LONDON — Ivan Rakitic says the thought of Andres Iniesta leaving Barcelona scares him as the Catalan club’s captain returns to the scene of his most famous goal on Tuesday.
Iniesta’s stoppage-time strike at Stamford Bridge saw Barca advance to the 2009 Champions League final at the expense of Chelsea and earned him a place in the club’s folklore.
However, nine years on, there are concerns that this could be his last season at the club, despite only signing a lifetime contract last year.
Diario Sport reported that he has a huge offer to leave for China in the summer, when he will be 34.
Iniesta has always maintained that he won’t outstay his welcome and that he would walk away if he felt he was no longer contributing to the team, but he remains an important part of Ernesto Valverde’s side.
“Am I scared of Iniesta going? Very,” Rakitic said in a news conference on the eve of Barca’s Champions League round of 16 first-leg clash with Chelsea.
“I don’t want him to leave because of everything he means for this club. We had a bottle of wine the other day and I saw that  goal he scored. It’s not just about what he does on the pitch, though, but also in the dressing room and off the pitch.
“He is a very important person for me, a great friend. I hope he’s here with us for many years. But as a friend, I want him to be happy and whatever he decides in the future, I will always be by his side.”
Rakitic and Iniesta are set to start against Chelsea as part of a four-man midfield, alongside Sergio Busquets and, save any surprises, one of Paulinho and Andre Gomes.
The switch to four across the middle was born from the sale of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer and Rakitic says it would be tough to change back to a midfield three now.
“Its quite different if you’re playing with three strikers or, like now, with two,” the Croatia international explained. “It’s different if you have a Neymar in your team. We are now without him so we can play more in midfield, it’s a little easier to close the direct line to our goal.
“Now it’s normal for us [to have four]. So maybe to play with three strikers again would be hard.”
Barca face a Chelsea side who a couple of weeks ago, following back-to-back three goal defeats against Bournemouth and Watford, were said to be in crisis.
However, Antonio Conte’s side have steadied the ship with wins against West Bromwich Albion and Hull City.
“Any moment is a bad moment to play Chelsea,” Barca coach Valverde said when asked if it could be an awkward time to play the Premier League side now they have recovered some form.
“They have the same qualities all the time. The start of this calendar year was not great, maybe, but they have improved again. They have good players in attack, [Eden] Hazard, [Alvaro] Morata, now [Olivier] Giroud and Pedro.
“It’s difficult to face them at any moment [and] Conte is one of best coaches in the world. He has an extraordinary CV, not just here at Chelsea, winning the Premier League, but for what he did with Juventus, with Italy.
“You notice his mark on each team he coaches. They work hard, they’re tactically disciplined and for me it’s a challenge to take on a team coached by him.”
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.