Barcelona 2-0 Benfica: Great Win, Bigger Loss for La Blaugrana
For the first 75 minutes of Barcelona's Champions League match in Lisbon, it was nothing but good news for last year's semifinalists.
But in the span of just 15 minutes, the victory was overshadowed by two events, one in particular, that will affect Tito Vilanova's team far more than the final score will.
Before getting into those two incidents, let's look at the most positive signs from the Spaniards' dominant play.
Tito Vilanova understands his attackers
Overall, Barcelona's 2-0 win over Benfica was a great result, with plenty of fine performances throughout.
Lionel Messi was simply superb on the evening, setting up both goals with some exquisite passing and space creation.
The Argentinian was such a havoc that the only answer the Portuguese side could come up with was to keep clipping him and knocking him off his feet.
Cesc Fabregas continued his revival with a second consecutive top performance. Alexis Sanchez also had one of his best performances of the year so far.
It seems Vilanova has learned how to best interchange Messi with Fabregas and Sanchez up front to get the best out of all three players.
Messi started centrally, but often moved out right to take defenders away from the center of the final third, freeing up Sanchez as a result with Cesc right behind the Chilean. This is how the first goal came about.
On the second goal, Messi started higher up the pitch and allowed Alexis to venture in front of him. This caused the entire Benfica defense to move to the middle and gave plenty of space for Fabregas to swing out wide and slot home the cinching goal.
Overall, the attack showed just how versatile Messi is, and how dangerous he makes the rest of the team. Victor Valdes also had a spectacular showing in goal.
While the final score and how it came about are promising going forward, they were overshadowed by what happened around the 75-minute mark.
Whether you're a Barcelona fan or not, this was hard to watch.
How serious is the loss of Puyol to Barcelona?
Amongst fans of La Liga and even football in general, Carles Puyol is one of the most well-respected and admired players around.
His toughness, leadership and dedication to his team have long kept him in high regards to fans of the sport.
Watching him go down with an arm injury was hard to watch, not only because of the gruesome nature of the break, but also knowing how hard El Capitan worked to get fit for this match.
Puyol came back ahead of schedule after re-aggravating the same knee that kept him out for months before. He has now played three matches this season and suffered three injuries.
Those who saw the injury live thought he may have suffered a compound fracture that would see him out until at least the winter break, but Initial reports say that the injury was a dislocated elbow.
Beyond the emotional loss of their defensive leader, Barcelona are now in big trouble, with El Clasico coming up with weekend.
After failing to sign a center-back this summer, and with Gerard Pique likely to miss the fixture, Barça will now have to face one of the elite attacks in football with a very weak back line.
The central defense will consist of two converted defensive midfielders in Alex Song and Javier Mascherano, while also fielding two attack-minded fullbacks.
Adriano will probably be chosen over Jordi Alba, and while the Brazilian does have a bit more defensive discipline than the former Valencia man, he is far from a top class defender.
Sevilla showed last weekend that exploiting the huge gap left behind Sergio Busquets and spreading Barcelona at the back can create enough chances to defeat the Catalans.
Real Madrid can do an even better job, and their great mix of speed, elite passing and world class finishers could prove far too much for Barça to handle.
Puyol would not have been at his best this weekend, but even a weakened Carles Puyol is better than Alex Song or Javier Mascherano.
How it affects the midfield
In the 88th minute of this match, Sergio Busquets was given a straight red, and will now miss the next European match.
The card, Busquets' second red of his career, will be seen as unfair by most neutrals, and probably should not have been considered a card-worthy offense at all.
The midfielder will surely appeal the card, but if that fails, Barcelona will be without their midfield enforcer for their next match against Celtic.
On its own, the loss of Busquets is serious, but not crippling. Alex Song and even Javier Mascherano provide great depth at the position,
The problem for Barça is that both of those players could be moved to defense after Puyol's injury, barring a return from Pique.
That could mean giving Sergi Roberto his biggest chance at the club; while that could be a great thing for Roberto and the club, it could also mean dropping points.
Thankfully for Cules, Barça have locked up their first six points, so dropping one match wouldn't be a disaster, but it certainly won't help the team at all.
Tito Vilanova only suffered two losses against Benfica, but he was lucky not to have lost a few more key players after the rough play from Las Águias.
I understand that physicality is a part of the game—and even defended it from Sevilla last week—but there is a difference between playing rough football that knocks players off the ball and simply trying to hurt someone to slow them down.
Benfica were not just playing tight, physical football. They were hurting people, albeit likely unintentionally.
Does fielding Song and Mascherano together make Real Madrid favorites?
After getting pulled, tripped, and blatantly kicked out of desperation, Barça's No. 10 even had a few choice words with Matic to tell him that enough was enough.
Benfica played a pretty solid match overall, and if not for an inspired performance from Victor Vades, they would have sent Barcelona back to Spain with just a point, perhaps even less.
That's why it was frustrating to watch them just knocking people over in the last 10 minutes, risking injury to Messi, Dani Alves, Andres Iniesta, and Jordi Alba.
As I said before, physicality is one thing, but just kicking and elbowing people out of frustration is very different, and risks injuries to players for no reason.
Needlessly rough play in the last 25 minutes notwithstanding, this was an enjoyable football match that was a bit closer than the final scoreline suggests.
For Barcelona, the win and the more fluid attack will be encouraging signs going forward. But the loss of Puyol for another lengthy period of time cannot be undervalued.
Losing their defensive leader will hurt them for the rest of the season, especially this weekend against Real Madrid.
The defending Spanish champions are nearly impossible to contain at full health, much less without two starting center-backs and with a highly imbalanced back line in their stead.
Puyol's injury may not be as bad as initially thought, but the momentum shift in La Liga could be so great in that small time frame that Barcelona loses its mental advantage over their rivals.
Feel free to comment below and let us know how serious you see Puyol's injury being as well as any other thoughts about Barça's 2-0 win over Benfica.
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