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André Gomes has a chance to make his mark in Iniesta’s absence -- but needs to step up

Guest article written by Mia O'Neill, who will be officially joining the Barca Blaugranes staff soon.

Sevilla FC vs FC Barcelona - Spanish Super Cup Final 1st Leg Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

With Andres Iniesta ruled out for 6-8 weeks after suffering a knee injury last week in Barca’s 3-2 win at Valencia, Luis Enrique will have to look to his bench as he seeks a short-term replacement for the legendary midfielder. The Blaugrana face some important games in the coming weeks, including a trip to the Ethiad for a rematch against Manchester City on Nov. 1, a league match against second-place Sevilla five days later, and of course the looming Clasico on Dec. 3.

With that in mind, Barca need players to step up and bring some control and spark to the midfield in Iniesta’s absence -- particularly as they can’t afford to drop more points in the league between now and the Clasico. With El Ilusionista out, Lucho’s men will enter November missing not only their captain and longtime source of inspiration, but one of the few bright spots to what has been a surprisingly inconsistent and at times uncomfortable-looking midfield so far this season.

The ever-dependable Sergio Busquets has looked uncharacteristically fatigued and error-prone at times recently, and with little depth in the holding position, an Iniesta-less midfield will likely need someone else to provide control, as well as creativity, from further up the pitch. While no one in the short term will be able to replace all that Barca’s No. 8 has to offer, Enrique does have a number of solid backup options -- including summer signing and Euro champion André Gomes, who, despite having had some ups and downs in the early goings, possesses intriguing potential with his playmaking abilities and creativity on the ball.

With Arda Turan out for this weekend and Rafinha returning from injury -- Turan hurt his ankle in Barca’s midweek loss to Espanyol in the Catalan Super Cup, while Rafinha just finished rehab from a rib injury -- it’s likely that either Gomes or fellow summer signing Denis Suarez will see significant field time against Granada. And, as Lucho has opted more often recently to use the latter as a late-stage impact sub, it’s not unlikely that Gomes will start, or at least see considerable minutes.

Enrique has shown ample faith in Gomes since the 23-year-old Benfica product signed with Barca this summer. Gomes has appeared in five league games, starting three, and has made two Champions League appearances. A natural attacking midfielder who was a standout last season at Valencia -- Barca notably beat out Real Madrid this summer to sign him -- Gomes can attack with purpose, while also offering control and creative passing. When at his best, he offers composure beyond his years, which the Barca midfield could really use with Iniesta gone. (And which would require Messi to drop into the midfield less often, which according to Graham Hunter at ESPN, poses potential positional problems and defensive vulnerabilities.)

But despite notable gifts and a promising start to the season, Gomes has struggled recently. He had a game to forget against his old club, Valencia, last weekend, and looked questionable at times in his positioning and speed of play during this week’s match against Espanyol, according to Sport. Questions remain as to Gomes’ long-term reliability, and to whether he can be a consistent performer for Barca at this point in his career.

Some of his missteps, however, can be attributed to youth, and to adjusting to a new system. The Valencia game, in particular, was a chippy affair overall, and traveling to the Mestalla is always difficult, particularly when you’re facing off as a visitor against your old team.

Gomes has also had some bright spots since his arrival. He had a solid showing in Barca’s 7-0 Champions League win over Celtic back in September, in which he started and played 90 minutes, and has looked good in some of his cameo appearances in the league. He’s also continued to be an important player at international level for Portugal, following up a successful Euro -- in which he started for matches and helped his team to the title -- with an assist to Cristiano Ronaldo in a recent 6-0 World Cup Qualifying win over Andorra.

Given his young age and the fact that he’s still new to the Barca system, it’s natural that Gomes should have some growing pains as he continues to adjust to his new team. Even Iniesta took a while to nail down a regular spot in the Barca first team after coming up from La Masia. And with his talents and style of play, Gomes deserves a chance to prove that he can be an impact player, both for the current side and down the road as he continues to mature. These next few weeks could well be the opportunity to do just that.

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