Scouting Report: Manchester United and Liverpool Target Ivan Rakitic

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Scouting Report: Manchester United and Liverpool Target Ivan Rakitic
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Manchester United and Liverpool are targeting Sevilla's midfielder Ivan Rakitic, per Charles Perrin at the Express, so here is a scouting report on the 25-year-old Croatian international.

 

Sevilla's Transfer Heist

Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

During the 2011 January transfer window, Sevilla submitted a derisive €1.5 million bid for Schalke's Rakitic, then a 22-year-old midfielder with world-class upside.

He led the club in passes per game (51.4) and long passes per game for an outfielder (5.8). He was second to Jefferson Farfan (1.8) in scoring chances created per game (1.6).

"The contract talks with Ivan [Rakitic] are...advancing further forward," then-Schalke manager Felix Magath said on November 18, 2010, as per Spox (h/t Goal.com). "I expect that we will work out a deal before the end of this season."

A week later, Magath's view changed.

"I'm not very optimistic about the contract talks with Ivan Rakitic at the moment," Magath said, as per Bild (h/t Goal.com). "We could even decide to cash in on him in the January transfer window."

Cash in? Wrong phrase.

Magath was putting a spin on things. In reality, the club would accept any fee as the threat of Rakitic exercising his Bosman rights became more likely with each passing month.

Schalke should have dealt with the situation before the season started and sold Rakitic in the summer transfer window if he had refused to extend his contract.

Instead, Schalke were forced to sell one of the best young midfielders in the Bundesliga to Sevilla for €1.5 million in the January transfer window.

Three years on, Sevilla have the option of cashing in on Rakitic, whose transfer value may have reached a peak.

The way Schalke handled Rakitic's contract situation was brought up again in 2013 when Lewis Holtby, a German international, left for Tottenham Hotspur in similar circumstances.

 

Rakitic's Playing Style

Under Sevilla manager Unai Emery, Rakitic has started in a 4-4-2, a 4-2-3-1 and a 5-4-1 formation. 

He has been a pivot and a central midfielder, but he is at his best in the No. 10 role. 

Source: Marca
Source: Marca

During the 2009-10 season, his passes per game average for Schalke was 38.7. Now it is at a career-high 60.6 passes per game as a Sevilla player.

He is poised in possession, anticipates runs from his teammates and delivers beautiful passes. He is one of the most prolific incisive passers in Europe's elite leagues and leads La Liga in scoring chances created per game this season.

If his teammates were more efficient in front of goal, Rakitic's league assists would be in double digits. 

La Liga Scoring Chances Created (SCC)
Player Team League Assists SCC Per Game
Cesc Fabregas Barcelona 10 2.0
Koke Atletico Madrid 8 2.3
Ivan Rakitic Sevilla 6 2.7
Isco Real Madrid 3 2.5
Roberto Trashorras Rayo Vallecano 3 2.6

WhoScored

One example of Rakitic's vision was his lofted though ball in a 1-0 victory over Real Sociedad.

Rakitic was just inside his attacking half. He spotted the run of Jairo and hit an impeccable long pass. Jairo brought the ball down and lobbed the advancing Sociedad goalkeeper Claudio Bravo for what turned out to be the winning goal.

Source: YouTube

Rakitic is a difference-maker, which is why he is the primary distributor at Sevilla.

No one at the club averages 45, let alone 50 or 60 passes per game. When Sevilla are looking for a goal, they give the ball to Rakitic, who's a dual-threat to score or create. He has more league goals (eight) this season than Real Madrid's Isco and Barcelona's Neymar (six).

Rakitic's preferred shooting foot is his right, but in the 7-3 defeat to Real Madrid, he proved he could score with his left.

Diego Perotti had cut in from the left wing. He passed the ball to an unmarked Rakitic and unloaded a left-footed shot which swerved past Real keeper Diego Lopez.

Source: YouTube

Another strength in Rakitic's game is his ability to provide accurate crosses in set-piece situations and in open play. He has completed 41.6 percent of his crosses, which is substantially higher than the accepted completion percentage (25).

Source: Squawka

In the 4-0 win over Real Betis, he had a perfect cross completion percentage, and both his assists came from dead-ball situations (a corner and a free-kick).

On the subject of dead-ball situations, he brilliantly curled a free-kick past Rayo Vallecano keeper Ruben Martinez.

Source: YouTube

Rakitic once scored a free-kick for Schalke against then-Stuttgart keeper Jens Lehmann and has netted a 47-yard free-kick against Macedonia for Croatia. 

Rakitic has the potential to reach David Beckham's level in free-kick proficiency. 

Source: YouTube

 

Rakitic Concerns

Penalty takers must have a near-flawless record. Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier had a 98 percent success rate from 12 yards out, as per UEFA.com.

Rakitic has failed to convert penalties against Real Madrid, Rayo Vallecano, Germania Windeck and Turkey, so he is not your ideal man for penalties.

He's had several rush-of-blood-to-the-head moments.

Last season, it took him six minutes to accumulate two yellow cards in a 4-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid and one minute in a 2-1 win over Rayo Vallecano.

Source: YouTube

The latter was Fabio Da Silva-type stupidity.

Sevilla were winning the game, so Rakitic, who had been booked by referee Muniz Fernandez moments earlier, did not need to dive; the match was a minute plus stoppage-time away from ending. It presented the perfect opportunity for referee Fernandez to send Rakitic off and get a decision right (in recent years referee Fernandez has been gaffe-prone). 

Which team did Rakitic serve his suspension against? Real Madrid.  

Daft as a brush, like his two "how the heck did you do that" own goals.

The first was an ill-advised piece of "defending" against Racing Santander, and the second was a flicked header against Sociedad—why didn't he head the ball away from goals? 

Source: YouTube

Source: YouTube

 

Is Rakitic to Manchester United or Liverpool Realistic?

United and Liverpool both need to upgrade from Tom Cleverley and Lucas Leiva, respectively.

Yes, Rakitic has won back possession 77 times in 16 league games and can play in a deep-lying position. But since he is so gifted as a passer, you want to sign him as a centre attacking midfielder.

Then there's the issue of his inflated €40 (£33) million release clause.

Hiroshi Kiyotake of Nurnberg would be significantly cheaper and can be as good as Rakitic.

If you are to believe Rakitic's word (Schalke management are shaking their heads), he wants to stay at Sevilla even though he has yet to extend his contract which ends next year, as per Tre Atkinson at Inside Spanish Football:

I feel connected to Sevilla and Spain. My family and I are happy here. 

There is no tension about signing a new contract as the club has been very good to me and it would be a great honor to sign for longer.

Right now my only passion is Sevilla. I don't care about any other club in any other country.

Since the beginning of the year I have taken on the responsibilities of being captain and my family gives me strength and courage.

I have a very good relationship with Emery. We talk every day and I feel the confidence of the coach and the club.

 

@allanjianga

Statistics via WhoScoredFFT Stats ZoneSquawka and Transfermarkt.

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