Last season was a tough one for Andrés Iniesta. In his 15th campaign, Iniesta saw his playtime cut short due to a series of injuries. Knee issues, muscle problems and adductor problems saw him out on four different occasions and miss a total of 89 days. He featured in just 23 league games, his lowest since the 03/04 season and as he ages ever further past that 30 mark, critics were beginning to wonder if that season would be his last at the club.
A year later and Iniesta has found a new lease of life. Featuring in all but one game so far this campaign, Ernesto Valverde, along with the player himself, has altered Iniesta’s role to still get the best out of him but to also ease the physical load.
Iniesta primarily operates either side of the centre circle now. While still marinating defensive duties, he is not expected to constantly track back and therefore the smaller amount of running he does per game has eased the impact on his knees, a particular area of the problem he has had problems with before. In an attacking sense, Iniesta is often the player who plays the pass before the assist. This role favours the excellence of Iniesta’s passing ability over his running.
Messi’s role has also had a positive effect on the captain. With Messi dropping deeper and playing as number 10, he has covered some of the ground that Iniesta used to. Instead of creating a situation where the two might be playing on top of each other, Iniesta has withdrawn further back and operates primarily in the space behind the front three.
This is not to say the Barça number eight has completely abandoned the attacking side of his game. He found himself on the scoresheet against Málaga having broken into the box from deep but Iniesta hasn’t scored more than one league goal a season since the 13/14 season which highlights how his role has changed over time.
Another positive impact on Iniesta has been the departure of Neymar. When Barcelona had their trident, it cost the team. For all the goals they scored, the sacrifice of three players to do little to no defensive work meant the slack had to be taken up by the rest of the team. Iniesta, at 32, struggled to do this throughout a season and that can offer a possible solution to the number of injuries he suffered.
With Neymar in Paris, Barcelona have more willing defenders in the front three. No player is of the prestige of Neymar so can not outright refuse to defend, meaning it is now just Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez free of defensive duties and not three of the eleven players on the pitch.
Iniesta recently signed a contract for life at the club and the renewal of the deal allows him to focus his efforts on the pitch rather than the difficulties behind the scene. His future is secured and with a wiser head on his shoulders, Iniesta can look after his body whilst still being a pivotal player in this Barça team.