Why Ivan Rakitic Is on His Way to Superstar Status at Barcelona

Jason Pettigrove@@jaypetti1971Contributor IApril 4, 2015

Ivan Rakitic's finish against Manchester City was exquisite.
Ivan Rakitic's finish against Manchester City was exquisite.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

When Ivan Rakitic signed for Barcelona last summer, he did so with a heavy heart.

On the one hand, he probably had a fair idea that by signing for the Catalans (for a bargain €15 million) his career would continue on an upward trajectory.

On the other, his tears at having to leave Sevilla were genuine and sincere.

There was no fanfare on the day of his signing, only a well-rehearsed press conference in which the Croatian outlined his desire to play regularly and the benefit that he felt that he could bring to any role he was assigned by Luis Enrique. Standard fare.

There was no fanfare when Ivan Rakitic signed for the Blaugrana.
There was no fanfare when Ivan Rakitic signed for the Blaugrana.David Ramos/Getty Images

But as we've seen already this season, Rakitic's enviable skill set is anything but standard.

TalkSPORT's Lee Roden was one of many to eulogize about the player:

By bringing in a player recently voted Man of the Match in the Europa League final—and one generally held in high esteem across Europe—Barcelona can boast of snapping up someone with genuine star quality for the first time in a number of years.

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Rakitic's is a hybrid role that he executes with aplomb. He offers a versatility in midfield that Barca have been sorely lacking for some time.

Whether he has been required as a deep-lying playmaker sat just in front of the central defenders or stationed just behind the main striker, essentially to help with the scoring load, Rakitic hasn't disappointed.

Take his goal against Manchester City in the Champions League by way of example.

Defending on the edge of his own area, he raced almost the full length of the pitch to receive a sublime Lionel Messi pass before expertly lifting it over the onrushing Joe Hart to take the tie away from the Premier League club.

It was a delicious finish and what we have come to expect from a player who is one of the best midfielders in La Liga.

It's worth dwelling on the issue of pace in the Barca midfield too. Rakitic brings it in spades. Xavi Hernandez never really had it, and Cesc Fabregas' slower build-up play isn't suited to the style that we have seen Luis Enrique bring to the table.

Hence why Barca were perhaps keen to cash in on Fabregas while Chelsea had serious money at the ready.

The transitions to the front three are much sharper now, with the ball won back and recycled as quickly as practicable. Rakitic is expert at delivering the same and in this particular way of working.

The Croatian's mix of power and pace has been missing from Barca's midfield.
The Croatian's mix of power and pace has been missing from Barca's midfield.Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Where he also offers value is in his "engine." Not a player that you would necessarily label as a box-to-box-type player, Rakitic has the energy to get up and down the pitch throughout 90 minutes if needed.

He isn't frightened to put his foot in, and as Levante found out to their cost earlier in the season, give him the opportunity to shoot from distance and he will be decisive.

Strangely enough, per WhoScored.com, Enrique has only seen fit to utilise him for the full 90 minutes on four occasions in this calendar year and on just 13 occasions since the beginning of the campaign.

Pete Jenson of the Daily Mail noted as far back as the first El Clasico of the season in October:

Many had tipped the coach to resist the temptation of giving Luis Suarez his debut after so long out, move Iniesta forward to the front three and bring in Xavi alongside Rakitic.

Instead Luis Enrique dropped Rakitic despite the fact that he had been playing well and lined Xavi up alongside Andres Iniesta. ‘They are great players but they are not getting any younger,’ Paul Clement told me after the game.

Barca started well but lost control of midfielder and ultimately the match. Without Rakitic they were completely out-run in the middle of the park. When he is at his best, he is their engine.

He didn’t start against Malaga and Barca lost 1-0. He then played and scored against Granada.

He is becoming a leader on the pitch and has bought into the ideas of sacrifice and generosity at Barcelona having been very much the talisman of the team at Sevilla.

Moving forward, quite clearly that particular statistic needs to be remedied for this most complete of midfielders.

Indeed, when compared to his team-mates, Squawka notes that only Gerard Pique, Neymar and Messi can boast a better performance score in all respects across the entirety of this season.

It's hard to pinpoint a weakness to Rakitic's all-round game at this point, and this fan favourite is only going to improve further alongside the calibre of team-mate with whom he enjoys playing presently.

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