As hard as it may seem to believe, these last few days have been some of the most difficult for Barcelona during the Pep Guardiola era. The Catalans surprisingly let two leads slip in a matter of days and tied 2-2 against both Real Sociedad and AC Milan; very unusual results for a side who has been almost invincible during the past few years. Needless to say, every team goes through rough patches at some point and there's no real reason to despair.
Much worse than the two draws is the hamstring injury Andrés Iniesta picked up against Milan, which will sideline him for at least one month. Losing Iniesta, a key member of the squad and one of the very best players in the world, is one of the worst things that could possibly happen to Barcelona. But Barcelona will be capable to cope without Iniesta and win in his absence. Obviously, no other midfielder in the squad is on Iniesta's level, but there are ways to make up for his absence, mostly through a collective effort from all sectors.
Here is why Barcelona will be able to cope without Iniesta.
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Barcelona's attack has been a little too dependent on Lionel Messi this season, with David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez far from their best form. But that seems to have changed in the AC Milan match, where both Villa and Pedro found the net. This performance will surely do wonders to their confidence. Villa's goal was particularly superb, perhaps even a sign of great things to come.
Villa and Pedro finding a consistent goalscoring form will help minimize the negative effects of Andrés Iniesta's absence.
Barcelona's main problem in their draws against Real Sociedad and AC Milan was the shaky backline, with their two main center backs sidelined. The four goals conceded in two matches all came from unusual defensive errors, caused by a makeshift defense.
But that's about to change. Puyol has just returned to action and Piqué is about to return as well. With the World Cup champion center duo back, Barcelona's defense will become solid as a rock again, thus making the entire squad calmer and easing the burden on the midfield players.
Obviously, Puyol and Piqué can't directly replace Iniesta, but a more solid backline will help Barcelona cope better with his absence.
One of the players who will have the responsibility to replace Iniesta will be Thiago Alcantara, La Masia's latest jewel. He'll not have the burden of replacing Iniesta alone, but he'll definitely have a big role to play. With the help of his more seasoned teammates, this will be Thiago's first real test as a first-team player.
He has shown that he has what it takes to step up and put in some excellent performances. Thiago will surely not disappoint.
This season, Barcelona's squad is deeper and more versatile than ever, with many players being able to excel at more than one position. Iniesta's attacking midfield role might be played by Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara, Seydou Keita, Ibrahim Afellay and even Lionel Messi. While none of these players can play the role as superbly as Iniesta, they all have their own qualities and can add something valuable to the squad.
There will not be just one player covering for Iniesta during his absence, but four or five. As mentioned in the first slide, it will take a collective effort to make up for Iniesta's absence. Iniesta is just not the kind of player who can simply be replaced by another player with no drop in quality; he's arguably the most difficult player to replace at Barcelona after Lionel Messi.
Some other players will also have a role to play, but the pressure will be on Cesc Fabregas to deliver. This is his moment, his first big test as a Barcelona player. This is where he must start proving that he's worth what Barcelona paid for him. Part of the reason he was brought in was to replace Xavi/Iniesta in case of injury, and this is his chance to do so.
This period might very well be a defining moment for Cesc's Barcelona career. If he steps up and shines, he might be on his way to one day become a club legend. If he fails to deliver, he'll be under severe scrutiny and will surely have a tough first year at the club, which might affect his overall career.
No one expects Cesc to reach Iniesta's unbelievable level, but he is expected to show his worth as one of the best midfielders of this generation and help lead Barcelona to success in Don Andrés's absence. If his first month at Barcelona is any indication, Cesc Fabregas will step up and show exactly why Barcelona were so eager to sign him.
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