Barcelona will miss 'unique' Puyol - Alves
BARCELONA defender Dani Alves has labelled injured captain Carles Puyol irreplaceable after the centre-half's confirmed absence handed Arsenal a massive boost ahead of their Champions League second-leg tomorrow night.
Puyol trained with his team-mates yesterday, but Barcelona confirmed after the session that he had not recovered from the tendinitis in his left knee. "He is a unique player," the Brazilian said. "He gives us security at the back -- something that other players give us as well, but he gives it in another way.
"He plays with head and heart -- he has that tremendous fighting spirit, but he also has the intelligence in terms of the way he positions himself."
The absence of Puyol will hand Javier Mascherano a start with Sergio Busquets moved back into the centre of a defence already deprived of the suspended Gerard Pique. And Mascherano believes Barcelona's fire-power can carry them over the line in-spite of any defensive frailty.
"A 1-0 would serve our purposes, but if there is one thing that you can guarantee about this team it is that it is never satisfied. We will go out and try to win the game by the biggest margin possible," he said.
"Arsenal are not stupid. They have an advantage and they'll try to protect that lead. They will come to defend. The difference is that when they have the ball they like to play -- and they have the players that can do that."
A single goal from the unlikely source of Seydou Keita gave the Catalans a vital win over Real Zaragoza at the Nou Camp to keep them top of La Liga. That cleared the way for Pep Guardiola's men to focus on an Arsenal side that Alves believes are a more mature outfit this year.
"Arsenal have a lot more experience than last year," he said. "They are a good side. And when Cesc is not there you really notice it. We can't afford to have him comfortable in the game, hopefully the players who are comfortable on the pitch will be Xavi and (Andres) Iniesta. But given the players that they have we don't expect them to come and defend, and that will suit us."
Elsewhere in La Liga, Real Madrid kept up the chase of the champions with a 3-1 victory away to Racing Santander. Emmanuel Adebayor opened the scoring before Karim Benzema doubled Real's advantage. The home side missed a penalty but pulled a goal back through Kennedy Bakircioglu before Benzema closed the match out.
Serie A leaders AC Milan geared up for their trip to Tottenham with a hard fought 1-0 win over Juventus but their match winner Gennaro Gattuso won't be with them on Wednesday night as he is suspended after his first leg meltdown. The midfielder's strike was his first goal in three years.
Inter Milan kept pace with their city rivals yesterday with a Samuel Eto'o inspired 5-2 win over Genoa at the San Siro. Giampaolo Pazzini's goal cancelled out Rodrigo Palacio's opener, before the Cameroon striker bagged a brace and Goran Pandev and Yuto Nagatomo added to the scoreline.
In Germany, Louis van Gaal survived the weekend as manager of Bayern Munich but his future at the Allianz Arena remains precarious at the struggling Bundesliga outfit.
The champions lost 3-1 to Hannover on Saturday night and chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge admitted the situation was "catastrophic".
Borussia Dortmund's 1-0 win over Cologne on Friday night means they are still, surprisingly, running away with the league.