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Five reasons Barcelona can win the Champions League

Ahead of the start of their 2016-17 Champions League campaign against Celtic on Tuesday, AFP Sports takes a look at five reasons Barcelona can conquer Europe for the sixth time:

Five reasons Barcelona can win the Champions League
Barça's Mathieu (C) celebrates a goal with Vidal (R) against Deportivo Alaves at Camp Nou stadium. Photo: Lluis Gene AFP

1. The 'MSN'   

Blessed with three South American maestros in Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, Barcelona possess the most potent attack in world football in the 'MSN'.

Suarez won the European golden boot last season with 59 goals, while Messi is the reigning World Player of the Year.  

Neymar, who finished third on the Ballon d'Or podium, has returned from Brazil with a gold medal in the Rio Olympics and appears even more settled in the Catalan capital after agreeing a new long-term contract with the club.  

On top of their individual qualities, the almost telepathic relationship between the three has made Barça an almost unbeatable force in the past two years with a combined 253 goals in leading Barça to back-to-back La Liga and Copa del Rey doubles.

2. Deeper squad  

Although Barça didn't continue down the Galactico route, they did spend wisely in the summer transfer market.  

Last season Luis Enrique's men ran out of steam in April, with elimination at the hands of Atletico Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals part of four defeats in five games.

This year Enrique has a deeper and younger squad to call on having added a fourth quality forward in Valencia's Paco Alcacer to the signings of Andre Gomes, Samuel Umtiti, Lucas Digne, Denis Suarez and Jasper Cillessen.

3. No Club World Cup    

One of the major reasons why no side has managed to retain the Champions League since AC Milan 26 years ago is the tiredness caused by the travel involved mid-season for FIFA's Club World Cup jamboree.

Barça's heavy schedule was burdened by a trip to Japan at the end of 2015 where they beat River Plate in the final.  

Although they did not suffer an immediate slump the accumulated fatigue took its toll in the final months of the season as they crashed out the Champions League and nearly gifted La Liga to Real Madrid.

4. A partner for Pique?  

In Umtiti, Barcelona may have found the defender they have been seeking for the best part of a decade.

Whilst Javier Mascherano has proved an able companion alongside Gerard Pique in Barcelona's Champions League wins in 2011 and 2015, the new signing from Lyon already looks like he could be the perfect companion for the Spaniard.

Umtiti is aggressive, quick, and often looking to combat danger high up the pitch which suits Barcelona's style and also allows Pique to focus on building the play from the back.

5. Goalkeeper debate settled

While Claudio Bravo and Marc-Andre ter Stegen's battle for position may have kept both goalkeepers continually on their toes, the division of labour also meant the German came into Champions League games cold for the past two seasons.

Bravo was the man in charge between the sticks in La Liga with Ter Stegen utilised in the Copa del Rey and in Europe.  

Now with Bravo sold to Manchester City, Ter Stegen is Barça's undoubted number one.

Signed for his incredible ball-playing ability, Ter Stegen set a La Liga record for number of passes completed against Athletic Bilbao two weeks ago and the understanding needed between him and the defence given his unique style will only improve with more game time.

By Kieran Canning

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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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