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FOOTBALL

‘Monstrous’ Messi scores 400th La Liga goal

Lionel Messi scored his 400th La Liga goal on Sunday, a total his coach Ernesto Valverde called "monstrous", as Barcelona terrorised Eibar to reclaim their five-point cushion at the top of the table.

'Monstrous' Messi scores 400th La Liga goal
Photo: AFP

Messi drove the ball into the bottom corner after being teed up by Luis Suarez, who added two goals to his own tally either side of the Argentinian marking another historic record at the Camp Nou.

“It's monstrous,” said Valverde, after the 3-0 victory. “It's easy to say but you have to score them one after the other, it's a long-term job.   

“His numbers are stratospheric, incredible. He is from another galaxy.”   

Victory saw Valverde's side restore their advantage over Atletico Madrid, who had briefly cut the gap to two points after beating Levante earlier in the day.

“There is a lot of time left,” Valverde said. “It is a good cushion but nothing is done yet.” 

Real Madrid won too, beating Real Betis, to ensure Spain's big three all prevailed in the same round for only the fourth time this season. Real remain 10 points adrift of Barcelona. 

Messi, meanwhile, extends his own hefty lead as the division's all-time top scorer, which currently stands at 89 goals, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo.    

Ronaldo, now at Juventus in Italy, owns a better goals-to-game ratio, with his 311 strikes coming in 292 matches. Messi's quadruple century arrived in his 435th.

In fact, it was one of Messi's quieter nights in terms of performance and in another team it might have been Suarez or Philippe Coutinho picking up the plaudits.

Suarez assisted Messi, applied a classy finish and was on the end of a scintillating team move for Barca's first.

Sparkling Coutinho display

Coutinho was the provider for that one and delivered a sparkling display to appease those doubting his future at the club.   

The Brazilian has endured a spell out of Valverde's preferred starting line-up but he converted a penalty against Levante in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, and was arguably man of the match here.

He alone supplied three passes in the build-up to Suarez's opener. Arthur Melo started it, playing a one-two with Coutinho and then into the feet of Sergio Busquets.

Busquets pinged the ball left to Coutinho, who twice exchanged with Suarez before the Uruguayan, off balance, found the far corner.   

Messi's moment came in the 53rd minute and it was Suarez who started it, stealing back possession after a heavy touch from Anaitz Arbilla. He bounced it off Coutinho and found Messi, who touched and rifled in.

Barca were enjoying themselves as Coutinho flicked the ball over one opponent's head and Suarez did the same through another's legs.   

The third goal was simple, however, Sergi Roberto taking a quick throw and freeing the scuttling Suarez. With the goalkeeper out, he looked up and chipped the ball into the net.

Griezmann fires Atletico to win

The pressure had been cranked up a notch after Antoine Griezmann's second-half penalty earned Atletico a 1-0 victory over Levante.   

Griezmann has now scored all of Atletico's last six goals and his latest one proved the difference in a cagey contest at the Wanda Metropolitano.   

“We all pull the cart in difficult moments,” Griezmann said. “I cannot do anything without my team-mates.”

The pressure has been on Real Madrid all season but they battled to a 2-1 win over Betis for their first league victory of 2019.   

Luka Modric sent a thunderous shot into the top corner but Betis were in the ascendancy after Sergio Canales poked in a second-half equaliser.   

Marcelo had been dropped by Santiago Solari, Karim Benzema taken off with a dislocated finger and Isco remained on the bench, watching three youngsters sent on ahead of him. Ceballos, who left Betis for Madrid two years ago, was one of them.

With a free-kick on the edge of the area and goalkeeper Pau Lopez leaving his left-hand corner open, Ceballos duly sent a dipping shot into the gap to snatch a dramatic win.

“It was an emotional moment for him,” Solari said. “A former player doing damage, football creates this kind of magic.”

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.

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