Atletico Madrid lost their unbeaten record in LaLiga during December, but sit in a commanding position on the top of the table after four wins from five fixtures last month.
Diego Simeone’s side went down 2-0 to Real Madrid in the derby on December 12, the Rojiblancos’ first defeat of the season in the league.
But victories over Real Valladolid (2-0), Elche (3-1), Real Sociedad (2-0) and Getafe (1-0) completed a successful month and a happy ending to 2020 for Atleti.
With 13 wins from their 16 league games in 2020-21, Atletico lead LaLiga by two points from Real and also have two games in hand over their city rivals.
Real missed the chance to end the year level on points with Atleti as Los Blancos were held 1-1 by Elche on Wednesday night.
Nevertheless, December was an excellent month for Zinedine Zidane’s side in LaLiga, with five wins and a draw in their six league games.
Madrid won away to Sevilla (1-0) and Eibar (3-1), with home successes against Atletico (2-0), Athletic Club (3-1) and Eibar (3-1) before their draw in Elche.
Early pace-setters Real Sociedad are now back in third place, having started December on top of the table.
The Basques lost three league games in a row last month, with narrow defeats away to Barcelona and Levante (both 2-1) and a 2-0 loss at home to Atletico.
Victory in the derby away to Athletic Club saw the year end on a happier note for Imanol Alguacil’s men, but they claimed just five points from a possible 18 in December and are now six behind leaders Atletico, having played three more matches.
Sevilla fared better, with three wins and a draw from their last four games after a 1-0 loss at home to Real Madrid early in the month.
Julen Lopetegui’s side secured 1-0 wins away to Getafe and Valencia, either side of a 1-1 draw at home to Real Valladolid, and ended December with a 2-0 victory over Villarreal at the Sanchez Pizjuan.
That last win saw Sevilla move above Villarreal into fourth and the Andalusians have played two fewer fixtures than Unai Emery’s men.
Barcelona lie a point behind both in sixth following an inconsistent month for the Catalan club.
Ronald Koeman’s side were surprisingly beaten away to Cadiz in early December (2-1) and dropped points in home draws against Valencia (2-2) and Eibar (1-1),
But wins over Levante (1-0) and Real Sociedad (2-1) at Camp Nou and a 3-0 success at Valladolid saw the Blaugrana climb the table and they start 2021 in fifth, 10 points behind Atletico and having played one match more than the LaLiga leaders.
At the other end, bottom club Huesca secured their first win of the season in December (1-0 over Deportivo Alaves), but remain rooted to the foot of the table after picking up just five points all month.
Osasuna and Valladolid are the other two teams in the bottom three and both will face a fight to stay up, although the Navarran side do have a game in hand and would move out of the drop zone if they won it.
Meanwhile, Valencia have found themselves dragged into a battle at the bottom after picking up just three points from a possible 15 in December.
Javi Gracia’s side drew their first three LaLiga games last month (including the 2-2 tie at Barcelona), but ended the year with back-to-back defeats against Sevilla (1-0 at home) and Granada (2-1 away).
Valencia have just 15 points from their 16 fixtures and are above 18th-placed Valladolid on goal difference alone. Osasuna (in 19th) have 13 points from their 15 games.
In Europe, meanwhile, all seven Spanish sides progressed last month to the knockout stages.
Real Madrid beat Borussia Monchengladbach to climb from third to first in Champions League Group B, but Barcelona dropped to second in Group G after a shock 3-0 loss to Juventus at Camp Nou.
Sevilla and Atletico also qualified for the last 16 as runners-up.
In the Europa League, Granada and Real Sociedad advance after finishing second in their sectors, with Villarreal through to the last 32 as group winners.
LaLiga Player of the Month for December: Luka Modric – Real Madrid – £0.38
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane was under pressure at the start of the month as Los Blancos’ hopes of advancing to the last 16 of the Champions League hung in the balance and with just a point picked up from three fixtures in LaLiga in November.
But the team responded by sealing top spot in their group and earned more points than any other LaLiga team in December.
Luka Modric has been a significant part of their turnaround. The Croatian chipped in with two goals and an assist last month in the league and has rolled back the years with some superb performances in midfield.
At the age of 35, Modric was expected to be slowing down by now, but the former Tottenham man still has plenty to offer and has been at the heart of all their best football in recent weeks.
Unsurprisingly, Madrid are preparing to offer Modric a new deal to extend his current agreement beyond the end of this season.