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FOOTBALL

Barça seek Super Cup tonic to Neymar hangover

Barcelona host rivals Real Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Sunday badly in need of a morale-boosting win following the world record sale of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain.

Barça seek Super Cup tonic to Neymar hangover
Barcelona forwards Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. Photo: AFP

Despite banking 222 million euros for the Brazilian, Barça's scattergun approach to finding a replacement has so far been unsuccessful with bids for Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele of Borussia Dortmund so far rebuffed.

New Barça coach Ernesto Valverde must therefore try to down the European and Spanish champions with a weaker squad than the one which missed out to Real for the La Liga title last season.

However, Barça did manage to beat Madrid without the then-suspended Neymar the last time the sides met in competitive action back in April as Lionel Messi won an incredible encounter 3-2 with the last kick of the game.

The Catalans also edged last month's Miami friendly between the two in Neymar's last game for Barça 3-2.

Valverde's men completed a perfect pre-season on the field with a fourth straight win by sweeping aside Chapecoense 5-0 on Monday in a match to raise funds for the stricken Brazilian club who lost 19 players and 24 club officials in a plane crash last year.

“We've had a good pre-season and we are coming into the game in good condition,” said Valverde.

“But on Sunday the real thing starts, with a competitive game and a title at stake against our biggest rivals.”

Gerard Deulofeu was handed Neymar's role alongside Messi and Luis Suarez up front against Chapecoense on his return to the club after spells at Everton and AC Milan.

And the Spanish international took his chance with a goal and two assists in just 45 minutes on the field.

“It is always a pleasure to play here and even more so with these players,” said Deulofeu.

Valverde is likely to stick with Deulofeu, but the former Athletic Bilbao coach could also strengthen Barça's midfield by sacrificing a forward to add Sergi Roberto to the normal midfield three of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta.

Despite failing to win any of their pre-season games, Madrid started the new campaign as they ended last season with another trophy as Zinedine Zidane's men proved too strong for Manchester United to win the UEFA Super Cup 2-1 on Tuesday.

Casemiro and Isco were on target as Madrid's midfield dazzled in Skopje, Macedonia, but Zidane will be forced into at least one change from the side that started in midweek as Luka Modric is suspended.

Should Zidane wish to maintain the 4-4-2 system he has utilised to huge success in 2017, Mateo Kovacic is the favourite to replace his Croatian teammate in midfield.

However, Modric's absence increases Cristiano Ronaldo's chances of returning to the Madrid starting XI after making just a brief cameo appearance as a substitute against his former club in Macedonia.

Ronaldo only returned to training with his teammates last weekend on their return from a tour of the USA having been given an extended break following Portugal's participation in the Confederations Cup and a court appearance in Madrid over allegations of tax evasion.

READ ALSO: Annoyed Barça won't pay Neymar bonus

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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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