Changing of the Barca guard?

This weekend’s Copa del Rey tie against Cartagena has afforded Barcelona Coach Tato Martino the opportunity to give a rest to some of the senior members of his squad.

Barcelona have already confirmed that Andres Iniesta and Xavi will not take part in the game against the third-tier outfit. The loss of both should be easily absorbed by the reigning League champions, but one wonders if we are not seeing the beginning of the end for one of the aforementioned Gods of Spanish football.

For the first time in over a decade, Xavi finds himself at the centre of a debate about the merits of his continued presence in the side. While it seems almost blasphemous to question the most incisive midfielder for a generation, it can’t be denied that the player’s standards have dipped below that which we have come to expect.

Xavi turns 34 in January, and as such, a slight waning of his talents is both inevitable and forgivable. Yet with Barca seemingly undergoing a certain change of identity under Martino, perhaps the time is right for Barca put their midfield eggs in an altogether different basket.

There has been something immensely frustrating about watching Cesc Fabregas at Barcelona. Sure, he has contributed to the team’s success. Certainly, he has adjusted his game admirably when asked to perform in a more advanced position. Indeed, it is testament to the player’s ability that he has remained such a prominent component of the side’s success despite ostensibly being played out of position.

Fabregas departed Arsenal and the Premier League as one of the most dynamic and impactful central midfielders in world football. Yet his time at Barcelona so far seems to have seen him perform everywhere but the centre – the team structure being such that he has had to refashion himself either as a false 9 or an inverted winger.

Fabregas has dealt with the challenge commendably, yet there have been times where the 26-year-old’s demeanour has betrayed a deep sense of frustration at his positioning within the side. Where once we looked and saw the sleek and tidy looking Arsenal Fabregas, he now appears as the rugged, maverick, Barca Fabregas. Perhaps this is his reasoning behind that awful beard, a desperate attempt to convey the image of a man marooned, exiled to a part of the pitch from which he is desperate to escape.

To his credit, Martino has afforded Fabregas more opportunities in his preferred role this season – with impressive results. Looking at the stats, it is clear where the player’s talents are best utilised. Of the 15 starts, the player has made this season, WhoScored assert Fabregas has played six in an advanced role. His return of one goal and no assists in that time tell its own story. Yet when deployed in central midfield, Fabregas has five goals and eight assists in nine games.

The latter are the type of stats that one may have expected from Fabregas when he swapped North London for Catalonia in the summer of 2011. The decision to make him wait for his chance was understandably necessitated by the fact that Barca possessed arguably the greatest central midfielder ever. Yet the passing of the guard has to happen at some point. Perhaps now, finally, is Cesc’s time.