The news that Lionel Messi had been ruled out of action for three weeks with a fracture in his right arm sparked panic among Barcelona fans.
The Catalans will be without their captain for the visit of the Real Madrid, leaving coach Ernesto Valverde with a massive selection headache
Messi, after all, is the king of the Clasico, with more goals (26) and more assists (14) than any other player to have ever graced the most iconic fixture in world football.
He is, in that sense, irreplaceable. And yet someone has to fill the void left by the No.10.
On Wednesday, the Barca boss pointed out that he has “very options” but the most obvious solution initially appeared to be Ousmane Dembele, the man who replaced Messi after the Argentine had been forced off injured in last Saturday’s Liga win over Sevilla.
The France international, who arrived from Borussia Dortmund last year for an initial €105 million, had both form and fitness issues during his debut season in Catalunya.
However, Dembele was omitted from the starting line-up for Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Inter amid reports that Valverde had been left unimpressed by how long it had taken the Rennes academy product to get himself ready to replace Messi against the Rojiblancos.
Whatever the veracity of that rumour, the fact is that Rafinha took full advantage of an unexpected outing against Inter and is now in contention to start against Madrid.
The 25-year-old had made just four previous appearances for Barca this season but, playing in a slightly withdrawn role, Rafinha excelled, even opening the scoring after starting and finishing a brilliant breakaway by coolly volleying home an exquisite Luis Suarez cross.
Of course, Malcom is also an option in attack but the 21-year-old Brazilian has been seen just twice in La Liga since joining from Bordeaux for €41 million during the summer and is as likely to start as the injured Messi.
Instead, Valverde is likely to choose between Rafinha and Dembele. The former offers industry and intelligence, while the latter is as pacy as he is unpredictable.
As it stands, Rafinha appears to have the edge, with Valverde singing his praises after an impressive showing against former club Inter.
Still, Valverde was also at pains to point out that Dembele hadn’t been punished for any perceived indiscretion.
Who plays against Real remains to be seen but don’t be surprised if we see both Rafinha and Dembele, with Rafinha starting to provide great discipline and security, and Dembele coming on later in the game to exploit tiring legs.