's away match with Barcelona in the Champions League that Jose Mourinho said he was looking forward to the game because he "preferred a Chelsea against Liverpool to a Chelsea against Birmingham". The man just can't forget the Premier League. Frustrated at the start of the season by being told he could have Samuel Eto'o but only if he sold Ibrahimovic he has then found criticism of a solid but unspectacular start to the season hard to take.
There has been tension with owner Massimo Moratti regarding that long wait for a European Cup and constant run-ins with the press, which recently extended to a blazing row in front of the team bus with Andrea Ramazzotti of Rome-based paper Corriere dello Sport. He will be back in England for the Champions League in February but should the right offer come in he could be back for good in the summer.
Blanc to fill Fergie's shoes?
How long before Laurent Blanc is mentioned in the same breath as Mourinho when talk turns to a long-term replacement for Sir Alex Ferguson. Blanc, who played for Manchester United before retiring in 2003, is again guiding Bordeaux to another runaway domination of Ligue One in France. His team are eight points clear of second-placed Marseilles and 10 ahead of Lyons. And in the Champions League Blanc's men made light work of a tough group which included Bayern Munich and Juventus.
Ribéry to rescue at Bayern
Ninety minutes separated Milan coach Leonardo and Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal from the sack but both turned the corner and go into the new year with genuine title aspirations. Both teams will be reinforced in January – Milan with David Beckham and Bayern with Franck Ribéry. The Frenchman should return at the start of January after three months out with a thigh injury and, if both he and Arjen Robben can stay fit, Van Gaal's side will be confident of overhauling Bayer Leverkusen.
Milan must wrestle the title from Inter and a fired-up Beckham looking to make Fabio Capello's World Cup squad can only help.Reuse content