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Potential return dates for Xavi’s absent stars

Barcelona have enjoyed and endured a mixed start to the defence of their La Liga title, and they’ll do well to maintain a sustained assault on the summit during the second half of the season given the injuries they have totted up.

While the points have continued to arrive, performances have been lacking. A 2-1 loss in El Clasico – which, ironically, had been the team’s best showing for an hour – followed shortly by a Champions League defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk led to calls for Xavi to be sacked in early November.

The former Barcelona captain hasn’t gone anywhere just yet and took the unorthodox approach of blaming the media for his side’s decline. However, a humbling 4-1 loss in the Supercopa de Espana final to Real Madrid underscored the uncertainty surrounding Xavi’s position – which hasn’t been aided by a flurry of injuries.

Here’s the latest fitness updates for Barcelona’s stars.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen

Marc-Andre ter Stegen didn’t miss a single league game last season / Marvin Ibo Guengoer – GES Sportfoto/GettyImages

Barcelona‘s star goalkeeper was integral to last season’s title, presiding over an outrageous 26 clean sheets in 38 La Liga games – more than any other custodian across Europe’s top five leagues. Only Deportivo La Coruna’s Francisco Llano has ever been able to match Ter Stegen’s shutout tally in the history of La Liga.

However, Ter Stegen is set for an extended spell on the sidelines with a back injury. The German shot-stopper sat out the November international break with what was initially believed to be a minor issue. Yet, the problem has persisted and the club were forced to consider surgery.

The club decided that Ter Stegen should have a small procedure and he will now be out until late February at the earliest. There is no guarantee that the operation will fix the nagging issue, ensuring a lengthy run in the side for the 24-year-old Inaki Pena.

Marcos Alonso

Marcos Alonso has been sparingly used even when fit this season / Marvin Ibo Guengoer – GES Sportfoto/GettyImages

Marcos Alonso was already struggling to nudge his way ahead of Alejandro Balde in this season’s pecking order at left-back. Joao Cancelo’s proficiency on either flank has forced the former Chelsea defender even further away from Xavi’s starting XI.

With his contract set to expire in June 2024, Alonso is expected to leave Barcelona this summer – unless the club can convince someone to cough up a transfer fee in January for a scarcely used 33-year-old.

Alonso’s quest for minutes in Catalonia has not been aided by a back injury that has seen him miss the whole of December. The former Chelsea full-back is believed to be suffering from a similar ailment to Ter Stegen, forcing him out of action until March as a result.

Earlier this season, Gavi reflected on his full-blooded approach and admitted that his mother couldn’t bear to watch his matches anymore. At least that means that Mrs Paez didn’t see her son hobble off in agony while representing his country in November 2023.

Gavi had already been clattered by Georgia’s Luka Lochoshvili in a meaningless qualifier but returned to the pitch after medical treatment. Within a matter of minutes, Gavi buckled under his own weight while trapping the ball on his chest, clutching his knee which had already begun to redden.

Not only had Gavi suffered a complete tear in his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), but he’d also damaged his lateral meniscus. The teenager was swiftly ruled out for the rest of the 2023/24 season and won’t be called up by his national team until 2025.

An outpouring of well-wishers flooded Gavi’s inbox over the subsequent days, with even Real Madrid president Florentino Perez sending his best.

As Barcelona lost their talismanic tyro during the international break, FIFA are obliged to offer the Catalan giants financial compensation, as per the organisation’s Club Protection Programme. World football’s governing body offers a maximum packet of €20,548 (£17,900) for each day that the player is injured. The payments will only be made over the first year, entitling Barcelona to a maximum of £6.5m.

Inigo Martinez

Barcelona have another defensive injury in Martinez / Eric Alonso/GettyImages

Inigo Martinez has been the latest casualty for Barca, suffering a biceps femoral muscle injury in his right hamstring. The Spaniard was injured in the warm-up before his side’s 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid at the start of December and replaced in the starting lineup by Andreas Christensen.

The 32-year-old had started the five previous La Liga matches prior to his hamstring problem and has made a total of ten appearances for Barca this season. He has proved a handy player for Xavi to call upon.

Another defensive concern for Barca to contend with, the former Athletic Club centre-back is expected to be sidelined for roughly a month. As a result, Martinez will likely return to action at the beginning of 2024.

Joao Cancelo

Joao Cancelo has been unavailable since the start of 2024 / Eric Alonso/GettyImages

Just 11 minutes into Barcelona’s first game of 2024, Joao Cancelo was forced off the pitch. The Manchester City loanee has been a virtual ever-present since arriving in Catalonia last summer but strained his MCL against Las Palmas.

The club were quick to quash any concerns of a significant layoff for Cancelo, with Xavi revealing that the damage “doesn’t look serious”. However, the injury has been severe enough to sideline Cancelo throughout the club’s cup exploits in January, including their doomed Supercopa de Espana campaign.

For fear of exacerbating a delicate issue, Cancelo may not be risked until February.

Raphael Dias Belloli 'Raphinha'

Raphinha limped off against Osasuna in the Supercopa semi-finals / Eric Alonso/GettyImages

Raphinha has been battling for form since earning a red card 42 minutes into the new season. The Brazilian forward was in and out of Xavi’s side while teenage starlet Lamine Yamal shone before discovering his best form in December.

Across Barcelona’s final four league games of 2023, Raphinha laid on four assists and scored once himself. However, the former Leeds United winger pulled up with a hamstring injury before Barcelona played their first home game of the new year.

In the first half of the club’s successful Supercopa de Espana semi-final against Osasuna, Raphinha pulled up with a hamstring strain. The 27-year-old, who missed most of October with another muscle complaint, is likely to be sidelined until February.


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