Analysing How Ivan Rakitic Will Boost Barcelona and Lionel Messi This Season

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistAugust 25, 2014

Lionel Messi and Ivan Rakitic plotting.
Lionel Messi and Ivan Rakitic plotting.Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Ivan Rakitic was brought to Barcelona to bolster a flagging core, and early evidence suggests he's going to go above and beyond that.

The Croatia star was the key piece of Sevilla's midfield as they won the Europa League last season, and it earned him a switch to the Nou Camp.

Rakitic is the replacement for Xavi in the side, with manager Luis Enrique set to use the veteran Spanish midfielder sparingly as the season progresses. He plays ahead of anchorman Sergio Busquets and alongside Andres Iniesta, moving out to the right flank while the Spaniard covers the left.

The width in Barcelona's system comes from the full-backs, so Iniesta and Rakitic are happy to move out to the sides to help protect the team when Dani Alves and Jordi Alba go up, offering an option to receive the ball.

Xavi would not be able to do the legwork that Rakitic offers in that midfield role.

Rakitic offers a lot of energy in the middle.
Rakitic offers a lot of energy in the middle.Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

And while nobody can quite match the precision and the accuracy the ageing ballplayer offers, along with the superlative passing range, Rakitic is a good distributor.

With Barcelona leading 1-0 and down to 10 men against Elche on Sunday night, Rakitic looked up and spotted the run of youngster Munir El-Haddadi. Although his clipped through ball took a slight deflection on its way toward the striker, it was Rakitic's vision that created the opportunity.

However, Rakitic doesn't want to be viewed solely as someone who is filling Xavi's shoes.

Rakitic doesn't want to be the "new Xavi."
Rakitic doesn't want to be the "new Xavi."David Ramos/Getty Images

He told Sportske Novosti (h/t Vaishali Bhardwaj of "It's nice that people are saying that I am the successor of Xavi but I'm Rakitic. Replacements for such a great player like Xavi don't exist."

As well as similarities, there are many differences in their play, too.

For one, Rakitic is comfortable shooting from long distance, a tactic that Barcelona are guilty of underutilising in recent years.

Having a bundle of energy like Rakitic in midfield is also liberating for players like Lionel Messi. There is less onus on the Argentinian to do tasks he doesn't like so much, although it should be noted that he was spotted tracking back and even making tackles on a couple of occasions during the 3-0 win over Elche.

But Rakitic's presence helps free up Messi to do what he does best, and the mesmeric Argentinian notched twice on Sunday night.

Messi scored twice against Elche.
Messi scored twice against Elche.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Rakitic hailed the Barcelona legend after the game. He said in his post-match interview, via Tom Conn of Inside Spanish Football:

Needless to repeat, that he's the best player in the world, the best of all-time. I enjoy training with him, he makes everything easier. The attack? We’re talking about the best players in the world at all those positions, everyone’s enjoying themselves. When you have the desire and work hard like we do, everything comes easier.

There are plenty more facets to Barcelona's game under Enrique to be revealed, but it's pretty clear that Rakitic will be central to his plans.

That might not have been the initial idea when he was signed, but if he keeps playing at the top of his games, he will leave the manager no choice but to use him.