“It is impossible not to get on with or to fight with Andres,” says Sergio Ramos, in Iniesta’s part-autobiography, part-biography told by the people who know him best, The Artist: Being Iniesta. “It is also impossible to kick him.
“Sometimes you catch him without intending to, but there are other times when he gets away from you, and you have to choose between kicking him and bringing him down or letting him go. And in the end you let him get away.
“It’s Andres! You can’t kick him. Then another player gets away from you and this one, yes, you can put in the stand if you want to. But you can’t kick Andres.”
It’s a shame that nobody told Enzo Perez. The Valencia midfielder saw Barcelona’s man skipping away from him on the Mestalla Stadium turf and decided he wouldn’t get any further.
Perhaps egged on by the home crowd, he lunged in from behind, scissoring the Barcelona captain and sending him crashing to the ground.
Almost before he had hit the grass, Iniesta was calling for help from the bench. He knew his game was over. In those moments he may even have feared his season was over.
Iniesta was taken off on a stretcher against Valencia.
It wasn’t the game’s worst challenge by any stretch, but it wasn’t a good one either. However, Perez did take the ball, and referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco didn’t caution the Valencia man.
Initial fears were that Iniesta would be out for three months at least, with Barcelona revealing he had a partial tear in his knee ligament.
His visible distress on the pitch was worrying to see and when he arrived back at the Ciutat Esportiva, the Spain international’s wife, his parents, his sister and his brother-in-law were there to greet him and support him.
Luckily for Iniesta and Barcelona, the club’s full medical report revealed he would only be sidelined for between six and eight weeks. That means if his recovery goes well, he may make it back for the Clasico at the Camp Nou on December 4. Against Real Madrid having the 32-year-old in the team would be a big boon, but even if he does recover to the most optimistic schedule, playing in a game that intense would be a risk.
At the very least, Iniesta will miss the games against Granada (H), Manchester City (A), Sevilla (A), Malaga (H), Celtic (A), Real Sociedad (A) and Hercules (H); the last of that list is a Copa del Rey clash, the rest being La Liga or Champions League fixtures.
Iniesta will miss the next clash with Man City.
That would take him up to six weeks’ absence. Beyond that there is the Clasico, a Champions League game against Borussia Monchengladbach (H), Osasuna (A) and a friendly in Qatar against Al-Ahli.
It is unlikely Barcelona will want to force Iniesta to travel to that clash and the most likely scenario at this stage is that he makes his return against Espanyol in the Catalan derby on December 18.
That is five league games, three Champions League clashes, one Copa del Rey match and a friendly. A big chunk to take a player out for, particularly one as influential as Iniesta.
However, in Barcelona’s favour is their strong Champions League record to date. With three wins from three, their qualification to the next round is virtually assured, whether Iniesta is there or not.
They are less fortunate regarding La Liga, where trips to Sevilla and Real Sociedad as well as hosting Real Madrid make for three of the most difficult games in Barcelona’s calendar.
The question for coach Luis Enrique is how he goes about replacing Iniesta. He has four options: Arda Turan, Rafinha, Andre Gomes and Denis Suarez.
Arda Turan has played the most of the four replacements.
Each of them offers different skills, although curiously the two Luis Enrique seems to prefer—Arda and Rafinha, with the Turk also the man who has played the most of the four so far this season (786 minutes)—are the least similar to Iniesta in style.
Barcelona signed Andre Gomes and Denis Suarez with the idea that they could perform the Iniesta role in the future—or at least a good interpretation of it that plays to their own strengths—when the veteran has retired.
Rafinha is a player the coach has liked for a long time. He took him to Celta Vigo on loan while managing there before installing him as part of his current Barcelona squad.
Despite the midfielder’s injuries Lucho stood by him and now the Brazilian is paying him back for it.
Rafinha is proving he is not just teacher’s pet, though, scoring twice recently against Deportivo La Coruna in Barcelona’s 4-0 win.
If there is one flaw in Iniesta’s game it is that he’s not a goalscorer—although that hasn’t stopped him netting some important strikes for club and country—and Rafinha taking his spot may provide Barcelona with another source for goals that isn’t the MSN trio.
Rafinha can find the net more frequently than Iniesta.
However, an argument against Rafinha, albeit a slightly unfair one, is his versatility—he is the perfect player to have as cover for any position on the bench and has often been used on the flank for Barcelona.
Luis Enrique may not choose to make him a regular starter in Iniesta’s position because he wants to use him in other positions, like the right wing-back role he has sometimes occupied or have him as cover.
Arda, meanwhile, is the most likely to take on the job. Enrique asked for the Turk to be signed and while the board wanted to ditch him after a bad first season, the manager has always sung his praises when asked about him.
That Arda is still at Barcelona is thanks to the Barca boss, with the midfielder revealing that a huge offer arrived in the summer from China for him, per Beyza TV, h/t Sport: "Barcelona told me no, because they believed in me, I am a long-term project for the club and I didn’t just come here to play six months.”
However, if you wanted to pick two players in the squad who could best replicate Iniesta’s style, other than Lionel Messi of course, it would be the two new boys, Gomes and Denis Suarez.
Andre Gomes has not built on a good start.
The former has failed to build on a decent start so far in his Barcelona career, with a bad performance against his former side, Valencia, at the weekend something that will worry Enrique.
Gomes looked lost on the pitch as the game passed him by, and with matches that are sure to be intense against Sevilla and Real Sociedad on the horizon, he may lose out in the weeks ahead. Then again, if Barcelona want the Portugal international to one day be the man to fill that position, he has to learn how to do it.
What Iniesta brings to the team is control, similar to what Luka Modric provides for Real Madrid but in a more advanced position to feed balls to the MSN to work their magic.
That is something which may be beyond Denis Suarez at this stage of his career, although none of the four players who are battling to fill Iniesta’s boots can claim they will deliver on that front.
Enrique may decide that instead of getting one of Denis Suarez or Gomes to offer an imitation of Iniesta, he is better off going for the different skill sets of Arda or Rafinha, while asking Messi to keep drifting inside and deeper to help Barcelona control the game, mitigating Iniesta’s absence.
The Argentinian does this anyway, but if he wants to he can almost play as a central midfielder, which we may find is more frequently the case while Iniesta is out.
Rik Sharma is Bleacher Report’s lead Barcelona correspondent. All information and quotes obtained firsthand unless specified. Follow him on Twitter here: @riksharma_.