UEFA Champions League Semi-final: Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona Preview

VALENCIA, SPAIN - APRIL 20: David Villa of FC Barcelona (2ndR) argues with Alvaro Arbeloa (R), Iker Casillas (C) and Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid during the Copa del Rey Final between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Estadio Mestalla on April 20, 2011 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Exactly one week ago, FC Barcelona were alive and well in all three competitions. But the Copa del Rey Final loss against eternal rivals, Real Madrid, has ended Barca’s treble aspirations. Furthermore, the painful defeat at the hands of Los Blancos has shifted the momentum towards the side from the Spanish capital.

La Liga’s last match-day is a vindication of just that.

While FC Barcelona struggled to their victory over La Liga bottom-dwellers, CA Osasuna, Real Madrid have convincingly beaten fellow Primera Division powerhouse and Champions League hopefuls Valencia CF, despite resting several key-players.

In addition to his side’s recent struggles, Pep Guardiola has to deal with the absences of both left-back Maxwell and center-back Gabriel Milito. An already thin Barca squad is stretched to the maximum. While Carles Puyol could feature as a makeshift left-back, the appearance of Barcelona’s talismanic captain is in doubt, and he’d be better used in the middle anyway.

Although Javier Mascherano or Sergio Busquets could deputize in central defense, there’s no ready-made solution for the left-back slot. It is quite ironic that it is this area that causes FC Barcelona the most problems, given the fact that the Blaugrana employ no less than three players in that position.

With Eric Abidal definitely ruled out for the rest of the season and Adriano’s fitness a major question, Maxwell’s latest injury comes at the worst possible time. FC Barcelona do not have any further personnel to compensate for their loss. At the very least, their failure to properly address their defense in the last two transfer windows has come back to haunt them in the final stages of the current campaign.

For the time being, Pep Guardiola should take a cue out of Jose Mourinho’s playbook and avoid a defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu at all costs. A draw, whether a scoring one or not, would be to FC Barcelona’s advantage, especially since the return leg will be played at Barcelona’s Camp Nou venue.

Real Madrid would be forced to abandon their ultra-defensive approach in order to get a result in Catalunya. And in an open game the advantage lies with the Blaugrana; even more so at home in the Camp Nou.

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