Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has singled out Denis Suarez and Javier Mascherano after the duo excelled during the 5-2 victory over Real Sociedad on Thursday night (26 January) while covering the absences of Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta. Yet, the Spanish boss added that the former Manchester City academy star Suarez is on the right path to become the long-term heir of the captain at Nou Camp.
The Catalans overcame the injuries of the two key absent players to reach the Copa del Rey semi-finals after a 6-2 win on the aggregate.
There were many doubts on how Barcelona were going to cope without the two Spanish internationals especially Busquets has no natural replacement in the squad.
But Luis Enrique found a solution by deploying Mascherano back in the original holding role where he thrived during his days at Liverpool, with Denis and Andres Gomes occupying the other two places in the middle of the park behind MSN: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
"I had several options but due to high press of Real Sociedad I thought that Masche was going to be the best one (to replace Busquets). Defensive he was spectacular and today that was very important. He has coped (without Busquets) but also Denis and Andre played a really good game," Luis Enrique said after Barcelona's 5-2 win at Real Sociedad.
"When you consider the difficulty of the opponent, winning by that kind of margin is impressive. They're dangerous with the ball. And they're dangerous without the ball. Along with us, they're one of the most in-form sides in Spanish football."
Denis Suarez was especially impressive as he scored a brace only days after netting the opener in the weekend's 4-0 victory over Eibar.
The La Liga giants re-signed Denis from Villarreal during the summer transfer window and he has since been tipped to become Iniesta's long-term replacement – as the captain will turn 33 in May.
"He could be, why not?" Luis Enrique said when asked if Denis could be a new Iniesta for Barcelona. "Players have to evolve. He has to improve, he has the talent but Iniesta is Harry Potter, he makes magic, and it's difficult to find another. Denis is on the right path and I hope he can be (Iniesta's replacement). It would be great news."
"The goals will boost his morale. One of his major virtues is his ability to penetrate from the second line and his presence in the penalty area. He just need a little more efficiency, but he's shown that today with his finishes," he said.
"Denis is the one of the few young players to leave Barca B and be able to return. That's because of taking care of the ball but also because of working hard off the ball, which some players forget about. During a game you have the ball for a minute or a minute and a half in the game, so if you don't do well without it, you have no chance at this level. Denis understands that very well thanks to his spells at Villarreal and Sevilla and he's well-loved by his teammates. He is in continue development."