Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense
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By JOSEPH WILSON
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) When Xavi Hernandez oversaw the remodeling of Barcelona's squad this summer, the coach made sure he was so well covered at right-back that his club could afford to loan out United States defender Sergino Dest to AC Milan.
But after a spate of injuries that has decimated Barcelona over the international break, Xavi may have a huge hole in his defense ahead of Sunday's game at Mallorca.
Jules Kounde, Ronald Araujo and Hector Bellerin, who have played at right back this season, are all out for an undetermined period of time. Kounde and Araujo, who can play at center back as well, were hurt while playing for France and Uruguay, respectively, in games to prepare for the World Cup in November. Bellerin hurt his left leg while training for Barcelona.
That leaves Barcelona waiting to see if veteran Sergi Roberto can recover from a muscle problem that has sidelined him for three weeks in time for the trip to the Balearic Islands.
If not, Xavi may be forced to shoehorn a player with little or no experience at right back into the position, draft a player from Barcelona's youth team, or opt to play with three centerbacks and two wing backs.
Barcelona will also be without midfielder Frenkie de Jong and foward Memphis Depay after they were both hurt while playing for the Netherlands. Neither has been a first-choice player for Xavi this season.
Of the injuries, Araujo's appears to be the most serious. The 23-year-old defender underwent surgery this week in Finland to repair an abductor muscle in his right thigh that he damaged in Uruguay's 1-0 loss to Iran on Friday.
Over the next three weeks, Barcelona faces two Champions League group games against Inter Milan and a clasico against Real Madrid on Oct. 16.
The only good news for Xavi is that Robert Lewandowski returned in perfect shape from his stint with Poland. The striker leads the Spanish league with eight goals in six games.
Mallorca, coached by Mexican Javier Aguirre, has lost 12 of the last 13 visits by Barcelona to its stadium. Its only win during that stretch came in 2009 with Barcelona already crowned the league champion.
Karim Benzema is back for Real Madrid after recovering from a tendon injury and a strained muscle in his right thigh that had kept him off the field for over three weeks.
Benzema led Madrid to the Champions League and Spanish league double last season after scoring 44 goals in all competitions.
But his team has not missed him much and has kept up its perfect record this season of nine wins in as many games in all competitions.
Carlo Ancelotti's side leads the league by two points ahead of Barcelona before it hosts fifth-placed Osasuna on Sunday.
"I'm feeling very good, comfortable. I'm looking forward to the game on Sunday," Benzema said. "We've got a great team, although it could be said that we've got two teams. There's no difference between those who start the game and those who come on."
A struggling Sevilla faces a tough test when it visits Atletico Madrid on Saturday. Pressure is growing on coach Julen Lopetegui and the club's leadership, which sold off talented players this summer, after the team has won just once in eight games overall.
Third-place Real Betis plays at Celta Vigo on Sunday, while fourth-place Athletic Bilbao hosts Almeria on Friday.
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Updated September 29, 2022