David Villa's return to goalscoring form has provided a much-needed lift to Barcelona and coach Pep Guardiola, whose defensive problems have been compounded again by injuries to Gabriel Milito and Maxwell.
With Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal and Adriano also sidelined, Guardiola has a severe defensive headache as Barça prepare for Wednesday's Champions League semi-final first leg away to a Real Madrid side now bristling with confidence.
The silver lining was Villa's goal in a laboured 2-0 La Liga win at home to Osasuna on Saturday, the Spanish striker's first in 12 games in all competitions. "The most important thing is that the team scores and wins," said Villa, who was visibly relieved after his goal in the 24th minute at the Nou Camp, his 18th in the league this season. "There is time now to rest and to think about the first leg of the Champions League semis."
It was unclear how long Milito (calf) and Maxwell (groin) would be out of action. Puyol trained away from the rest of the squad, while Abidal and Adriano are unlikely to play again this season.
Last week's dramatic Copa del Rey final victory over Barça has provided a palpable boost to Real coach Jose Mourinho and his players and they romped to a 6-3 win at third-placed Valencia on Saturday despite resting several key squad members.
Striker Gonzalo Higuain got a hat-trick on Real's return to the Mestalla stadium, three days after victory there earned them a first Spanish Cup since 1993, and playmaker Kaka scored twice as the pair continued their comebacks from injury.
Guardiola admitted that the balance of power had shifted to the Spanish capital since then. "We know that Madrid are not going to lose any more [league] games because with a title in the bag they are liberated and we have to get back to winning ways," he said. "We are not going [to Madrid] in the best condition but in mental terms we will travel to the Bernabeu with a lot of enthusiasm. We accept that Madrid are favourites, they have earned that in the last few weeks, and we'll try to turn that around."
Barça midfielder Sergio Busquets, whom Guardiola has deployed as a makeshift centre-back in recent weeks together with Javier Mascherano, said injuries could not be used as an excuse for failure at this crucial stage of the season. "The more players we have available the stronger we are, as that means the coach has more options," Busquets said yesterday. "But there are no excuses now."
In Italy, Robinho scored the only goal against Brescia which took Milan closer to the Serie A title and sent their hosts closer to Serie B at the Stadio Rigamonti. The Brazilian struck in the 82nd minute just moments after the home side had hit the woodwork.
The win sends Milan eight points clear of Internazionale with four games remaining. Inter did their best to keep the pressure on their city rivals with a 2-1 win over Lazio, but it did not come easily as they had to overcome the first-half dismissal of goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
Mauro Zarate had given the visitors the lead in the first half, but Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Eto'o got the goals as Lazio also had Stefano Mauri sent off. The win saw Inter climb above Napoli, who suffered a 2-1 defeat at Palermo.Reuse content