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Soccer-Barca without Puyol and Pique for Valladolid trip

Reuters

BARCELONA, March 6 (Reuters) - While Barcelona come to terms with the news that talismanic defender Carles Puyol will leave the club in the summer they have more immediate concerns at the back for Saturday's trip to Real Valladolid (1500).

Puyol, who has been battling with knee problems for the past few seasons, is again injured while fellow centre-half Gerard Pique is still recovering from a calf strain.

Coach Gerardo Martino has a lack of options in defence where Javier Mascherano, who previously played in midfield, has become a regular centre-half.

Sergio Busquets and Alex Song have also been tried out in the position but their lack of pace has been exposed.

The more direct style that Martino has employed this season has seen them caught out more on the counter-attack while they continue to be susceptible at set-plays - they conceded yet again from a corner in the 4-1 win over Almeria last weekend.

Barca are a point behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid who host Levante on Sunday.

Carlo Ancelotti's side have been in excellent form and have 17 wins from 19 games in all competitions.

"We are doing well in the league and the Champions League, while we are also in the (King's) cup final. We are going well and in our best form of the season," said Real defender Pepe.

Keeper Iker Casillas has spent most of the league campaign on the bench and the captain admits that Diego Lopez's form has made him difficult to be replaced in goal.

"The coach has opted for Diego so far and we are doing very well in the competition. Part of the reason why we are leaders is down to Diego Lopez," Casillas told reporters.

"We are in a strong position. Leaders, cup finalists and save a disaster (against Schalke) we should be in the next round of the Champions League. We have very important games this month and we will see what happens."

Third-placed Atletico Madrid, who drew 2-2 with Real last weekend, are away at Celta Vigo on Saturday (1900).

"Atletico are a very united team and all of us are now thinking of going match-by-match with the next coming against Celta. We are playing well and we need to continue that way in all the competitions that we are in," midfielder Arda Turan told reporters.

The Turk had a strong match against Real and caused the league leaders plenty of problems with his passing and movement but is now suspended this weekend. It opens to the door for Diego who arrived in the January transfer window but has had his chances limited so far. (editing by Justin Palmer)

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