Ahead of the Catalan giants’ La Liga meeting with Celta Vigo tonight, Valverde spoke on the possibility that the 33-year-old midfielder will head to the Far East.
Iniesta has been a mainstay at Camp Nou and been part of eight La Liga titles, five Copa del Rey crowns and four Champions League triumphs.
“Regarding the possibility of Iniesta leaving, it’s not done yet,” Valverde said.
“There have been other players who left and the club still carries on. But I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t want to talk about it becasue we are speaking about rumours and only he can make the decision.”
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Barcelona star Andres Iniesta’s beverage business is one of the reasons behind his imminent move to China, according to a report in Marca.
Barcelona are bracing for the news of Iniesta’s departure after the Copa del Rey final against Sevilla on Saturday.
The 33-year-old Spaniard set up Bodega Iniesta in 2010 in his hometown of Fuentealbilla. The report states the company is targeting exporting two million units to China in the coming year.
Apparently, Iniesta’s contract is likely to include “plans to advertise his product in a burgeoning market and this serves as further evidence that the Spaniard has big plans that extend well beyond the Chinese Super League”.
Saturday’s home meeting with Valencia was one that Barcelona simply needed to win.
After the hammer blow of the hugely unexpected Champions League exit against Roma a few days earlier, for the sake of morale the Catalan giants just had to get back on track in its next outing, and it was therefore understandable that coach Ernesto Valverde selected his strongest possible eleven.
Although many of his players will inevitably have been feeling fatigued after the physically and mentally draining loss in Italy, that was more than outweighed by their professional pride, compelling them to get back out on the pitch as soon as possible to right some wrongs.
And that task was duly completed with a 2-1 win over Valencia, allowing Valverde’s men to run off some of their frustrations as well as maintaining their 11-point advantage over Atletico Madrid with just six games remaining.
Now, though, Valverde must make Saturday’s Copa del Rey Final against Sevilla his overwhelming priority, and Tuesday’s league trip to Celta Viga should be relegated to the status of an uninteresting afterthought.
Of course, mega-clubs like Barcelona can never afford to lose a game, but this midweek journey north-west is as close as it gets. In the context of their season, the trip to Celta really does not matter in the slightest, and Valverde should treat it effectively as a reserve game in his team selection.
Even if Barca lose and Atletico win at rejuvenated Real Sociedad on Thursday night, the current leaders will still be eight points clear with five games remaining – and that lead is effectively worth nine points considering Barca’s ownership of the head-to-head advantage.
La Liga, therefore, is already won barring a near unthinkable sequence of results, and it’s almost certain that a loss against Celta would count for nothing by the end of the season.
A loss against Sevilla on Saturday night, however, would be an entirely different matter. A few days ago Barca were in hot pursuit of the treble, so for that ambition to become reduced to just one trophy would be close to a calamity, inevitably leading to serious calls for Valverde to be fired at the end of the season.
That may sound like an overreaction, but it’s not. Barca have extraordinarily high standards, and silverware is taken for granted. Losing a final against Sevilla would be a disaster, giving further weight to cynics who are already arguing that Valverde does not know how to manage big games.
The only reason for Valverde to take Tuesday’s game in Vigo seriously, in fact, is Barca’s pursuit of becoming the first team in Spanish top flight history to go through an entire season without defeat.
But that piece of trivia is nothing compared to the opportunity to land a trophy, and Valverde must not allow his quest for an unbeaten league campaign to compromise the Copa del Rey Final this weekend.
And that quest surely would be compromised if Valverde once again insists upon selecting a full strength team against Celta.
Several of his squad are obviously physically and mentally jaded, and would benefit hugely from having a couple of days off. Nine of his players have already started more than 30 club games this season, not to mention the additional strain of their international commitments leading up to the World Cup Finals.
All that effort is starting to take its toll. Many of Barca’s star players have been well below their best in recent weeks, and it looks beyond question that Samuel Umtiti, Sergi Roberto, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez would greatly benefit from a free midweek ahead of Saturday’s cup final while Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta have already been omitted from the squad. None of them should play on Tuesday night though.
Of course, the quality of the team will be seriously affected at Celta if all those players are rested, but the likes of Thomas Vermaelen, Yerry Mina, Aleix Vidal, Andre Gomes, Ousmane Dembele and Paco Alcacer – all of whom are full internationals – have been waiting for long enough for an opportunity to show their capabilities. And if they fail, it really won’t matter one iota.
For inspiration, Valverde can look to his counterpart at Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane, who omitted Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Rafael Varane from his squad, and then left Marcelo and Toni Kroos on the bench, for the irrelevant trip to Malaga on Sunday, knowing that more important battles lie around the corner.
That is the right approach to take at this time of the season. In Monday’s pre-game press conference Valverde said he will make changes tonight, without specifying how many. It’s straightforward: he shouldn’t make two or three, but eight or nine. Squad rotation, all in.
If he doesn’t and Barca lose the cup final on Saturday, he will be in big trouble.