SHARE
COPY LINK

FOOTBALL

Pressure mounts on Lopetegui as Real Madrid beaten by Levante

Real Madrid failed to ease the pressure on coach Julen Lopetegui and instead set the record for the longest goal-drought in the club's history during a surprise 2-1 defeat by Levante on Saturday.

Pressure mounts on Lopetegui as Real Madrid beaten by Levante
Real Madrid's Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui gives instructions to his players during their loss to Levante UD on Saturday. Photo: GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP
Madrid have now gone five games without a victory and by the time Marcelo gave them hope of a comeback at the Santiago Bernabeu, they had gone 481 minutes without a goal too. The club's previous worst run had been 464 minutes, in 1985. 
 
For a team that prides itself on flair and flamboyance, it is a streak that reflects just as badly on Lopetegui as the results, which could leave Real Madrid four points adrift of Barcelona later on Saturday, with a 'Clasico' to come next weekend at the Camp Nou. 
 
Asked about his future, Lopetegui said: “It is the last thing I am thinking about. I am thinking only about lifting the players.” 
 

If Barca's players were watching, they would have been licking their lips at the sight of Raphael Varane handing Levante a two-goal lead here after just 13 minutes. Jose Luis Morales and Roger Marti, from the penalty spot, were the beneficiaries. 

At the final whistle, Lopetegui stood on the touchline, with his hands on his hips, staring ahead in disbelief. 
 
He had left Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema on the bench, perhaps due to fitness issues, and the gamble backfired, despite both making a difference when brought on in the second half. 
 
Lopetegui had cited a lack of luck in recent weeks and Madrid were not blessed with it here. They hit the crossbar twice and the post once. They suffered a two-goal swing as a result of the Video Assistant Referee, one against called as a penalty, and one ruled out for offside.
 
“I'm sure football will eventually give back to us what it is taking away,” Lopetegui said.
 
But a single goal, from their 30-year-old left-back, in over eight hours is no fluke, and neither are the defensive lapses that could have seen Levante add more to their early double.
 
Paco Lopez took charge of Levante in March and oversaw eight wins from 11 to avoid relegation. This season they are now seventh, a point behind Madrid.
 
“I told the guys talent has its limits, but faith and conviction do not,” Lopez said. “This team believes in what they are doing.” 
 
Scatty Madrid
 
Levante were two up in 13 minutes and both came from Varane mistakes. The first was more blatant as he misjudged the flight of Sergio Postigo's through ball, allowing Morales to nick it round Thibaut Courtois and fire into the open net. 
 
It got worse as Varane handled and VAR advised the error had been inside the box. Roger converted the penalty. 
 
For the rest of the half, Madrid were scatty and imprecise, their finishing spoiled by bad luck but a lack of composure too. 
 
VAR proved their undoing again, ruling Marco Asensio's follow-up offside after Casemiro headed against the crossbar. Mariano was also denied by the woodwork while Ramos and Lucas Vazquez missed from three yards. 
 
At half-time, there were a scattering of white handkerchiefs — the traditional expression of discontent — but more whistles. After the restart, the home fans sang “echale huevos”, meaning, “play with some balls”. 
 
Lopetegui had thrown Bale on at the interval while Benzema and Dani Ceballos were introduced on the hour. Not before the 56th minute, when Madrid's drought became their longest ever. 
 
Benzema shot straight at Oier Olazabal, who then pushed a bending Bale free-kick wide. Finally, Madrid scored, with that pair involved again as Bale flicked on to Benzema and Marcelo drove home.
 
Madrid believed as Benzema struck the far post with a curling effort and Mariano thought he had grabbed an equaliser in the 87th minute. The striker, however, had strayed just offside. For Madrid, it was not to be.
 
By AFP's Thomas Allnutt
 

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.

SHOW COMMENTS