Neymar Injury Opens Door for Rafinha and Munir El-Haddadi to Shine

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistAugust 22, 2014

Neymar has an ankle problem.
Neymar has an ankle problem.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Luis Enrique was always going to give the kids some chances at Barcelona, but now Neymar has been injured the Barca manager has virtually been forced to.

Rafinha and Munir El-Haddadi could start for Barcelona this weekend against Elche as La Liga kicks off.

Pedro has been sidelined with gastroenteritis, per Sport, so it leaves relatively few options for the new Barcelona manager.

News of Neymar's grade one ankle sprain broke on Friday morning, and it will come as a crushing blow to the Brazilian.

He recovered quickly from the back injury which he suffered against Colombia in the World Cup and played against Club Leon in the Joan Gamper Trophy on Monday night.

Not only did he start the game, but he lit up the Nou Camp with two brilliantly taken goals—a cheeky chip and a tidy backheel.

He was withdrawn at half-time and seemed set to re-appear in the starting line-up on Sunday night.

Both Pedro and Neymar are doubts.
Both Pedro and Neymar are doubts.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Now we could see the two youngsters feature as Barcelona try to get off to a good start.

Rafinha was always likely to play because of Pedro’s absence, but Neymar missing the game provides a new opportunity for Munir. He was Barcelona’s top scorer in pre-season, with four goals.

Enrique, of course, could shuffle his squad in a different way. Andres Iniesta could be moved forward from attacking midfield to play as a left forward, with someone else stepping into the middle.

Ivan Rakitic, Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets could be a central trio, even if playing the double pivot doesn’t suit Barcelona in an aesthetic sense. That would be the conservative move.

Enrique knows the young Barcelona players well—he was their coach back when he was in charge of Barca B.

Rafinha in action for Barca.
Rafinha in action for Barca.Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

Munir has not been selected for the Barca B game this weekend, and it means he is likely to be involved in some capacity for the first-team squad.

A boost for the 18-year-old was when Gerard Deulofeu was sent on loan to Sevilla.

Many expected this to be the breakthrough season for the young forward, but Enrique was not overly impressed with his lack of a defensive work ethic.

So with Deulofeu gaining one more year of experience elsewhere, the door is open for Munir to take the stage at Barcelona.

Munir may start on Sunday.
Munir may start on Sunday.David Ramos/Getty Images

And although Rafinha will start as part of the forward line for now, he has his eyes fixed on an eventual midfield berth. He hopes to learn from veteran playmaker Xavi this season.

Rafinha told La Graderia (h/t Sport):

Competition between players will make us better. I'm trying to learn from them and it's a luxury to play with them every day. Xavi and Iniesta are players we all look up to. Xavi is the one who guides us and when he speaks the rest listen and shut up.

Enrique knows just what Rafinha can do, having managed him at Celta Vigo last season while the youngster was on loan there.

Over the course of the next few weeks both Munir and Rafinha may not be looking up at the stars anymore, but sitting alongside them.


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