They'll be celebrating on the forecourts of Santa Cruz. It was the Sunday before Christmas and the children from the school of San Ildefonso in Madrid had begun their annual ritual – a sickly sweet tradition that for all its complex familiarity still maintains a surreal touch. It was the draw for El Gordo, the huge Christmas lottery, and there they were retrieving their balls from huge rotating baskets and chanting numbers, over and over, for hours, like mini Gregorian monks. All across the country people were waiting and when the chant went up, "Seventy-nine thousand, seven hundred and tweeeee-eeelve!", they went wild down in the south-east of Tenerife.
José Miguel González, the man who'd brought the original number, winner of the second prize, owns a petrol station in San Isidro. He reckons there were 1,500 winners in all, having sold shares of the ticket at seven petrol stations on the south of the island, literally bringing luck to Tenerife. When they picked up this morning's sports dailies, covers dedicated to the lottery results, 79,712 stood large among thousands of winning combinations – so many numbers there was barely room for anything else. Marca ran just two small football photos, squashed onto the right side: one was Jesé, the other was Pedro … the World Cup winner whose father pumped petrol at a forecourt barely 20km away.
"Pedro puts Barcelona back on top," the tiny title said. Over at Marca's Catalan counterparts the numbers had been tucked away inside, freeing up the front so the pictures were bigger, the headlines too. "Super Pedro" lauded Sport. "Pedrooo!" cheered El Mundo Deportivo. The Canary Islander had, after all, just rescued Christmas. Sunday morning's El País had run a quote from Gerard Piqué. "Pedro," he said, "is always there when you need him." And on Sunday, afternoon Barcelona needed him, big time.
It hadn't been a good week. Barcelona had been forced to hand over the paperwork relating to the signing of Neymar, El Mundo linked Leo Messi's benefit games to the laundering of drugs money, and then Messi had attacked the board, describing the club director Javier Faus as "a man who knows nothing about football" and pointedly insisting: "Barcelona is the best club in the world and it deserves to have the best directors." There was, some in Catalonia said, a campaign against them from Madrid. On Sunday there really was. Well, from just south of Madrid, anyway. Getafe were tearing them apart.
Less than quarter of an hour into Barcelona's trip to Getafe, they trailed 2-0 and it could have been more. Barcelona's "defending" had been awful. Piqué and Mascherano were isolated and overwhelmed: Escudero had dashed, unopposed to the edge of the six yard box to score the first while Lisandro López had headed in a corner for the second, almost as close to the goal as anyone was to him. Ciprian Marica, the striker who arrived in Spain and promptly became known by his first name, had just wasted a great chance for the third. Xavi Hernández was not on the pitch and nor was Messi or Neymar. Pinto, on the other hand, was.
Getafe were confident. Under Luis García they have been a disaster against the big teams away from home: they have never won at the Camp Nou, the Bernabéu or the Calderón. But they had been defeated just twice in nine at home. And Barcelona knew that in the 10 years that Getafe have been in the top flight that when they don't win there they don't win the league. Now, as things stood, they were slipping off the top, three points behind Atlético Madrid and just two ahead of Real Madrid, who were still to play.
That was when Pedro appeared. Racing on to Cesc Fábregas's clever pass, he clipped a shot over Miguel-Ángel Moya and into the net. Next, he received Andrés Iniesta's quick curling ball, cut in from the left and thumped a beauty into the top corner, screeching into the stanchion. Then, he responded quickly to hit the third into the same side of the net after Jordi Alba's cut-back was blocked. When Pedro's first shot hit the net, the clock said 33.58; the second went in on 40.35 and the third flashed in as it ticked up to showed 42.12.
In the week in which he had gone swimming with sharks at Barcelona's aquarium – insert your own diving joke here – Pedro not only became Barcelona's top scorer this season, he became their fastest striker ever. David Villa scored a hat-trick in four minutes for Valencia but this was the quickest hat-trick in Barcelona's history, level with Dani García who got three versus Betis in 1999 (although his had a half-time in the way) and Laszlo Kubala's 74th to 82nd minute hat-trick against Sporting in 1953.
Sometimes that line is absurdly fine. In eight minutes and 14 seconds, everything had changed. The tension lifted and the knives were put back. From the kind of defeat that would have deepened the divide, one that would have lingered over the winter break exacerbating the crisis that forever hangs over them, from sitting two points behind Atlético and only two ahead of Real Madrid, January's Atlético-Barça a threat rather than an opportunity, Barcelona were back on top. When they come back, Messi will be back and so will Víctor Valdés. They had ridden out the storm and ultimately they had done so, as the Spanish phrase has it, by convincing as well as winning: they had not just vencido, they had convencido too. The former striker Pichi Alonso likened this to a victory from a different if very recent era.
Gerardo Martino described the opening 15 minutes as fatal, awful. By the end, he could have justifiably talked about Barcelona's best performance of the season, swift, slick and incisive. All the more because they had come from two down. Amidt the inevitable talk of character, Martino was putting a different slant on it. Barcelona had, he said, remained faithful to the way they wanted to play, even as the pressure built. The first of their goals came with five men pressuring to win the ball on the touchline and a perfectly weighted pass from Fábregas's and Iniesta's perfectly weighted pass led to the second.
The cliche talks of games that win leagues. This may just have been one of them. If Barcelona have never won the league when they have failed to win at Getafe, they have been champions every time they have won here. Emotionally, symbolically, it felt like a huge victory. And yet it was not the only one. All three championship contenders came out of the weekend and into the Christmas break relieved. All three had conceded twice, all there had been on edge. Both Atlético and Barcelona had been losing and although Madrid hadn't, they'd been closest to dropping points – and for Madrid, who started the weekend five points behind, that might have been fatal. In the end, three fascinating games brought 17 goals: Barcelona beat Getafe 5-2, Atlético beat Levante 3-2 with Diego Costa getting two more, and Real Madrid beat Valencia 3-2, with substitute Jesé scoring the winner in the 81st minute.
This was one of those weekends where the fact that the Spanish league is spread across 10 different time slots for the sake of TV is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it meant you could watch them all; a curse because it loses the drama that comes when the contenders take to the field simultaneously, their fates in each others' hands, when the table shifts constantly, everyone permanently on edge. From the first minute at the Calderón to the 10th at the Coliseum to the 27th at Mestalla. Atlético down, Barcelona down, Madrid up, Atlético level, Madrid level, Barcelona too … minute by minute, points shifting, hopes and fears intertwining.
Yet even this way it was dramatic, coming to a head in Valencia. Those final minutes at Mestalla were decisive. This was the last game of the weekend, the last of the year. By then, Madrid knew that Barcelona and Atlético had won; the opportunity had been denied them, now they were confronted by an obligation. Madrid were drawing and far from dominant. 1-1, then 2-2, and seemingly some way from a 3-2, they stood seven points off, the title was slipping from their grasp. "The league was getting too far away," admitted Jesé. Like Pedro, Jesé is a Canary Islander. And, like Pedro, he appeared when his team needed him most. His shot went past Vicente Guaita at the near post and he headed off to the bench, sprinting and shouting, racing towards Zinedine Zidane and disappearing under a pile of bodies.
"This was the most important goal of my career," Jesé said. Madrid had stayed in touch. Just. At the end of it all, when the dust settled and Monday morning's papers were out, the numbers showed that Real Madrid had 41 points, Atlético 46 and, thanks to Pedro, Barcelona 46. For a while it looked like they would forfeit that position but the fastest hat-trick in their history changed all that and Barcelona closed the year where they have spent the whole of 2013: on the top.
Meanwhile, Pedro's petrol-pumping neighbours closed the year where they could never have imagined they would be. Down in Tenerife, they were sharing out €1.25m.
• Valencia have received a takeover bid from the Singapore billionaire Peter Lim. According to the president Amadeo Salvo, who would carry on under Lim, the bid includes a willingness to assume the debt, which is around €250m, spend up to €40m on players in the winter window, and commit to finally completing the construction of the new Mestalla. Lim has given Valencia until 15 January to respond formally. Meanwhile, Bankia (effectively the club's owners after Valencia defaulted on loan repayments to them) are looking at other bids too.
• So, Valencia to sign? Sevilla won at Villarreal, Athletic beat Rayo and Real Sociedad are flying again, defeating Granada 3-1 in Granada and playing lovely football. The fight for fourth could be pretty seriously tasty.
• New manager, same old fate … Betis were beaten 1-0 at home by Almería, for whom the veteran goalkeeper Esteban, who's three years older than his manager, performed miracles. Betis remain bottom and are five points adrift. At the end of the game, the scenes made it look like they were already down: new coach Juan Carlos Garrido made them head to the centre-circle to thanks the fans for their support, where there were songs and tears and bowed heads.
• Could this just be the saddest remark of the year, one that is depressingly telling? Vicente del Bosque admitted that he had voted for Xavi and Iniesta for the Ballón d'Or in part so as to avoid "a Real Madrid-Barcelona war."
Elche 0-1 Málaga; Villarreal 1-2 Sevilla; Betis 0-1 Almería; Atlético 3-2 Levante; Granada 1-3 Real Sociedad; Espanyol 4-2 Valladolid; Getafe 2-5 Barcelona; Athletic 2-1 Rayo; Celta 1-1 Osasuna; Valencia 2-3 Madrid