When you think of the great team of Pep Guardiola's era, Iniesta is likely to be one of the three players you remember most. He was virtually undroppable during this time and combined with Xavi and Messi to form a team that was near unplayable for most. But Iniesta this season has yet to hit the same kind of form and his midfield teammates have largely outshone him.
Both Iniesta and Cesc Fàbregas have appeared in ten games for Barcelona this season while Xavi has appeared in eleven but what's most interesting is Xavi and Fàbregas' number of goals/assists compared to Iniesta. Fàbregas' well publicised run of form has helped him score once and assist six times, making him Barcelona's top assister in the league this season. While Xavi's two goals and one assist has made him Barça's fourth top-scorer and assister in the league. Comparing this to Iniesta's one assist and no goals would suggest the Barcelona number eight is going through a bad patch of form.
So are there any clear reasons as to why Iniesta has yet to reach the dizzying heights we expect? Or is it simply he's playing as he was before but luck hasn't been on his side?
One possible reason is his elongated contract negotiations that are reportedly going on behind the scenes of the Camp Nou. Iniesta was also reported to be annoyed with Barcelona's decision to let a coach go this summer who happened to be a good friend of Iniesta. But the player has repeatedly stated that both parties want the same thing, a possible explanation but maybe not a likely one.
Another possible reason is the arrival of Neymar to the Barcelona team. Before the ex-Santos Brazilian joined there was much discussion about how he would affect Messi's game and whether they would be occupying too much of the same space. But no on really thought of the implications the move had on Iniesta, a player who plays on the left side for the majority and has been used as a left winger before. David Villa had a great understanding of when to cut in or go wide so that Iniesta would have more space to manoeuvre. Villa would also act as a "wall", allowing a quick one-two with Iniesta that left the midfielder with space in the box. Neymar, so far, hasn't done so this season and is often seen sticking wide so that he doesn't get in Messi's way when the Argentine is playing. This has worked well for Barça but often when one player flourishes, another flounders.
Cesc Fàbregas' more prominent role in the team could also give some indication into Iniesta's dip. Fàbregas is a very attack-minded player, a culture he learned from his time in England, but while he has progressed since his arrival from Arsenal, he will still be the first to push forward. An approach like this is very positive and can often win the team games but it leaves space behind which another player has to cover, most likely Iniesta or Xavi. Previously it was Iniesta who was often seen attacking the opposition's area, but this season he seems to be choosing to play level with Xavi instead of ahead of him.
We also can't be sure what new coach Tata Martino has asked of Iniesta. Perhaps the Bayern games last season worried him that they were weak to counter attacks and he has asked the experienced heads like Iniesta to be more wary of this threat. We all know the desire to win the ball back quickly has reappeared so maybe Iniesta has been told to be ready for that at all times. Or possibly Martino has asked the midfielder to allow Neymar a free role as he settles in, similar to what Guardiola did with Fàbregas.
Iniesta though has impressed in a Spain shirt this season and was man of the match for their 2-0 win against Georgia earlier this month, which makes his Barcelona form all the more puzzling. Using whoscored.com's rankings, Iniesta has only registered one performance above an 8.0 rating making him the seventeenth best Barcelona player this season. Compared to last season when he finished comfortably in the top five. Barça fans need not start ringing the param bells just yet as a player as good as Iniesta does not turn bad overnight but the player will be hoping the stats start leaning back in his favour soon.