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FOOTBALL

Messi strikes again as Barcelona exit rut

Barcelona assistant manager Jordi Roura was delighted finally to keep a clean sheet as the Catalans extended their lead at the top of the table to 14 points with a 2-0 win over Deportivo la Coruna on Saturday night.

With a huge game to come against AC Milan in the Champions League on Tuesday, Roura named a much-changed side with Lionel Messi only starting on the bench.

However, after Alexis Sanchez had given Barca a deserved half-time lead, Messi came on and sealed the three points with a lovely finish two minutes from time to extend his scoring streak in the league to 17 matches.

It was ending an unwanted streak that Roura was most pleased with though as Barça didn't concede for the first time in 14 games stretching back to early January.

"Every competition is different and Tuesday will be a different story, but I have always said that the best way to prepare for a game is to win the previous one," he told reporters.

"We were very intense and Depor hardly had a chance at goal. We managed to keep a clean sheet which was very important and we are very happy because we have picked up three more points and maintained our advantage at the top."

Of the fringe players who started Alexis and Thiago were the two who could potentially have played their way into the side on Tuesday as David Villa had an off night in front of goal and Cesc Fabregas was again very ineffective.

Indeed sections of the home fans booed the former Arsenal skipper as he was replaced by Sergio Busquets in the second-half, but Roura insists he has no doubts in the Spanish international's quality.

"The fans have the right to say what they want and every player will have his good and bad moments in the season, but we are delighted with Cesc and he is a player of undoubted quality.

"The line-up for Tuesday has not yet been decided.

"Alexis has been an important player for us and for Tuesday he is another option that we have available.

"He has scored and set-up a goal, but it is also his movement up front and the way he pressures defenders that helps us."

Depor meanwhile remain rooted to the foot of the table and it was easy to see why as they failed to create even one clear-cut opening against a makeshift Barça side.

The Galicians are eight points off safety and having won only three games so far this season, manager Fernando Vazquez believes they have to win seven of their remaining 11 to survive.

"We know just how difficult it is going to be," he said.

"We need to win at least seven games of the 11 that are left, but whilst it is mathematically possible to save ourselves, we will fight to make it happen."

Deportivo's chances of survival weren't helped by a second consecutive win for Mallorca as two goals from Alejandro Alfaro gave them a 2-1 victory over Sevilla.

Alvaro Negredo had briefly levelled for Sevilla in the second-half but Alfaro's winner 24 minutes from time moves Gregorio Manzano's men to within a point of safety.

Malaga, who are also in Champions League action in midweek as they try to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Porto, remain in fourth after a 1-1 draw away to Valladolid, whilst Rayo Vallecano kept up their hopes of qualifying for Europe with a 2-0 win over Espanyol.

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FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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