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What has gone wrong for Barcelona?

Barcelona are off to their worst La Liga start since Lionel Messi's debut season nine years ago.

What has gone wrong for Barcelona?

A 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad was described as a “miracle” by Barça boss Luis Enrique in what he singled out as the worst performance in his three seasons in charge.

Barça are already six points adrift of Real Madrid ahead of their meeting in El Clasico on Saturday.

Here, AFP Sports looks at what has gone wrong so far this season for the Spanish champions.

Key injuries hurt

Messi rescued Barça from a fifth consecutive defeat on their travels to San Sebastian, but Sunday's draw was the first time Barça have dropped points in the league this season when the Argentine has completed 90 minutes.   

Messi's presence has been sorely missed in defeats to Celta Vigo and Alaves and draws with Malaga and Atletico Madrid.

However, he is far from the only key man to have sat out some part of the season so far.

Andres Iniesta has been out for over a month, whilst his Spanish international teammates Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba were also sidelined for a number of weeks.

Busquets isolated 

An often underrated pillar of Barça's success in the past decade, Sergio Busquets is in the midst of his most protracted dip in form since breaking into the first team under Pep Guardiola in 2008.

It is no coincidence that Busquets's struggles have come for the first prolonged period in his career without retired legend Xavi or Iniesta by his side.

His influence in terms of touches and passes completed has wained since Enrique took charge and favoured a more direct style to feed a superstar front three of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar more quickly.

However, without the ball Busquets is now being exposed by the lack of support around him as Ivan Rakitic has been forced wider on the right to protect the inexperienced Sergi Roberto, who the departed Dani Alves at right-back.

Tough start

Whilst Barça have failed to hit the heights of old, the gap between them and Madrid can also be explained by the differing challenges they have faced to date.

The Catalans have already made tricky trips to Sevilla, Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao, Celta Vigo and, despite their current struggles, Valencia, as well as Atletico Madrid at home.

Real's 31-game unbeaten run will be put firmly to the test at the Camp Nou on Saturday, but other challenges await for the European champions with four away trips in five games just as the Champions League returns in February.

Summer signing busts  

Barça splurged over €120 million ($127 million) in the summer transfer window in a bid to bolster their squad.

So far to no avail as none of their six recruits have established themselves in Enrique's preferred starting XI.

Despite beating off Madrid to the signature of Andre Gomes, the Portuguese Euro 2016 winner has failed to make an impression in Iniesta's absence, whilst €30 million striker Paco Alcacer has yet to score a goal.

Messi dependant


Photo: AFP

A year ago whilst Messi was sidelined for two months by knee ligament damage, Neymar and Suarez not only ensured Barça didn't lose ground in the title race, but accelerated past Madrid at the top of the table.

Twelve months on and Barça's Messi-dependence has reemerged with the Argentine scoring 10 of Barça's last 14 goals.  

Suarez has scored just once in his last five outings, whilst Neymar hasn't scored from open play in La Liga since September.

By AFP's Kieran Canning

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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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