Barcelona beset by injuries at crucial stage
Like many of Europe’s biggest clubs, Barcelona find themselves at a crucial point of the season, with their hopes in two of the three competitions they are contesting in the balance.
Worryingly for fans, Pep Guardiola’s side have been hit by a rash of niggling injuries to key players at a highly inconvenient moment.
“Injury alarm” was the banner headline in Wednesday’s Sport, the Catalan capital’s main sports daily.
Playmaker Xavi, the fulcrum around which the whole team operates and a crucial element of Barca’s much-praised style of play, was the latest to break down when he picked up a muscle strain against Athletic Bilbao at the weekend.
The 31-year-old joined captain and central defender Carles Puyol and goalkeeper Victor Valdes on the medical list.
After tricky La Liga games against Real Mallorca and Valencia over the coming week, the Spanish champions have a 2-1 deficit to overcome at home to Arsenal in their Champions League last-16, second leg on March 8.
If things go wrong, they could find themselves out of Europe and with their five-point advantage over Real Madrid at the top of La Liga cut back or even eliminated.
The bad news doesn’t end with injuries. The club have also been hit by suspensions. Centre back Gerard Pique is out of the Arsenal game after picking up a yellow card in the first leg and right back Daniel Alves, who has an incredible 14 assists this season in all competitions, will be absent on Saturday against Mallorca, one of only three teams to take points of Barca in La Liga this term.
Thankfully for Barca and their fans, World Player of the Year Lionel Messi has managed to avoid injury, while creative midfielder Andres Iniesta has not succumbed to any of the muscle problems that plagued him last year.
Barca’s prolific attacking trio of Messi, David Villa and Pedro, who have scored 77 goals between them in all competitions, is intact.
Mali midfielder Seydou Keita will likely come in for Xavi and Eric Abidal, who is having one of his best seasons in a Barca shirt, will likely again slot in at centre back to cover Puyol.
Reserve keeper Jose Manuel Pinto showed with a fine save against Athletic Bilbao at the weekend that he has not lost his touch despite rarely getting a game.
Xavi told a news conference on Wednesday he could be back for the Valencia match on March 2.
Without him Barca can be a shadow of the team that can destroy any opponent and it would be a shame if their latest bid for silverware were scuppered by injury rather than on the pitch.
PHOTO: Barcelona’s Xavi attends a news conference, February 23, 2011. REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino.