Suarez steps up in Messi's absence; Iniesta contract on mind for Barcelona
It’s as you were at the top of La Liga as both Madrid sides won, as did Barcelona, coping just fine without Lionel Messi in a 4-1 win over Granada. The hero of the game was Luis Suarez, who scored the first and then had a hand in the other three goals. Barcelona coach Luis Enrique was upset to see Rafinha taken off early on with what looked like a knee ligament injury–he was out for six months in 2015 with similar. Paco Alcacer, who replaced Rafinha from the bench, also scored, as did Neymar–his 100th goal since joining the club.
“It's the squad that wins you titles," Luis Enrique said after the game. “It’s up to us to balance the injuries and suspensions against our fringe players.”
One of his substitutes was Andres Iniesta, who came on for the last 25 minutes. Now the club captain, Iniesta caused some consternation last week when he was asked about his contract, which expires in 15 months.
“I’m not saying I am not going to renew my contract,” Iniesta said. “I always said I would be delighted to finish my career at Barça, but I will never be at this club just to be here. Based on today, I believe I can keep performing.”
Iniesta has only completed two league matches this calendar year–he was subbed off in both of Barcelona’s Champions League games against PSG, too–and how to approach his contract talks could be a thorny issue given that the identity of Barcelona’s coach next season is still an unknown. Not to mention the fact that Messi’s contract expires at the same time, and Barcelona will need funds for that. The club has already recently renewed deals for Suarez and Neymar, but that hasn’t stopped reports that the Brazilian, according to The Sunday Times, is considering offers from Manchester United and Chelsea.
Barcelona is only two points behind Real Madrid in La Liga, but that lead might be extended if it fails to beat Sevilla in Wednesday's big game. It could still win another treble and yet the club seems at a transitional point; on the verge of parting company with a successful, if not entirely loved, coach; with the future of key architects of recent successes still up in the air; and still no clear pick, at least publicly, for the coach next season. It would make trophy success this season all the more impressive. For Luis Enrique and the club, no one can be certain how long the M-S-N trio, ably assisted by Iniesta, will all still be together.