MX23RW : Friday, August 17 15:31:01

Andres Iniesta's greatest Barcelona XI

To mark Andres Iniesta's final game for Barcelona, Sports Mole selects the greatest XI from his illustrious career with the club.

When Andres Iniesta left the field for the final time as a Barcelona player during Sunday's 1-0 win over Real Sociedad, there was barely a dry eye in Camp Nou.

It was the swansong of one of the club's greatest servants and most talented players, with his poise, grace and vision on the football field helping to change the image of the modern game.

Iniesta first joined Barcelona in 1996, so his departure ends a 22-year association with the club he served with such distinction, winning no fewer than 32 trophies during his 16 years with the senior team.

Here, Sports Mole selects a greatest XI of players from Barcelona's Iniesta era.


Andres Iniesta XI
Marc-Andre ter Stegen is establishing himself as a reliable presence in the Barcelona goal, but he is still some way short of reaching Victor Valdes's status at the club. After breaking into the first team in 2002, Valdes went on to play 525 games for Barca - including 421 alongside Iniesta - and won the Zamora trophy for most La Liga clean sheets on a joint-record five occasions.

Right-back is also a fairly simple choice, and Barcelona are still yet to adequately replace Dani Alves since his 2016 departure. Alves won 23 trophies with Barcelona and played alongside Iniesta 298 times during his eight-year spell at Camp Nou.

The opposite side of defence is a more difficult call with Eric Abidal unfortunate not to make the team. Instead, the left-back slot goes to Jordi Alba, who has established himself as a key part of the Barcelona team since his arrival in 2012. To date, Alba has played just short of 250 games for the club, including 194 with Iniesta.

Two Barcelona stalwarts make up the centre-back pairing as Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique reunite at the heart of the defence. Honourable mentions should go to Javier Mascherano and Rafael Marquez, but both Puyol and Pique have been titans for Barcelona down the years, playing more than 1,000 games for the club between them during their most successful spell. Pique just edges it in terms of games played alongside Iniesta, with 345 to Puyol's 341.

Iniesta himself is, of course, guaranteed a place in his own XI, and there can't be many doubts about the other two in the middle of the park either. Xavi is perhaps the only player who can challenge Iniesta to the crown of Spain's greatest ever player, and it was that midfield partnership which was arguably the most important aspect of their incredible success during the past decade and more. The diminutive duo played 413 times with each other, and another fixture of that midfield is Sergio Busquets, whose mastery of his own job and position allowed those ahead of him to write all the headlines.

One spot in the front three is guaranteed, with Lionel Messi boasting the accolade of Iniesta's greatest ever teammate. The pair seemed to have a telepathic understanding on the field, and it is fair to say that without someone of Iniesta's quality behind him, Messi's goalscoring record may be a lot less impressive. No-one has played more games or been directly involved in more goals with Iniesta than Messi, whose cameo appearance on Sunday was the 489th time he has shared a pitch with the midfield maestro.

The other two places are more difficult, though, as Barcelona have boasted some great strikers in the Iniesta era. Patrick Kluivert caught the beginning of it, Zlatan Ibrahimovic spent a short but productive spell at the club and David Villa can also lay a strong claim, having scored 48 goals in 119 games for the club. The strongest challenge comes from Samuel Eto'o, though, whose prolific record in front of goal was a major reason behind Barcelona's revival in the mid-2000s. Eto'o scored 130 goals in just 199 games for Barcelona and played alongside Iniesta in 162 of those.

However, the centre-forward role goes to Luis Suarez, who has reached even greater goalscoring heights since his arrival. Despite only joining the club in 2014, Suarez has already scored 152 goals in 198 appearances to soar up to sixth on the club's all-time goalscorers list. Suarez played alongside Iniesta on fewer occasions than Eto'o - 144 - but his impact in that time has been huge.

The left-wing role also poses a problem, with a whole host of top-class players vying for it. Thierry Henry, Alexis Sanchez and Pedro all deserve honourable mentions, but it came down to a Brazilian showdown between Neymar and Ronaldinho. In the end, the latter's role in restoring Barcelona to their former glories gave him the edge, despite Neymar scoring 105 goals in 186 games for the club. Had the winger not broken up arguably the greatest front three of all time by joining Paris Saint-Germain last summer then he may well have pipped his compatriot into this team, but Ronaldinho's brilliant best came at Barca and he certainly deserves to be included.

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Andres Iniesta in action for Barcelona in December 2016
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TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
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2Athletic Bilbao00000000
3Atletico MadridAtletico00000000
4Barcelona00000000
5Celta Vigo00000000
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13Rayo Vallecano00000000
14Real Betis00000000
15Real Madrid00000000
16Real Sociedad00000000
17Real Valladolid00000000
18Sevilla00000000
19Valencia00000000
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