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FOOTBALL

Coach calm as Messi goal drought continues

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino insisted that he believes Lionel Messi's goal drought is a coincidence after the Argentine failed to net for the fourth consecutive league game in Barca's 1-0 win over Espanyol on Friday.

Coach calm as Messi goal drought continues
Photo: AFP

It is the first time since April 2011 that Messi has gone four games without scoring in La Liga and he appeared on the fringes of the game throughout as Barca struggled to breakdown their city rivals at the Camp Nou.

"I continue to think the same about him," Martino said after the game, "It is difficult to do an individual analysis of a player in every single game, but Leo continues to be the most important player in a team replete with important figures".

"His manner of playing still offers us a huge amount and if the team continues to win you will see the best of our best players shortly."

Despite the victory that moves Barca, temporarily at least, four points clear of Atletico Madrid and nine ahead of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, Messi cut a forlorn figure at the end of the match.

However, in between his goal drought in domestic competition, Messi did net in Barca's 1-1 draw away to Milan in the Champions League and Martino used that goal as his evidence that there is no problem with the four-time World Player of the Year.

"I don't think he is worried. It is a coincidence, in the same way that it is rare for a player to score at least a goal in every game of half a season (as Messi did last season), it is rare that he goes three or four games without scoring."

"For me it is three games because he scored in Milan. Today he assisted well, he had a chance with a header and a free-kick that went just past. Obviously I would be delighted if he does what he usually does and scores two or three goals every game, but when you set the bar so high and then don't score it seems like there is a problem. For me, from what I see of him, there is no problem."

An 11th win in 12 league games for Martino's men was achieved thanks to a 10th clean sheet in 17 games in all competitions this season.

And whilst the Argentine admitted that offensively his side were not at their best, he is happy with the improvement they have made at the back in recent weeks.

"Without doubt, along with the end of the game against Atletico Madrid, it was the worst match at home (since Martino's arrival). We needed pressure, dynamism, speed. We were finding the right players in the right areas, but we lacked the finesse and final pass."

"You could see that more in the first-half. When there are more spaces, like in the last 10 minutes, we created more chances."

"But to play 90 minutes and the opponent have just one or two chances is good. That is something we have improved on a lot since the first few weeks of the season."

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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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