Barcelona and Valencia kept fans on the edge of their seats in a thrilling La Liga encounter at the weekend, Barca coming out on top with the last kick of the game as Lionel Messi slid a penalty past Diego Alves. The victory came at a cost to the Catalans, with news on the knee injury that Andres Iniesta suffered following a challenge from Enzo Perez.
The initial diagnoses revealed roughly three months on the sidelines for Iniesta, but more recent news can confirm he will miss up to eight weeks, which puts him in serious doubt for the first El Clasico of the season in December. The official statement from the club reads, “Andres Iniesta has a partial injury to the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. Time out of action is approximately six to eight weeks.”
The loss of Iniesta is a massive blow for Barca, already without the services of Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique after they both sustained minor injuries in their Champions League dismissal of Manchester City. The question now is who steps up to replace Iniesta? Barcelona have several options in midfield with the likes of Arda Turan, Rafinha and Andre Gomes ready to step in, with Turan and Rafinha late omissions from the squad against Valencia because of injuries suffered late in the week. All immense talents, of course, but they do not possess the same level of ability to control a game and turn it on its head like Iniesta, who was applauded by Real’s fans following a scintillating display against them last year.
Barcelona sit atop La Liga on 19 points ahead of matches still to be played for Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Sevilla, all of whom have a chance of ending the week at the top of the table. Atletico Madrid travel to Sevilla in hope of regaining their top spot, while victory for Sevilla would put them top of the table if Real Madrid fail to beat Athletic Bilbao at home.
Real Madrid aren’t without injury problems of their own, as they welcome Bilbao knowing they will be without Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric and Casemiro, three key players for Zinedine Zidane. Athletic Bilbao will hold out until the last minute on the availability of veteran striker Aritz Aduriz and Yeray Alvarez, both of whom will undergo late fitness tests following injuries picked up in their Europa League loss to Genk. Bilbao will be hopeful of the pair’s chances to play against Real knowing that Oscar de Marcos, Mikel Balenziaga and Kepa are all unavailable.