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Six new signings to watch in La Liga

Spanish football heads into the post-Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta era as the 2018-19 La Liga season begins this weekend.

Six new signings to watch in La Liga
Barcelona's Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal (R) is one to watch. All photos: AFP

With these two greats of the modern age having moved on, AFP Sport picks out six new signings to watch in the coming campaign.

THOMAS LEMAR (ATLETICO MADRID)


   Age: 22
   Position: Attacking midfielder/winger
   Previous club: Monaco (FRA)

It is Atletico Madrid who have made the biggest signing of the summer in Spain, spending €72 million ($84 million) on Lemar.

The left-footed 22-year-old, who hails from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, is the latest member of Monaco's brilliant 2017 French title-winning side to move on.

He comes fresh from winning the World Cup with France, although his involvement on the field in Russia was limited. Lemar's association with national team colleague Antoine Griezmann will be particularly interesting to watch.

MALCOM ( FC BARCELONA)


   Age: 21
   Position: Winger
   Previous club: Bordeaux (FRA)

Iniesta has gone to Japan and the biggest signing coming into the Camp Nou is the young Brazilian winger Malcom. The 21-year-old was a surprise arrival from French side Bordeaux, with Barca agreeing to pay 41 million euros to sign him on a five-year deal from right under the noses of Roma.

The champions moved for Malcom after giving up their pursuit of Chelsea winger Willian. Adept at coming in from the right wing onto his left foot, Malcom scored 12 goals in Ligue 1 last season.

The player who began his career at Corinthians offers coach Ernesto Valverde a valuable extra option in attack.

ARTURO VIDAL (FC BARCELONA)

   Age: 31
   Position: Midfielder
   Previous club: Bayern Munich (GER)

Barcelona's summer has also been notable for their failure to complete the signing of Griezmann, and for Paulinho's return to China.

The decision to bring in Chilean midfielder Vidal gives Valverde another experienced option in midfield as the Catalans seek to retain the title and end Madrid's hegemony in the Champions League.

Vidal, 31, has won league titles in each of the last seven seasons over spells with Juventus and Bayern, and he also played in the Juve team that lost to Barcelona in the 2015 Champions League final.

 THIBAUT COURTOIS (REAL MADRID)


   Age: 26
   Position: Goalkeeper
   Previous club: Chelsea (ENG)

Rather than a marquee name to replace Ronaldo, Real's biggest signing is a new goalkeeper. Belgian number one Courtois returns to Spain from Chelsea on a six-year deal for a reported 35 million euros.

Keylor Navas is still at the Bernabeu, but Courtois should usurp him as first-choice goalkeeper after being granted his wish to come back to Spain, where his children live with his ex-partner.

Courtois joined Chelsea in 2011 but was immediately loaned out to Atletico Madrid and spent three years there, winning La Liga with Diego  Simeone's side in 2014. However, he has hailed his move to Real “a dream come true”.

WILLIAM CARVALHO (BETIS)


   Age: 26
   Position: Midfielder
   Previous club: Sporting (POR)

For years, tall Portuguese international midfielder Carvalho had been linked with a big money move abroad from Sporting.

Finally this summer the transfer happened, with Carvalho joining the exodus of players to leave the Lisbon side after they were the victims of a violent attack by a gang of masked fans at their training ground.

But rather than move to England, the Angolan-born Carvalho has joined Europa League hopefuls Betis. The Seville side will hope his arrival helps them establish themselves towards the top of the table.

MICHY BATSHUAYI (VALENCIA)


   Age: 24
   Position: Striker
   On loan from: Chelsea (ENG)

Valencia are gearing up for a return to the Champions League and have moved to strengthen in attack, with French striker Kevin Gameiro joining from Atletico for a reported 16 million euros. Batshuayi's arrival is particularly interesting though.

The Belgian international joins on a one-year loan from Chelsea, where he has struggled to establish himself since signing from Marseille two years ago. But he did well on loan at Borussia Dortmund in the second half of last season, and if he can carry that form on throughout this campaign, Valencia could be a fearsome proposition going forward.

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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