Barcelona won last year's UEFA Champions League while Eric Abidal missed a number of games, including both semifinal Clasicos against Real Madrid. Carles Puyol played left back in a traditional back four in both of those games. He played well, but the difference between Puyol and Abidal was noticeable. When Abidal returned to the lineup for the final against Manchester United, Barcelona looked like a much better side.
Abidal is out once again for Barcelona, and unlike last year, he isn't coming back. Last season, Abidal had a non-cancerous tumor in his liver that was removed mid-season, and he recovered in time to return before the end of the year. This time around, his prognosis isn't so positive in terms of his footballing career. Abidal needs a liver transplant, and it is likely that the 32-year-old French international's professional career is over.
Barcelona will buy a replacement in the summer, but for the rest of the year, they need to make do with what they have. Puyol is a talented and intelligent enough player that he can put in a competent shift at any position on the pitch, but the drop-off between him and Abidal is obvious. The pure athleticism of players like Ramires and Daniel Sturridge -- the two Chelsea players most likely to play right wing on Wednesday -- should cause problems for Puyol, and he's nowhere near as good as Abidal going foward, especially on the left side of the pitch.
Whether Barcelona play 3-4-3 or 4-3-3, and whether they play Puyol or Adriano at left back, they will have a better side on the pitch than Chelsea. However, they will also have that one matchup problem on their left flank no matter what, and it's a matchup problem that would not exist if Abidal was healthy.
We'll have continuous pre-game updates and live game coverage in our Chelsea vs. Barcelona, UEFA Champions League Semifinals StoryStream. For more on the two teams, head over to Chelsea FC blog We Ain't Got No History and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes.