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Barcelona beat Real Madrid to edge closer to La Liga title

Barcelona won their second Clasico in four days on Saturday and Real Madrid might have to win the Champions League if Santiago Solari is to be in charge for the next one.

Barcelona beat Real Madrid to edge closer to La Liga title
Photo: AFP

After knocking them out of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, Barca returned to the Santiago Bernabeu for a 1-0 victory that surely eliminates their greatest rivals from the title race too.

Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos locked heads after Ramos flung an arm into Messi's face but, despite the scoreline and a few half-chances, that was about the most trouble Madrid caused.

Messi would have been proud of Ivan Rakitic's delightful chip, a rare moment of precision that in the end settled another Clasico high on vigour but lacking in either real quality or rhythm.

“What we wanted was to deliver our best and to inflict damage on our rival,” Barca coach Ernesto Valverde said. “We have done that.”

The onus was on Madrid, not only to make amends for their defeat in midweek but to reduce the nine-point gap between them and La Liga's leaders.

Instead, Barcelona extended it to 12 and the way their players jumped up and down in front of the away fans after the final whistle suggested they felt this was a major hurdle overcome.

Barcelona also now own 96 victories in this fixture to Real Madrid's 95, the first time they have been in front in 87 years.

When Solari took over in November, his team were seven points adrift of the Catalans and the fact the deficit has almost doubled since might not reflect the improvement in performances.

But this was the first time Madrid have lost three in a row at home in 15 years and these are surely the matches president Florentino Perez will remember when he considers his coach's future next summer.

“You go through spells, sometimes everything goes for you and sometimes it doesn't,” said Solari. “In these two games it hasn't.”

All that realistically remains now is the Champions League, in which Madrid will carry a 2-1 lead into Tuesday's second leg at home to Ajax.

Europe has rescued them before and it also revived Gareth Bale, who endured another frustrating night on only his third start in 10 games.

Bale was largely anonymous again and when substituted in the second half, he departed not just to a scattering of whistles from the home crowd but a chorus.

“He tried, like the rest of the players,” said Solari.

READ ALSO: The Social Media Clásico: How Real Madrid and Barcelona battle online

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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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