Carles Puyol makes a habit of coming back from injuries before anyone anticipated. "When Puyol dies," an old joke goes, "he'll be back playing in a week."
But let's be honest, Puyol is nearly 35 years old and his injuries are more frequent every year. With the latest news that he has underwent knee surgery, it's clear that he has to be used in limited doses.
With that in mind, it's time Barcelona hand over the keys to Marc Bartra. Adriano, Sergio Busquets, Alex Song, and Jordi Alba can switch from their respective positions and provide cover, but that situation is not ideal.
What is ideal is that Bartra, a natural centerback, develops into a legitimate rotation option. That won't happen unless he is afforded more playing time.
"Bartra obviously has a bigger chance to play now," assistant coach Jordi Roura said. "We love his hard work." Roura told reporters that it was head coach Tito Vilanova who insisted on keeping Bartra in the last offseason.
Bartra, a 22-year old La Masia graduate has made eight La Liga appearances since 2010, scoring once. A Spanish youth international, he also has been called up for the Catalonian national team.
Vilanova let Andreu Fontas leave on loan and was about to do the same with Marc Muniesa until Muniesa suffered a severe injury. The coach also turned down an option to buy back Alberto Botia. Any of those three young defenders could have taken up the roster spot, but the staff preferred Bartra.
This season, he's yet to start in La Liga, though he's made a few substitute appearances. His only two starts have been in the Champions League, both against Celtic. His first start was very assured, while his second a bit less. Still, it's too small a sample size to really know what he's made of.
Mascherano and Pique will without a doubt be the preferred pairing in defense now, but what if either one is injured, even for just one game? What about rotation? What about suspension - a key concern given that Mascherano is one yellow card away from a one-game ban in the Champions League?
If Bartra cannot be relied upon for the big occasions, the team has to learn that now rather when those situations arise. This means giving him opportunities in league games, where the consequences are not as dire.