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FOOTBALL

Five things going wrong at Real Madrid

After Saturday's defeat to Alaves, Real Madrid have lost three and drawn one of their last four matches, and failed to score in any of those, which amounts to their longest goalless run since 1985.

Five things going wrong at Real Madrid
Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos (L), Nacho Fernandez (C) and Toni Kroos (R) react during their loss to Deportivo Alaves on Saturday. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA / AFP
The European champions were hoping for a boost after slipping to a surprise 1-0 defeat to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, but Manu Garcia's 95th minute winner in Vitoria turned disappointment into disaster and after the  match, coach Julen Lopetegui was left to wave away questions about his future. 
 
Here, AFP Sport looks at five things going wrong at Madrid:
 
1. Quality lacking up front
 
Losing a player who scored 30 goals for nine consecutive seasons would leave a gigantic hole for any team to fill but more surprising was Madrid's failure to buy an alternative to Cristiano Ronaldo. 
 
President Florentino Perez was keen on Eden Hazard in the summer but backed off, while interest in the likes of Harry Kane and Robert Lewandowski also came to nothing.
 
Instead, Lopetegui has been left relying on Karim Benzema, who started brightly but has long said goodbye to his days of being a prolific scorer, and Mariano Diaz, lively in flashes, but yet to establish himself in the side. 
 
Madrid are now paying the price.
 
2. Uncertainty in defence 
 
Madrid's goal-scoring problems have been much-publicised but they are vulnerable at the other end too. Sergio Ramos has escaped criticism, despite a poor start to the season, summed up against Alaves, when he played two sloppy early passes before engaging in a series of skirmishes with striker Jonathan Calleri.
 
Thibaut Courtois was at fault for Garcia's winner and it cannot help those in front of him to have a rotating goalkeeper either. Lopetegui's policy of playing Courtois in La Liga and Keylor Navas in the Champions League feels like mollycoddling, when instead a clear decision might be required. 
 
The inexperienced Alvaro Odriozola, in for Dani Carvajal at right-back, has come into a struggling team and looks nervous.
 
3. Creative players injured 
 
Carvajal and Marcelo were key for Zinedine Zidane last season, offering cool heads in pressure situations and providing attacking impetus down the flanks too. Both have been out with calf problems during this difficult run and it is no coincidence Madrid have missed them dearly.
 
Lopetegui has been unlucky with injuries. Benzema was forced off at half-time against Alaves — although in truth he could have been substituted anyway — and Gareth Bale signalled to be replaced late on. 
 
Bale also sat out the defeat to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League on Tuesday, as did Isco, who is recovering from an appendix operation. Replacements like Marco Asensio should have done better but a handful of 
key absentees have left Madrid stretched.
 
4 .World Cup fatigue
 
Luka Modric admitted last month he felt emotionally and physically exhausted after leading Croatia to the World Cup final and he may not be the only one. 
 
Raphael Varane, who was guilty of losing his man for Alaves' goal on Saturday, was integral to France's triumph in Russia while Courtois, Carvajal, Ramos, Nacho, Isco, Asensio, Lucas Vazquez, Odriozola, Marcelo and Casemiro were all involved in the knockout stages. 
 
Madrid are not the only team affected but their summer was particularly short, given they also reached the Champions League final on May 26, less than three weeks before the World Cup. 
 
“It was not easy to start again after those emotional moments,” Modric said. 
 
5. Post-Zidane hangover 
 
Following Zidane was always going to be something of a poisoned chalice. The Frenchman was immensely popular with the players, combining mutual respect with a relaxed style of management that gave them the confidence to deliver when it mattered. 
 
He left on a high, after leading the team to Champions League glory for a third consecutive year, and it was perhaps no surprise the likes of Mauricio Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp and Massimiliano Allegri could not be convinced to take up the baton. 
 
Lopetegui admittedly enjoyed success with many of Madrid's Spanish players while in charge of the national team but then left before finishing the job. Most of all, he is not Zidane.

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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