Unlucky break: Puyol injury could leave Barcelona defence decimated for Clasico

The Catalans' captain suffered a dislocated elbow in the 2-0 win at Benfica on Tuesday after falling awkwardly and he will be a key absence in Sunday's meeting with Real Madrid
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

It should have been a happy evening. Barcelona's sixth straight victory came with a goal for Alexis Sanchez, another for the recently reinvigorated Cesc Fabregas, two assists for Lionel Messi and a clean sheet at one of Europe's most famous stadiums. Perfect preparation, it seemed, for Sunday's Clasico clash at home to Real Madrid.

But 13 minutes before the end, disaster struck.

Carles Puyol, making his much-anticipated return from a knee injury, threw himself at a corner from the left and ended in a heap on the turf. The club captain landed awkwardly on his left arm and was clearly in trouble - when the Catalan cries out in pain you know that something is seriously up.

Puyol's problems
2 The skipper's dislocated elbow is his second injury of the season
4 The defender has managed just four games so far this term, out of a possible 10
6 He is expected to be sidelined for six weeks, just like after his knee operation in the summer
99 Games played for Spain, despite missing Euro 2012 through injury
563 Puyol has appeared over 500 times for Barca - but how many more matches does he have left in him?
The 34-year-old was in one piece but only just. His arm was seemingly twisted out of shape and the reaction of team-mate Alexis was a sign of the seriousness of the skipper's problem. Head in hands and unable to watch, the Chilean was troubled by seeing his captain laid low. And his response surely echoed the feelings of Barcelona sympathisers everywhere. Just five days before the Clasico, they had lost their best centre-back and leader. Again.

Puyol is rarely around for a long time these days, and much more prone to injury than in his younger years. The injury is hardly a surprise as the defender has never been far from the treatment room over the last few seasons, but this one is the latest example of how his brave playing style can cause him problems. Fearless in defence and fearsome in attack, Puyol picks up injuries due to his aggressiveness and has taken numerous blows to his face during his Barcelona career.

But his latest setback, which was thought to be a broken arm originally but later diagnosed as a dislocated elbow, means he will miss his side's most important date so far in La Liga - at home to Real Madrid on Sunday. And with Gerard Pique still sidelined, too, Barca could be decimated in defence ahead of the famous fixture, one they can probably afford to lose but which, if they could win, would see the Catalans take a significant step to the title by building an 11-point advantage over their fiercest foes.

The injury again raises new question marks over the club's summer signing policy, with no central defender brought in despite Puyol's persistent problems and Pique's form and fitness worries last term. The latter could return for the Madrid meeting, but should he remain sidelined, Barca will be forced to field the ponderous pairing of Alex Song and Javier Mascherano on Sunday. And having exploited the weaknesses of their rivals' second string in the past, you can imagine Madrid - and Jose Mourinho in particular - will be fairly content about that.

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