Barcelona’s defensive dilemma - Could Alex Song benefit?

Barcelona V Madrid

Last night’s Champion’s League win 2-0 for Barcelona away at Benfica came at a cost as Carles Puyol was stretchered off in agony after 78 minutes.

The Catalans’ long-serving captain has become the club’s defensive talisman after spending his entire 17-year career with Barcelona but will now miss the next six weeks, including this weekend’s El Clasico game against Real Madrid, after dislocating his elbow.

The 34-year-old skipper had only just returned from successive spells out due to a fractured cheekbone and knee ligament damage.

Barca boss Tito Vilanova was expected to rest many of his star players on Tuesday with one eye on their El Clasico showdown with Real Madrid this weekend. But the manager opted to play both Puyol and the returning Andres Iniesta, who got a run out in the second half. Gerard Pique is also out with a foot injury.

Sergio Busquets was dismissed by referee in the minute for a clumsily allowing his arm to follow through on a challenge. Barcelona’s defensive woes only intensified, as Puyol was stretchered off to hospital in a horrific injury that resulted from an awkward fall. His teammates, most noticeably Dani Alves, were clearly very distraught.

Vilanova said, after the match:

"These are injuries which happen in football, but not very often and they are all happening to him. It is a blow because he is a very important player and because it will oblige us to keep playing players who need a rest.”

The boss now faces a conundrum in his backline – with both preferred centre-backs Pique and Puyol out, he has converted midfielders Javier Mascherano and Alex Song into centre-back cover, with Busquets playing as the most ‘defensive’ of his midfield trio.

But with the Real Madrid fixture looming imminently, it doesn’t look good for the Catalans. They might get away with defensive frailties against lesser opposition but in Real they face one of the best sides on the continent and there’s no doubt Jose Mourinho will be looking to capitalize on Barcelona’s misfortune.

There are those who have questioned why Barcelona didn’t just sign a centre-back this summer. The purchase of Alex Song raised an eyebrow or two – he made his name at Arsenal as a defensive midfielder with the tendency to want to go forward.

Although he has provided cover for Arsenal in defence, that is not his preferred or most confortable position. Some critics have pointed to the signing of a utility player like Song who, whilst a first-team regular at Arsenal, is unlikely to feature in a midfield that already boasts Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas, along with Busquets and Mascherano blocking Song’s path to his position.

Perhaps now is Song’s chance to make his name at Barcelona. As a central defender.

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