Barcelona forward Neymar is expected to miss around a month of action due to a foot injury, and with just five games remaining, there's a chance he won't return before the end of the club campaign.
AS.com updated his injury status on Thursday:
While this injury severely hinders Barcelona's chances of retaining their La Liga title, Neymar's absence does clear the way for Alexis Sanchez (highlights below) and Pedro Rodriguez to play much bigger roles for Barca.
So far this season, Sanchez and Rodriguez have actually provided more offensive firepower than Neymar.
Here are the two players' statistics compared to the Brazilian's:
|Alexis Sanchez vs. Pedro Rodriguez|
|Player||Games Started||Goals||Shots on Goal||Assists|
Will they be productive operating from Neymar's vacated left forward spot? Who will Gerardo Martino give the majority of the opportunities to?
There are a lot of questions to be answered.
However, the fact that these two young, exciting players will be given a larger role during the season's last month is a silver lining in an otherwise forgettable season.
It's no secret that the Neymar acquisition hasn't produced the results FC Barcelona's players and fans were expecting. Though his incredible talent has been on full display, his tendency to take defenders on one-on-one is not the type of playing style that best complements Lionel Messi.
Though neither Sanchez nor Rodriguez are serious threats to take Neymar's job, they do have the opportunity to play their own game alongside Messi and see what kind of magic they can produce.
If one or both of them are able to mesh with Messi over the final five games, perhaps Martino will find a new role for Neymar next season that makes his Barcelona side a greater all-round threat to opposing defenses.
Or perhaps they play well enough to justify selling Neymar.
As crazy as that sounds, Spanish football expert Graham Hunter thinks it's the only logical move to make. Speaking with talkSPORT, Hunter had this to say:
Sell him, if you’re brave. You say 'this has been an error, he’s fantastically talented but he’s the wrong player for the system and he doesn’t complement and won’t complement the great Messi years, that potentially are still to come.
...You press restart like they did in 2008 and you go back to the La Masia, Guardiola philosophy and you say, 'Neymar, it’s been fun but we were wrong and you’re up for sale.'
Whether selling Neymar is realistic or not, Sanchez and Rodriguez have an opportunity to determine, at least partially, how Barcelona move forward after this season.
Even if it's simply Sanchez—who is reportedly garnering interest from other big name clubs—proving his value to Martino, the final five games will be quite meaningful and telling for Barca.
If Neymar heals quicker than expected and returns to the pitch before the end of the season, then by all means, he should come back.
However, if he isn't 100 percent, there's no reason to rush him. There are plenty of storylines to watch unfold in his absence.