Whether you love or hate Barcelona, its hard not to like David Villa.
The Spain's all-time top goal scorer is, in many ways, the model professional: He rarely speaks to the media, avoids the headlines and media controversy and throughout his career has shown remarkable consistency on the field, and in particular, in front of goal.
But now, thanks to a devastating leg injury suffered in Barcelona's Club World Cup match with Al Sadd, David Villa is expected to miss about four to five months of action.
In football, the winners are often the teams that cope best with injuries.
Manchester United, for example, have been a testament to this in years past, as they have often managed to overcome the chronic injury problems of guys like Rio Ferdinand in defense and Darren Fletcher in midfield and still win titles at the end of the season.
The question is, who should FC Barcelona select to replace David Villa?
The following are five candidates who should be able to adequately (or in some cases, more than adequately) take up David Villa's position until he is fit once again.
Prior to David Villa's injury, rumors of a possible Barcelona move for Robin van Persie were already being spread in the media and across the Internet.
Now, David Villa's injury has only intensified those rumors.
It's hard to think that there is a team in the world that wouldn't want Van Persie right now. The Arsenal hit man has had an excellent 2011-12 campaign thus far with Arsenal, and has bagged 33 goals in 32 appearances for the Gunners in 2011 alone.
But if there is one team that might possibly not want Robin van Persie, it's FC Barcelona.
Van Persie has not played regularly as a winger for quite some time, and it would make little sense to move Lionel Messi back to right wing to accommodate Van Persie when Messi has become so accustomed being the "false nine" in Barcelona's attacking triumvirate.
Of course, David Villa himself was untested as a winger when he first started at Camp Nou and took up the right wing position, and Thierry Henry himself had not played as a winger for many years when he moved to FC Barcelona and was placed at left wing.
But these are exceptions to the rule that, generally speaking, it is not the best idea to move a striker out wide to become a winger.
Above all this, it is highly doubtful that Arsenal would, once again, sell their best player to FC Barcelona. Or rather than highly doubtful, it's practically impossible.
Arsenal, after years of negotiations and pressure, eventually allowed Cesc Fabregas to move to Barça on the premise that he was going "back home." No such premise exists for Robin van Persie to move to Barça.
FC Barcelona have sent scouts on a number of occasions to watch Gareth Bale play for Tottenham, according to the Daily Mail and various other news outlets.
The expectation for some time now has been that FC Barcelona would pursue Gareth Bale next summer. Indeed, signs from Barcelona president Sandro Rosell have given some indication that Barcelona may already be lining up Bale as their marquee signing for the summer of 2012.
But with David Villa's injury, Barcelona may want to move things quicker than initially planned and get Gareth Bale in January, especially with him in such great form for Tottenham.
At present, there are few true left wings with more quality than Bale in world football today.
Franck Ribery and Cristiano Ronaldo are two names that stand out as players with more quality at present, but that's just about where the list ends.
And in a couple of years, as Ribery reaches 30 years old and begins to lose his pace and Bale becomes 24 and enters his prime, I expect Bale to become the second best left winger in the world, behind Ronaldo.
However, as with Van Persie, the bad news here for Barcelona (and good news for Tottenham supporters like me) is that Bale, according to Harry Redknapp, is not for sale. And Daniel Levy himself has further confirmed this to be true.
Andres Iniesta excels alongside Xavi in an advanced attacking midfielder role, but he is also very capable of playing as a left winger for Barcelona. In fact, he's even taken up this position on various occasions for Spain.
Andres Iniesta is one of those players who will excel wherever you play him (as long you don't try to play him in defense, of course). He can play as a midfielder, on the wings, behind the striker—all of these are roles which Iniesta has played in throughout his career.
So, with guys like Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas eagerly fighting for playing time, a move for Iniesta from midfield to left wing could make available more playing time for other players in the team, while more than adequately covering for David Villa's absence.
Isaac Cuenca has been a great surprise for Barcelona fans this season. He has put in some great league performances, and his three-assist performance in the Champions League in BATE Borisov really confirmed his quality.
However, with Alexis Sanchez hitting good form in the last couple of games, Isaac Cuenca is at risk of seeing himself become nothing more than a backup player as he and Pedro split time. So why not give Isaac Cuenca an extended run at left wing to prove his quality?
Everyone remembers Pedro's breakthrough season in 2009-10, when he overtook Thierry Henry in the lineup to become the first player in history to score in six different competitions and helped Barcelona win many of those competitions.
Isaac Cuenca may have similar breakthrough if he continues to be provided regular playing time to prove his worth.
As an alternative to moving Andres Iniesta from his usual position, another option would be to move Cesc Fabregas to the left wing position vacated by David Villa.
Cesc Fabregas high goal total this season has come about largely from the fact that he's been playing in an advanced wing position for much of the season already.
Even in El Clasico, Cesc Fabregas started as a winger, and it was his header which clinched the win for FC Barcelona.
When Fabregas moved from Arsenal to Barcelona, many people commented that the presence of Thiago Alcantara, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas would create a logjam in midfield and result in unhappiness from players due to a lack of playing time.
Pep Guardiola has remarkably solved this problem by playing Fabregas as a winger, and since the project has already borne much fruit, it only makes sense to keep on going with what has worked.
It is no secret that David Villa has seen his playing time cut this season. Almost half of David Villa's league appearances this season have come as a substitute.
FC Barcelona are so deep up front that the injury to David Villa, while unfortunate, hardly affects the team's productivity or being a threat.
In addition to the three guys mentioned in this list, the team still has Pedro and Alexis Sanchez who can play on either flank. Even Thiago Alcantara has played a few games as a winger for Barcelona.
Then there's Ibrahim Afellay, Barca's forgotten Dutchman, who should return from injury in late February. And on top of all that, FC Barcelona still have a rich Barcelona B team of young talents, just waiting to be called up to the first team.
Any player brought in in January for Barcelona is likely to be significantly overpriced and have very little time to adjust to FC Barcelona's playing style and philosophy.
It makes far more sense for FC Barcelona to continue with the guys it has, or, if necessary, look to Barcelona B for more recruits capable of adding more depth to the team.
What do you think? Should Barcelona replace David Villa with a player already in the team or look to purchase a big star from outside of the squad? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.