Nov 20, 2013, 11:26 PM EDT
This is probably Víctor Valdés’s last year at Barcelona, and with the 31-year-old Spanish international seemingly improving with age, his last moments with the Blaugrana are becoming precious – a time to reflect on a 12-year, 13-major trophy run. Unfortunately, thanks to an injury incurred during Spain’s Tuesday loss in South Africa (yes, you read that right), Barça’s number one could be looking at six weeks on the sideline, the free agent-to-be having suffered a suspected torn calf.
With neither Real nor Atlético Madrid on their upcoming schedule, and given Barca’s Champions League group is under control, this is as good a time as any for Barcelona to lose there’s number one. Although Valdés has played every minute in both La Liga and Champions League, there’s nothing on the upcoming fixture list that Jose Manuel Pinto can’t handle, provided the volatile veteran stays on the field. With the Barcelona’s stiffest upcoming challenge being Villarreal on Dec. 14, Pinto should have plenty of time to shake off the rust before a visit from the Yellow Submarine.
Injury accumulation, however, is a small concern for Barcelona, the strain of seasons on seasons of overloaded schedules potentially catching up to them. Lionel Messi will be out until the new year with a reoccurrence of his hamstring problems. Left back Jordi Alba has been out since early in the season, Cristian Tello is expected to miss this weekend’s game, and Xavi Hernandez is still a doubt. Though a Barcelona squad that has more depth than the Pep Guardiola years is better equipped to deal with these absences, the threat of another season compromised by injuries is starting to rear its head. If Messi (in particular) doesn’t get healthy, there may be no additions to Barça’s trophy case this season.
But like Valdes, Messi’s expected back in January, though you wouldn’t begrudge head coach Gerardo Martino taking a red Sharpie to the Jan. 11 box on his calendar. That’s the day Barcelona makes their annual trip to the Vicente Calderon, where Atlético will pose a legitimate title threat.
With Messi and Valdés, Barcelona should be ever so slight favorites to win that match. Without either, Barça become much more vulnerable in a game that could not open the door for Atleti. It could also bring Real Madrid back into the title race.
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