After months of Cristiano Ronaldo running away with our Player of the Month award, the pages of our calendar have turned twice now without CR7 so much as being nominated. Lionel Messi took the prize for December, and he's up for the award once again in the new year.
Europe's top performers in January have been whittled to a three-man short list in consultation with WhoScored.com and ESPN FC's writers. Now it's up to you to select which of the three deserves to be named the ESPN FC Player of the Month.
NOTE: Only players with three or more appearances were considered.
LIONEL MESSI (Barcelona)
So Lionel Messi wasn't named the world's best for 2014. He's over it. In his 11 appearances across all competitions since 2015 kicked off, the Argentine has scored 11 goals and added seven assists to his season totals. In that stretch, Barcelona lost just one match -- the 2015 opening match against Real Sociedad in which Messi began on the bench.
"Lionel Messi's burst of seven goals in five league games this January has arrived just as Cristiano Ronaldo's own form dropped to the level of a normal human being," writes Spanish correspondent Lee Roden. "It couldn't have happened any other way. By now it is clear that the pair push one another to soar highest when their rival flags. Following the New Year, Messi smelled blood, and he went for the kill."
DIEGO COSTA (Chelsea)
Diego Costa has made headlines for all the wrong reasons in the past week, after his stamps on Liverpool's Emre Can and Martin Skrtel. That doesn't change the fact, however, that the Brazilian-born Spanish international has enjoyed a marvelous 2015. In three Premier League appearances, Costa has amassed four goals and an assist.
Columnist Michael Cox writes: "Diego Costa's performance in the 5-0 thrashing of Swansea at the Liberty Stadium was particularly memorable, because it demonstrated Costa's all-round game. He scored two first-half goals, and then when other forwards would concentrate on getting their hat trick, he instead teed up Oscar for Chelsea's fourth.
"That selflessness is also obvious from his work rate. Few other strikers press from the front with as much tenacity as Costa, which allows Chelsea to press high up the pitch -- something conspicuously absent when Costa is unavailable."
REMY CABELLA (Newcastle)
So Remy Cabella's numbers pale in comparison to Messi's. Scorer of one goal with no assists in January, Cabella's contributions to Newcastle United are harder to find. Yet the Frenchman, who's struggled since his summer arrival from Montpellier, has earned two man-of-the-match awards in his past three appearances. Perhaps that has something to do with more key passes and dribbles per match in January than even Messi.
Newcastle blogger Lee Ryder writes, "Remy Cabella has looked like a different player since Alan Pardew left Newcastle United for Crystal Palace. New manager John Carver has removed the defensive shackles and told the former Montpellier playmaker to play his natural game.
"I recently chatted to him about what type of player he was going to be for Newcastle. He quickly spoke about Peter Beardsley, also a Toon coach these days, and indicated he wanted to entertain. On this evidence, he's delivering what Newcastle fans want to see."