Ivan Rakitic is stuck in a complicated situation. With his contract at Barcelona running out in the summer, he has a decision to make. Barca too have to make a decision and potentially hunt for replacements. But Rakitic is playing more often in recent games. In the short-term, Rakitic’s involvement in the El Clasico will be a much bigger decision.
The midfield battles are always crucial in a game as big as the El Clasico. If a team loses a midfield battle, it is tough to make up for that. Winning those 50-50 tackles in midfield and circulating the ball forward becomes key in these games. The game against Real is no exception for it.
But Rakitic is a dilemma for Ernesto Valverde. There is no doubt about his ability. But the recent games show that things are now changing. He is getting older with every passing day and arguably, he could well have his head elsewhere. With his time in Catalonia running out, it isn’t easy to keep one’s head in the job.
In the recent 2-2 draw against Real Sociedad, Rakitic was starting as the central midfield on the right. He was dispossessed as many as thrice and he was dribbled past just as many times too. He could play only 31 times- something that is very unnatural for a player like him.
Against Inter, Rakitic was the deepest midfield in a 3-5-2 shape. He wasn’t dispossessed even once. A lot of it was down to having Arturo Vidal play ahead of him. But he was dribbled past once, failing to play a single key pass. A lot of the burden was taken off him by the hardworking Chilean.
In Barca’s recent 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid, Rakitic wasn’t at his best either. He again played in defensive midfield. But without Vidal starting, he was dribbled past thrice and was dispossessed twice. He was good on the ball, but couldn’t play a key pass till the time he was on the pitch.
His recent regular involvement hasn’t exactly been too helpful for Barcelona. It has largely been because of Arthur’s absence in recent weeks. The Brazilian has been facing adductor problems and Barca have been forced to play Rakitic. Arthur’s technical improvement this season has been key for the Catalans and he has been a big miss.
In 12 games in all competitions, Arthur has a tally of two goals and four assists. That is more than any other season of his career. That’s a reflection of how he has improved and has taken his ability on the ball to another level.
Against Real, Barca have a real challenge on their hands. Playing against the best tackler in the league (Casemiro) can take the game away from them if they aren’t physical enough. But Federico Valverde’s impressive abilities to take the ball forward can be big threat too.
That is the threat Barca have to guard against. Rakitic has been struggling against quicker players. Real have quick players in midfield and in attack. They can easily expose Rakitic, the way he has been in recent games.
Ernesto Valverde has to keep it in mind. Having Vidal will allow Barca more bite in midfield. It will help them deal with Casemiro better. Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets add immense technical and ball-playing abilities. And having Vidal around him will help Rakitic. If the Chilean doesn’t play, Barca will expose themselves.