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Guardiola left with defensive crisis ahead of Real clash

David Villa's return to goalscoring form on Saturday provided a much-needed lift to Barcelona and coach Pep Guardiola, whose defensive problems have been compounded by injuries to Gabriel Milito and Maxwell.

With Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal and Adriano also sidelined, Guardiola faces a defensive crisis for Wednesday's Champions League semi-final first leg away to a Real Madrid side now bristling with confidence.

The silver lining was Villa's goal in a laboured 2-0 La Liga win at home to Osasuna -- the Spanish striker's first in 12 games in all competitions. Milito (calf) and Maxwell (groin) were awaiting the results of scans yesterday as Puyol trained away from the rest of the squad, while Abidal and Adriano are unlikely to play again this season.

Last week's dramatic Copa del Rey final victory over Barca provided a palpable boost to Real coach Jose Mourinho and his players and they romped to a 6-3 win at third-placed Valencia on Saturday despite resting several key squad members.


Striker Gonzalo Higuain netted three on Real's return to the Mestalla stadium, three days after victory there earned them a first domestic cup since 1993, and playmaker Kaka scored twice as the pair continued their comebacks from injury.

In Italy, Robinho scored the only goal as Milan beat Brescia to edge closer to the Serie A title and send their hosts closer to Serie B at the Stadio Rigamonti. The Brazilian struck in the 82nd minute, just moments after the home side had hit the woodwork.

The win sends Milan eight points clear of Internazionale with four games remaining.

Inter did their best to keep the pressure on with a 2-1 win over Lazio, but it did not come easily as they had to overcome the first-half dismissal of goalkeeper Julio Cesar.

Mauro Zarate gave the visitors the lead in the first half, but Inter hit back with goals from Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Eto'o as Lazio had Stefano Mauri sent off.

The win saw Inter climb above Napoli, who suffered a 2-1 defeat at Palermo. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent