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A Look at Andrés Iniesta's New Role

Iniesta has yet to register a goal or an assist in La Liga this season but is that a sign of a decline or a switch in mentality?

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

A lot has been made of Barça's number eight's stats this season. With zero league goals or assists, from the outside looking in, you could be forgiven for thinking he is enduring a poor season. Last season in the league he notched three goals with seven assists and the season before that he scored the same amount of goals but with an impressive sixteen assists.

During that 2012/13 season, Iniesta regularly had Messi, David Villa and Pedro ahead of him on the field. With the exception of Messi, the forwards were very much classed as goal scorers and not goal creators. They relied on the likes of Iniesta and Xavi to create the opportunities in which they could score. Here in lies a possible explanation to the sudden drop in his stats.

With the arrival of Neymar and Luis Suárez, you have players who at first seemed in similar moulds to Villa and Pedro but have actually adapted their game to create more goals as well as finish them. Suárez currently has twice as many league assists as he does goals while Neymar has seventeen goals and four assists to his name.

If you imagine Barça's attack as different waves. You start off with the defence who recover the ball before giving it to the next wave, typically Sergio Busquets. Busquets then starts the attacking motion, finding the advanced midfielders. These players then typically find the front three who either convert or miss the chance.

barcelona attack

For the majority of of Iniesta's career he has operated in wave 3 and 4. Picking the ball up from Busquets before moving it forward, either by using his great dribbling skill or picking out a pass further afield. This system worked and the trophies came with it. But slowly teams began figuring Barcelona out and many thought Barça needed a revolution of their style.

Gerardo Martino tried it by turning Barcelona into more of a counterattacking team. In the games it didn't really work and Barça came unstuck against the likes of Atlético Madrid, a team designed to make it difficult for the opponent to get at them.

Luis Enrqiue came in and showed Barça didn't need a revolution but instead an evolution. The introduction of Suárez created a new spearhead of Barça's attack. His presence occupies the two central defenders which allows Messi and Neymar more space. Messi has shifted over to the right of the formation but rarely sticks to the touchline. Instead he drifts in to the centre, collects the ball and has time to run at the defence.

This switch in Messi's game has meant he primarily operates in deeper areas then he has done in the past. He has often been described as a false nine for many years, starting the game high up the pitch before dropping deeper to pick up the ball. This season its almost reversed as he starts deeper and runs at the defence.

This repositioning of Messi has altered Iniesta's game. Previously he primarily operated in wave 3 and 4 but this season has dropped deeper into wave 2 and 3, playing alongside Sergio Busquets instead of ahead of him. The main role of Iniesta is no longer to create and score goals but instead to dictate play from this position, allowing the front three the freedom to attack teams.


His defensive contribution has gone up too. Before he would sometimes let runners past, safe in the knowledge that Busquets or one of the back four would pick them up. This season he will chase back to catch them.

The real difference between Xavi and Iniesta over the years has been Iniesta's willingness to get forward. While Xavi was seen as the metronome of the team, Iniesta would pick up the ball and dribble at opponents. It seems under Enrqiue, Iniesta has evolved into more of a Xavi type player and it makes sense for him to do this. At the age of 30, calls that he is in his twilight years are a little premature but he can't make runs over and over again. Instead he conserves his energy by having just as big as influence on the game except in a deeper position.

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