The latest installment of El Clásico was played out to a 1-1 draw as neither team was able to steal all 3 points. Real Madrid came into the game not having lost any of their previous 32 games but were without the services of Gareth Bale due to injury. Barcelona on the other hand, desperately needed the 3 points to reduce the 6-point gap between them and their rivals at the top of the log.
It was a stale first half with no clear cut chances. There were penalty appeals at both ends but the referee was not interested. The second half was much better in terms quality football as Barcelona took control of the game. The opening goal came in a set piece after Neymar delivered a perfect cross towards Luis Suarez who headed the ball into the back of the net. After that, Luis Enrique introduced Andrés Iniesta into the game as he made life easier for the Catalan giants. There were two good chances later in the game that were missed by Neymar and Lionel Messi respectively which left fans biting their nails. In the 90th minute, a foul outside the box led to a free kick which was taken by Luka Modrić and headed in by Sergio Ramos. Barça were left ruing their missed opportunities as the game finished 1-1.
There were a few positives to take out of the game, including a good performance from Barça after a couple weeks of mediocrity. However, there was one thing that raised concern - the reliance on Andrés Iniesta. Before Iniesta came on in the second half, Barça had little to no control in midfield and there was no fluency in the gameplay. After he came on, that immediately changed. Of course this was to be expected, but the huge difference in quality is worrying.
Whilst Real Madrid could rely on the youthful Kovačić and Casemiro in the absence of Kroos, Barça still desperately needed the services of a 32-year-old man. It’s true that there is no one like Iniesta, but the gulf in class in a big club like Barcelona should not be so huge. The club had a player who could gradually fill in the shoes of Iniesta in Thiago Alcântara, but decided to let him go to Bayern Munich. Another player was Cesc Fàbregas, but at the time was not popular with the fans and was sold to Chelsea. So it was up to Luis Enrique to bring in a player who could do it.
The man from Gijón brought in Ivan Rakitić, yet he is not the type of player to dictate the gameplay and create chances. Next in line was Arda Turan, a hard worker and a player capable of creating chances, however as we’ve all seen, he shouldn’t be anywhere near the central midfield position. Luis Enrique then decided to re-sign Denis Suarez, but just like Rafinha, both show promise, but they don’t have the confidence of the manager to play in big games. The addition of André Gomes has brought mixed results because the Portuguese midfielder is sadly inconsistent.
With Sergi Roberto converted to a right-back and Sergi Samper out on loan to Granada, there does not seem to be any midfielder in the squad capable of removing the burden off of Iniesta. The club captain’s absence in the team is largely felt but as he gets older, he won’t be able to play as many games as he used to. So there has to be someone in the team suitable to take his place when he’s unavailable. Unless Luis Enrique promotes a prodigy from La Masia or decides to sign another capable midfielder, the future without Iniesta seems bleak.
Let’s cherish Don Andrés while he’s still here.