It’s fair to say Pepe has been one of the best defenders in Spain this season—his performance against Borussia Dortmund in midweek only enhanced that opinion—so the fact Ivan Rakitic made him look like a school boy at the Sanchez Pizjuan when Sevilla beat Real Madrid recently is doubly impressive.
With one flick of his heel, Rakitic lusciously lifted the ball over the Portuguese defender’s head and raced away from him into Madrid’s half.
Carlos Bacca sprinted through alongside him and, as delicately as ever, the Croatian provided the perfect pass for the Colombian to score and send the home supporters into raptures.
Rakitic has been sensational all season long and that assist elevated him into a group of four players in La Liga who have provided double figures in terms of both goals and assists—Lionel Messi, Gareth Bale and Carlos Vela are the other three—and exemplified his importance to his club.
Sevilla may have lost Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo last summer but they managed to hold on to Rakitic then; they may not be able to do the same when the current campaign finishes.
The 26-year-old has already been linked with moves abroad, and now Spanish radio station COPE, per football-espana.net, are suggesting Madrid are keen to swipe away the man who helped put a huge dent in their title aspirations.
However the i’s have not been dotted and the t’s have still not been crossed.
COPE’s story said that it is the emergence of Madrid’s interest in the talented midfielder that has forced him to stall on committing to that new contract—they also credit Atletico Madrid with an interest in Rakitic, although the player prefers the Bernabeu.
But could he fit into Los Blancos’ side? Where would he play?
“His position changes depending on the needs of the team,” Sid Lowe wrote about Rakitic in his Guardian column after his role in the win over Madrid. “With Unai Emery tacitly admitting that is because, put bluntly, he is better than anyone else.”
WhoScored statistics back that point up, placing him as an attacking midfielder on 20 occasions, a central midfielder 10 times and even as a defensive midfielder for five of his appearances.
Madrid have boasted a fairly settled midfield of late—Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric and Angel di Maria—although rumours persist over Di Maria’s future, with Monaco once again said to be trying to tie a deal up this week, per Marca (in Spanish).
That would leave Madrid a man light in the middle of the park and with Casemiro and Asier Illarramendi both more suitable replacements for deeper players, it would leave Isco as the sole creative option to sit alongside Modric and Alonso.
Rakitic’s arrival would therefore, possibly, provide a blow to Isco’s development into a midfielder like Clarence Seedorf, as Carlo Ancelotti himself said, per Goal.com.
On paper, Rakitic’s stats would provide justification.
But his arrival would not be a guaranteed success. There is an ocean of players who get lost in the game once they leave a fish bowl behind for a club with the stature of a Real Madrid, and there is a genuine chance that could happen with Rakitic.
His performances, although always gradually improving since joining from Schalke 04 in 2011, have blossomed since he became, if you like, “the main man” at Sevilla when Navas and Negredo departed.
On top of that, his form in Europe hasn’t been particularly impressive in comparison to his league standards. In 10 appearances in Sevilla’s run to the quarterfinals, he has managed just two assists and no goals and was disappointing in the 1-0 defeat against Porto on Thursday night.
Fortunately for Madrid, by today’s standards, his price tag is unlikely to be extortionate, but it’s tough to imagine him being a huge improvement on Di Maria or Isco.