Much of FC Barcelona's unprecedented success in the past few years has been due to the legendary midfield duo of Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta.
This incredible midfield duo makes Barcelona (and Spain) dominate pretty much every match, and they supply a level of accurate passing and creativity that no other midfield in the world can offer.
Under Pep, the duo quickly became irreplaceable, with the team tending to suffer whenever one of them is out for a prolonged period. In 2010, Iniesta's long-term injury might have cost Barcelona the Champions League; Seydou Keita was a solid back-up, but he didn't really bring the same flair and creativity as Iniesta, not even close.
One season and a half later, Don Andrés picked up another relatively long term (at least one month) injury but this time the club was prepared to cope with his absence.
In the shadows of the great Xavi and Iniesta, two other young, yet exceptionally talented, La Masia-raised midfielders have emerged. They are Francesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara, and they look set to take over from Xavi and Iniesta once the latter retire/decline.
The past month has shown that both have what it takes to lead Barcelona's midfield one day. Andrés Iniesta's absence was barely felt, with Fabregas and Thiago both proving to be more than worthy replacements, with great performances helping Barcelona to blowout wins.
Cesc Fabregas is a member of the famous La Masia Class of 1987 (along with Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué) and he has finally returned home after several years in the Premier League.
Thiago Alcantara is the latest superstar to come out of La Masia and he was promoted to first team regular this season. These two were the two best additions Barcelona could possibly desire this season. Their world-class talent soon became apparent as both hit the ground running with some exceptional performances.
While last season Barcelona only had two brilliant creative midfielders, they now have four, and all bring different qualities to the table!
Despite their young age, both Cesc and Thiago look like they've been in the team forever. Their performance so far this season has been nothing short of sensational, they more than made up for Iniesta's absence.
They are not even in their prime yet, making one wonder just how good they will be when they do reach their peak. It seems fairly certain that the future of Barcelona's midfield is brilliant, even after Xavi and Iniesta call it a day.
Which of these two players will have a more important role to play this season?
A dilemma for Pep Guardiola
Once Andrés Iniesta returns, he'll immediately become a regular starter again. While Thiago and Cesc are brilliant talents, Iniesta as been in contention for every single individual award for the past three years, few would deny that he is at the very least one of the five best players in the world. If you also consider his telepathic understanding with Xavi on the pitch, there's no chance of Iniesta not getting his starting spot back as soon as he's fit.
Pep Guardiola will be faced with a dilemma and forced to make important decisions. While Xavi and Iniesta are the obvious starters, Thiago and Cesc are way too good to be mere benchwarmers, they have to play.
An effective rotation plan will have to be implemented in order to ensure that everyone gets the playing time they deserve.
Part of the advantage of having Cesc and Thiago is that, after three seasons of playing non-stop, Xavi and Iniesta can now be rested without a big drop in quality.The abundance of world class midfield options will allow for effective rotation, thus keeping everyone fresh for the crucial final stretch of the season.
Thiago and Cesc will definitely have a very important role to play going forward; the way Cesc managed to forge a deadly partnership with Lionel Messi will only ensure him an even more relevant role in the team, as Pep will want to make the most of their chemistry.
With so many great players, especially in midfield, the possibilities are endless; it must be great to be Pep Guardiola right now, the Barcelona manager is pretty much playing real life Football Manager.
If Barcelona were already the world's best team, they are an even more fearsome unit with the additions of these two amazing players.
Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas are the future of Barcelona, but they're also the present, they're here to help Barcelona in their quest to try and win everything again this season!
Not only are they viable alternatives to Xavi and Iniesta, but they bring certain qualities that the team previously lacked: they are both more direct in their play than Xavi and Iniesta, with Thiago bringing some Brazilian flair and Cesc goals from midfield, among other things.
They were the missing pieces in this all-time great side, which now seems finally complete.
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