Rafinha blow leaves Barcelona desperate for midfield reinforcement

It had looked to all the world like this season was going to be pivotal for Rafinha's chances of establishing himself as a mainstay in the Barcelona first team for years to come. After playing a part in every game so far, he was chosen to replace Ivan Rakitić in a move most Cules wouldn't have seen as particularly harming the team. Indeed, whilst there had been uproar about Lionel Messi only making the bench for the potential title decider in Madrid, there were no qualms about the man who had been chosen to take his place.

The season may still turn out to be pivotal for the son of world cup winner Mazinho, just not for the reasons he would have hoped. Two minutes after coming on, the young Brazilian was writhing in agony after being caught by Roma's Radja Nainggolan. Barça president was caught shaking his head in disbelief at the Blaugrana's misfortune, whilst Luis Enrique described the injury as "very ugly" post-match. Those initial fears have since been confirmed, with initial tests showing a torn ACL which will keep Rafinha out of action until, at the very least, the tail end of the season.

It is a bitter blow for the La Masia graduate, but also for his employers who now look without sufficient cover in both midfield and further forward. After a season where Barcelona conquered all before them, it is perhaps now more than ever that the Blaugrana will feel the effects of FIFA's transfer (read: registration) ban.

Being able to count on the talents of Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal will certainly help plug the gaping holes in the current squad come January, but until then there is little point bemoaning bad luck. Everyone from Bartomeu to Luis Enrique knew of the situation they were in, yet still took the calculated gamble of selling not only Pedro, but also Gerard Deulofeu, Adama Traore, Xavi, Montoya and Alex Song. All left for different reasons, but there is an argument to be made for the presence of all 6 helping to negate the crisis that Barcelona currently find themselves engulfed in.

After all this, it still must be remembered that this is a special team, distinctly capable of winning almost every game between now and January in record-setting pace. Yet even that would not carry significant concerns. For that to happen, it is likely that it will be done thanks to the contributions of the same 13-14 players in each match, just as Real Madrid had done last year.

As with Madrid, this would likely take a toll on the players at the business end of the season, where everyone is fully aware trophies are won and lost. Even if Turan and Vidal are able to provide rotation options by January, in an ideal world Luis Enrique would then like to be gearing up to playing each match with his favoured team.

An even worse situation would be if any of Iniesta, Rakitić, Messi, Suarez or Neymar pick up an injury before January. With little options available, Luis Enrique will almost certainly be forced to get creative in order to solve the problem.

So, what could the Asturian do to negate these potential problems?

Keep rotating

Rafinha's injury may have left Luis Enrique without players of similar quality to his starting XI on the bench, but that is no reason for him to stop rotating. He must instead trust the star quality of his players to see themselves out of a difficult period, especially at the Camp Nou, where the dominance of his team should compensate for a slight dip in quality.

This must be done intelligently, with too many rotations at any one stage likely to upset the balance and rhythm of the team, but the Asturian manager will know that and has so far proven to be a master of keeping his team fresh and firing.

Promote the youth

La Masia may be experiencing significant structural problems as a result of FIFA investigations, but that does not mean they have not already produced a number of players capable of stepping up to the plate for the team. Enrique has already called up Munir El Haddadi, Sandro Ramirez and Gerard Gumbau to the senior squad this season, but could also look to Álex Grimaldo and Sergi Samper to further reinforce a depleted squad.

Although not in current 'problem' positions, the presence of both players in the senior squad would allow Enrique to reshuffle his deck in terms of the positioning of his players. Given the shortage in midfield, Samper's calmness in possession and technical qualities would be a useful tool in seeing out matches at the end of the game. Equally, having Grimaldo would provide additional cover for left back, allowing Adriano to concentrate solely on the right hand side. 

Although not a major boost on paper, this slight tweak could see Sergi Roberto temporarily return to his role as a box-to-box central midfielder, further increasing the Blaugranas' options.

Buy in January

The reason I stated that this could still turn out to be a pivotal year for Rafinha is that Barcelona are now more likely than ever to strengthen in January. Whereas the purchases of players such as Nolito, Yarmolenko or even Paul Pogba were once looked upon as options, they could soon become a necessity. 

The addition of an incisive winger/striker is now an absolute must after the sale of Pedro in the summer and the latest set back to the squad.

By Joel Boyd, columnist at Barcablog. Follow him on Twitter @JoelBoyd10.

Have Your Say

Leave Rafinha a message of support! Do you think Rafinha can return to the level of performance he had been showing recently once he returns from injury?