Sunday 25 February 2018

Vilanova faces defensive crisis ahead of Clasico

Carles Puyol's dislocated elbow means Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova faces another unwelcome defensive conundrum for Sunday's first La Liga Clasico of the campaign at home to Real Madrid.

Playing his first game back after a knee injury, Puyol landed heavily after leaping for the ball in the second half of Barca's 2-0 Champions League Group G victory at Benfica on Tuesday, and Vilanova confirmed he would miss the Real clash.

The shaggy-haired 34-year-old, whose regular partner in central defence Gerard Pique has not played since hurting his foot two weeks ago, was taken to a local hospital for checks before flying back to the Catalan capital and spending the night under observation in a clinic.

He appeared in good spirits yesterday morning.

"Good day! The sun always comes out again... thanks for all your messages! A big hug," Puyol tweeted, adding that he would be back to full fitness soon.

Barca will sorely miss Puyol's experience and inspirational do-or-die attitude on Sunday, and if Pique does not recover in time, Vilanova may again be forced to deploy new signing Alex Song alongside fellow converted midfielder Javier Mascherano in central defence.

Neither were convincing in Barca's 3-2 comeback win at Sevilla in La Liga at the weekend and Song has yet to settle properly after joining from Arsenal in the close season.

Vilanova also has the option of throwing youth academy graduates Marc Bartra or Andreu Fontas into the fray, although it would be a major gamble given the importance of the clash.

A win for Barca, who have won all six of their La Liga games and top the standings by two points from Atletico Madrid, would put them 11 points clear of their great rivals.

Irish Independent

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