Barcelona’s win over Atletico Madrid may have sent the club eight points clear at the top of La Liga but it also came at a cost as Andres Iniesta suffered a hamstring injury.
Ernesto Valverde said after the game “he can’t be replaced” but he may well have to be as it looks like he will be out for at least a couple of games.
Barca face a crucial game against Chelsea in the Champions League next week, a game Iniesta’s obvious replacement Philippe Coutinho, is cup-tied for. Nelson Semedo is also out injured which means Sergi Roberto will have to remain at right-back.
Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and Paulinho all started at Stamford Bridge and will probably start again, but the big question is who will join them in that final spot in midfield? Here’s a look at Valverde’s options:
The Portugal international is having a tough time of it but he certainly seems to still have Ernesto Valverde’s faith.
Gomes replaced Iniesta against Atletico Madrid and was a stoppage time substitute at Stamford Bridge. Whether you like it or not he may well be the favourite to step in.
Ousmane Dembele has managed just one start in the Champions League so far during the 3-0 win over Juventus back in September but he is an option for Valverde.
The Barca boss is clearly handling the youngster with care, after a season disrupted by injury, and may well decide not to throw him into such a crucial game.
The 20-year-old should feature this week against either Espanyol or Malaga, which may at least give him the opportunity to impress and play his way into contention.
Denis Suarez has fallen so out of favour that he’s a real outside bet. He hasn’t featured for almost two months and can’t even get in the squad at the moment.
However, of all the options available to Valverde he’s probably the most similar to Iniesta. He featured twice in the group stages and grabbed an assist in the 2-0 win over Sporting.
Denis’ future at the club is looking increasingly uncertain due to his lack of action but there’s a chance, albeit super slim, he could get a rare chance to impress.
Another option is to bring in Aleix Vidal who featured in the draw against Las Palmas but was left out of the squad altogether against Atletico Madrid.
Vidal replaced Paulinho after an hour at Stamford Bridge but his only start in the competition this season came in the 2-0 win over Sporting at Camp Nou.
The last option is to play Paco Alcacer, which is unlikely but not altogether out of the question.
Alcacer was having a decent campaign until he picked up an injury against Deportivo La Coruna just before Christmas.
The striker has managed just four appearances since then, without a goal, and his last outing came in the goalless draw against Getafe at the start of February.
Who do you think should replace Iniesta against Chelsea if he doesn’t make it? Let us know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below!