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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Barcelona seek new tormentor of Chelsea with Iniesta likely to miss Champions League tie

Hamstring injury picked up against Atletico Madrid on Sunday is likely to rule the captain out of next week's second leg.

Andres Iniesta sustained a hamstring injury against Atletico Madrid on Sunday and is likely to miss next week's clash with Chelsea. Lluis Gene / AFP
Andres Iniesta sustained a hamstring injury against Atletico Madrid on Sunday and is likely to miss next week's clash with Chelsea. Lluis Gene / AFP

Barcelona's Uefa Champions League tie against Chelsea is poised on a knife edge but the Primera Liga giants will have to cope without inspirational captain Andres Iniesta, the man who has pedigree when it comes to beating next week's opponents.

Barring what the Spanish media have called a "miracle recovery", the hamstring injury Iniesta suffered on Sunday in Barcelona's 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid will keep him out of the last 16 second leg on March 14.

The Barcelona captain scored a dramatic 93rd minute goal at Stamford Bridge in 2009 against Chelsea in the semi-finals to send his side through on away goals.

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Pep Guardiola's men went on to beat Manchester United 2-0 in the final, becoming the first Spanish side to complete a treble, having won the Primera Liga and the Copa del Rey.

However, it was Iniesta's stoppage time goal in London that stood out as one of the highlights of that season's campaign.

The captain also helped salvage a 1-1 draw for Barcelona in last month's first leg, when he teed up Lionel Messi to equalise, in one of the few chances Ernesto Valverde's side mustered.

Although Antonio Conte's stuttering Chelsea have slim hopes in the second leg at Camp Nou, where Barcelona are unbeaten in all three major competitions this season, Iniesta's absence is a setback for the hosts.

In the Primera Liga, Barcelona's record signing Philippe Coutinho can fill in for the 33-year-old playmaker but the Brazilian is cup-tied in the Champions League after joining from Liverpool in January.

That leaves Valverde with a tough decision to make, over which of Paulinho, Andre Gomes, Denis Suarez or Ousmane Dembele steps in for Iniesta.

None of the options have convinced. Paulinho started the season well but since Christmas has looked jaded and was widely criticised for a poor performance in the first leg.

Gomes came on as a substitute for Iniesta during the win over Atletico but was whistled by some Barca fans during another disappointing display.

Suarez has the most similar style to the captain but has not played for Barca since their 1-0 Copa del Rey defeat by Espanyol on January 17, while Ousmane Dembele is a forward and his inclusion would see the formation change from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3.

Even without Iniesta, Barcelona are favourites to progress, given Chelsea's struggles to keep up with the top four in the Premier League. But Messi aside, the veteran midfielder is the most essential component in setting the team's style and pace.

Barcelona may need a new hero to step up.