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Can Spain adapt to life without Alexia Putellas?

The loss of any player on the eve of the tournament is a blow, but Alexia Putellas' cruel ACL rupture deprives Spain of one of the best players in the world. What next?

Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas suffered a major injury on Tuesday
Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas suffered a major injury on Tuesday UEFA via Getty Images

How do you replace the irreplaceable?

This is the dilemma facing Spain coach Jorge Vilda and his players after the injury that has denied them the on-field inspiration of Alexia Putellas at UEFA Women's EURO 2022.

Latest build-up: Spain vs Finland

As Mariona Caldentey told reporters at Bisham Abbey on Wednesday there is no way to sugarcoat this setback. "She is a leader, a pillar, and it's a major loss," she said.

The cruelly-timed ACL rupture sustained on Tuesday by the Barcelona playmaker and Ballon d'Or winner leaves Spain without their lodestar.

Alexia, top scorer in the 2021/22 Women's Champions League, had made history only days earlier by becoming the first Spanish female footballer to reach the milestone of 100 international caps. Naturally, she marked the occasion with her 27th international goal in the 1-1 friendly draw with Italy.

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In a well-balanced Spanish midfield with her Barcelona colleagues Patri Guijarro and Aitana Bonmatí, Alexia was the risk-taker – the player who provided the penetrating passes and forward runs.

How brilliant is Alexia Putellas?

Just a few hours before the news broke of her injury, Irene Guerrero, another of the squad's midfielders, had explained to me another aspect of her significance to Spain – her leadership. "Her experience and her vision of football are what help us on the field to guide us and to know how to respond to what the opposition are doing," she said.

For a squad already missing another of its captains in record scorer Jenni Hermoso, it is a cruel blow though they do still have an impressive leader in centre-back Irene Paredes whose partnership with Mapi León provides such a firm defensive foundation.

From a tactical perspective, one possible solution for Vilda could be to drop Caldentey back into Alexia's position and look to players like Lucía García and Athenea del Castillo (who shone in the four-team tournament in England earlier this year) to fill the wide attacking roles in the 4-3-3 formation he uses most commonly.

Whatever Vilda decides, it is worth remembering that Spain can still send out against Finland six of the Barcelona starting XI from May's UEFA Women's Champions League final.

Top scorer: All Alexia Putellas' goals

Of course, the X-factor of Alexia will be missing, even if she will travel to Milton Keynes with the squad to support her team-mates. Without her on-field presence, the message from her midfield colleague Patri Guijarro is that the onus now falls on the rest of the squad to dig in and deliver even more.

Guijarro, now the squad's vice-captain, said: "We're going to bring together all our desire, all our responsibility to try, between all of us, to make up for all the good things Alexia gives, with something extra from each player."

Caldentey, sitting beside her, echoed these words as she stressed that "other players have to step up and take responsibility". Striking a positive note, she added: "We want to show this team picks itself up and keeps on believing."

Maybe, but to keep belief levels high, an opening win against Finland now feels all the more important.