Andres Iniesta Returning from Injury Is Good Timing for Barcelona

Paul Wilkes@@paulwilkesfootyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 11:  Andres Iniesta of FC Barcelona in action during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona  at Vicente Calderon Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

He may have only been missing for just under three weeks, but Andres Iniesta's return on Wednesday night was great news for his team.

It's around the same amount of time until Barcelona travel to the Etihad for the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie.

In the period leading up to the match, they have home games with Valencia and Rayo Vallecano, along with a trip south to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, combined with the two-legged semi-final of the Copa del Rey.

This enables Iniesta five games of a decent competitive level to return to full match fitness.

Barcelona aren't exactly short of options in midfield or further forward, but few players can compete with Iniesta in full flight.

The playmaker was full of praise for the fans who attended the Camp Nou in the heavy rain. "Firstly I want to thank the people that came," Iniesta said, via Football Espana.

"Although the tie was in our favour it was important to play our game and come away with victory."

The knee injury suffered against Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon seemed innocuous at the time he slid in to make the initial challenge.

With Iniesta not returning for the second half, there were fears that he could potentially be out for awhile, but reports quickly surfaced that it wasn't too severe, per ESPN.

Against Levante, he featured for the first 45 minutes once again, but this time it was all part of his rehabilitation.

"It was a game that served as training for future fixtures," reflected Iniesta. "We cannot lower our intensity. What has been done today is for tomorrow."

Which was right on both a personal and collective level. With crucial games coming up in the calendar, the team needs to maintain their current form.

Whilst the ground work put in by Iniesta will speed his recovery to take part in the bigger matches.

Iniesta doesn't score many goals, but he does score important goals, the most famous one winning his country the World Cup.

Perhaps a player of his talent should find the net more, though in two out of the last three seasons, he has scored at critical points in the latter stages of the Champions League.

When their backs are against the wall, when Barcelona need a moment of inspiration, they need characters such as Iniesta on the pitch.

In 2010/11, his most productive season in front of goal, he scored the opener against Shakhtar Donetsk and against Espanyol in the derby which put Barca just one point away from a third consecutive league title.

He also had assists in the semi-final and final of the Champions League against Real Madrid and Manchester United.

The following year, he put the Milan tie beyond doubt with the third goal in a 3-1 victory, as the Catalans were an away goal from being eliminated from the tournament.

His goal against Chelsea in another Champions League semi-final put Barcelona in the lead until stoppage-time goals in both halves knocked them out.

Then last season, he assisted a Messi goal as Barcelona overturned a 2-0 deficit in the second leg against Milan once more.

Out of the 40 assists he has provided for his club since scoring the winner in the World Cup Final in South Africa, 12 have come either in the Champions League or when playing Real Madrid, via ESPN statistics.

Whether it's in the battles with Manchester City, later on in the competition or in a head-to-head with either Atletico or Real Madrid, expect the midfield dynamo to contribute in a significant manner.

"The hardest and most beautiful time of the season is to come. We have to keep growing," commented Iniesta.

When it comes to the big occasions, Andres Iniesta was born for them.


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