Injury-hit Barça limp towards Wembley finish line

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The Independent Football

The dream return to Wembley, where Barcelona won their first European Cup in 1992, is just 90 minutes away but Pep Guardiola knows his charges are struggling over the finish line with what he calls the worst injury crisis since he arrived at the club.

"We have never been in such a state in terms of injuries," Guardiola said ahead of last night's trip to Real Sociedad, another game in which he was forced to rest players, includ-ing the captain, Carles Puyol.

"I didn't want to force Puyol, he had ankle problems after the first leg. His knee is OK but we have no left-backs left."

Guardiola lost the first choice, Eric Abidal, when the Frenchman had to have emergency surgery on a liver tumour in March, and second choice Adriano and third choice Maxwell are likewise sidelined. Guardiola has also been affected by central-defensive problems that have forced him to use nine different players at the heart of his defence in 23 different back-four combinations.

When the club unveiled Javier Mascherano at the start of the season there was incredulity as the former Liverpool midfielder was presented as someone who could fill various positions. But Mascherano has shown his flexibility, filling in at centre-back during Puyol's two-monthlay-off with tendinitis.

But Guardiola's problems have not been restricted to defensive injuries. Andres Iniesta missed the first leg against Real Madrid with a calf strain and will need a late test to see if he can play the second leg on Tuesday, and the striker Bojan Krkic is out for the rest of the season with a cruciate ligament injury. The situation is not unlike the one Barcelona faced in 2009 when Manchester United were their rivals in Rome. Puyol filled in at right-back for the suspended Dani Alves that night. Guardiola was also forced to throw in the veteran ex-Arsenal defender Sylvinho, while the midfielder Yaya Touré had to playalongside Gerard Pique.

Should Manchester United and Barcelona both progress this week there will be a similar makeshift look to Barcelona's starting line-up for the rematch, with Mascherano likely to partner Pique in the centre of defence and Puyol continuing at left-back. Pique has held together a crumbling rearguard that is sure to be tested on Tuesday as Real Madrid go for goals in a bid to become the first side to claw back a two-goal lead away from home in a Champions' League semi-final.

Pique shut out his ex-United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo last week and said: "If he gets you one on one in a sprint, he is unstoppable. When he is stationary he is not so dangerous."

Ronaldo was not named in Real's squad to face Zaragoza yesterday amid suggestions he had been punished by Mourinho for questioning tactics in the first game, but he will be back on Tuesday and could be joined in attack by Karim Benzema or Gonzalo Higuain, as Mourinho may leave out Mesut Ozil. Xabi Alonso and Lassana Diarra will start in midfield as Mourinho reverts to 4-2-3-1.

If Barça finish the season crowned European champions, the versatility of their players will have played a massive part. If another couple of defenders go down, Victor Valdes could always lose the gloves and play centre-half. The Barcelona goalkeeper completed 24 passes in the first leg – more than anyoutfield Real player.

Barcelona v Real Madrid is on Sky Sports 2 on Tuesday, kick-off 7.45pm