Barcelona has been one of the best teams in the world for about a decade now. Since the 2006-2007 season, Barcelona has won La Liga six times. The other top teams in Spain, Real Madrid, and Atlético Madrid, have won it three times and once respectively.
What led to the dominance of La Liga in the last decade was the base of La Masia graduates that took the world by storm. The Spanish midfield of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, and Sergio Busquets helped establish a level excellence that helped Barcelona win La Liga four times. Other La Masia graduates such as Victor Valdés Piqué, Jordi Alba, Pedro, Puyol and the brilliant Lionel Messi have contributed to the dominance as well. But it was the consistent and brilliant midfield that helped keep Barcelona a winning team for so long. Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets brought a level of play that led to many trophies, but time claims all. Xavi, in the 2013-2014 season, was a shadow of his former self. He, of course, was still amazing, but he could no longer influence a game like he used to. He was too old.
When Xavi was demoted to the bench for workhorse Ivan Rakitić, Barcelona was able to win the treble in the 2014-2015 season. However, the midfield wasn’t as dominant as it could have been. Barcelona won the treble due to the brilliance of their famous attacking line “MSN”. Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar were tearing opponents such as PSG, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City apart. They scored two goals on the best defense at the time, Juventus, in the Champions League final. Some teams wish for one world class forward, Barcelona had three.
In Barcelona’s previous seasons, they had one or maybe two world class forwards, but they had a brilliant midfield to help out on the attacking side of the game. In his prime, whether it would be this year with Chelsea or his highest scoring season with Barcelona, Pedro does not hold a candle to Neymar.
The comparison between David Villa, winner of the 2011 Champions League with Barcelona, and Luis Suarez, is much more difficult. Both influential and both lethal, but the upper hand goes to Suarez. If Suarez is not scoring, he could still be the best player on your team. His work rate and creative play adds a dimension to his game the David Villa did not have. Besides that, Suarez is a more consistent striker. Luis Suarez scores goals for fun, and he has a lot of fun. Winner of the Golden Boot in the 2015-2016 season, Luis Suarez broke into a realm that has belonged to two players for years, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Messi.
So it is clear to see that the recent success that Barcelona has had is owed more to its forward line than it is to its midfield. A change has to come about. Busquets has years ahead of him and Barcelona should do everything they can to keep him. Iniesta is one of the greatest midfielders of all time and Barcelona owe him everything, but he has lost his influence.
It is time to drop Andrés Iniesta. When healthy, Iniesta has been given starting opportunities in important games. He has missed a large part of this season due to injury, so he has not been able to keep a consistent rhythm. Barcelona has suffered due to this. Iniesta is not in his prime anymore, and there are other midfielders that can and should take his place. When Xavi was losing his step, Rakitić was brought to replace him.
No one on the Barcelona bench can match Iniesta’s skills, vision, or ability to control the tempo of a game. Andre Gomez, Denis Suarez, Rafinha or even midfielder-turned-full back Sergi Roberto cannot replace Iniesta. Barcelona must find a new midfielder in order to keep the midfield line consistent and make Barcelona continually dominant. Whoever it is, they must start every game along Busquets and Rakitić. Iniesta should have a place on the bench for everything that he has done for the club, but he should no longer start. He has given everything for the club since 2004, and he will continue to do so, but for the good of the team, he must do it from a supporting role.