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Pedri’s injury sparks long-term worries. He and Barcelona have been here before

Victory at Athletic Bilbao would have moved Barcelona above Girona and up to second in La Liga — while also reducing Real Madrid’s lead to six points.

But Sunday night’s 0-0 draw instead kept them in third and exposed Barcelona, who were again unable to deliver in attack. Xavi’s team struggled to create chances, even against a side that made seven changes from their best XI having played the most intense match of their season just three days earlier — when they knocked out Atletico Madrid to reach the Copa del Rey final.

“We didn’t play a good game. We need to improve a lot if we want to be competitive because I don’t feel we were close to winning this,” Xavi said after the game. “It was a big chance to get back into the fight and we just wasted it.”

The result, though, was not the worst news of the night for Barcelona.

First of all, there was Frenkie de Jong. The Dutchman had to be subbed off after landing awkwardly from an aerial challenge, appearing to sprain his ankle. The midfielder was unable to leave the pitch on his own.

Then, shortly before half-time, there was Pedri.

After receiving a pass from 17-year-old centre-back Pau Cubarsi, dropping deep to lead Barcelona’s build-up, he played a long pass out to Raphinha on the right wing. Before the Brazilian could even control it, the midfielder had thrown himself to the floor having felt a ‘crack’ in his right leg.

Pedri knew immediately what it meant. The pain was in the area of his right quadriceps — the same muscle he tore in August, an injury that kept him out for more than two months. This is the third time he’s had problems in that area this season alone, but they date back further still.

Pedri could not contain his emotion and covered his face with his hands to hide his tears as he walked off. Athletic’s San Mames gave him a standing ovation — the whole stadium showing respect towards a player who must have felt like he had fallen a long way back to square one.

Xavi said both his and De Jong’s injuries “did not look good” and that “between today and tomorrow we’ll know more” about their severity. But Pedri’s case has certainly produced deeper initial concerns because of the history behind him. He is expected to undergo tests on Monday morning in Barcelona and after the results, club and player will decide how to proceed.

Barcelona’s crucial Champions League last-16 second leg against Napoli is just over a week away, but after the scenes of Sunday night, that should be of little concern to the Canary Islander. His priority now has to be putting his health and career back on track.

After his first injury of the season back in August, club sources — who, like all those cited here preferred to speak anonymously to protect relationships — told The Athletic they were taking a highly cautious approach with Pedri. They said another significant tear in the same area might leave him requiring surgery, meaning an even longer lay-off.



Barcelona need Pedri more than ever but his recovery has raised concerns

Arranged between the club and the player’s camp, Pedri has been following a specially designed training plan for a while. Before the start of pre-season, he also completed specific gym work to gain muscle and prepare his body better.

Before the start of 2023-24, Pedri also said he had changed his eating habits, turning to a gluten-free diet and consuming fewer of his mum’s ‘croquetas’, his favourite food. Following advice from legendary former Barcelona defender Carles Puyol, he also started practising Pilates, but none of that appears to have been successful. Two games into this La Liga campaign, the first injury arrived.

“Pedri has done absolutely everything to feel good and recover in the best manner from his problems. We have paid attention to every detail, but it’s happened again,” Xavi added on Sunday night.

“There’s no other option other than to do the best again. We will have to make an even bigger effort as a club to help him out.”

Pedri’s injury problems date back to the 2021-22 season (Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Pedri was pictured limping heavily on his way out of Bilbao on Sunday night, heading to the plane that flew Barcelona back to Catalonia. According to dressing-room sources, the player said he had the same feeling as with the injury he suffered earlier this campaign and he couldn’t hide his frustration over how he can’t seem to keep himself fit.

It feels even more instructive now, after this latest setback, to look back at Pedri’s breakout 2020-21 campaign at Barcelona. That season he played 72 games for club and country without suffering any major problems. Since then, he has suffered nine injuries and missed 71 matches.

Back in that summer of 2021, he seemed to have the world at his feet having just been named best young player at the European Championship with Spain.

Today, and after already having seen injury transform Ansu Fati from Lionel Messi’s heir to a Brighton loanee, Barcelona fans are entitled to worry about what comes next — with another of the club’s generational talents now at a tough crossroads in his young career.

 (Top photo: Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

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