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Why Ivan Rakitic Is Absolutely Vital to Barcelona's Midfield Fluency

Jason Pettigrove@@jaypetti1971Contributor IJuly 5, 2015

Ivan Rakitic was one of Barcelona's best players in 2014/15.
Ivan Rakitic was one of Barcelona's best players in 2014/15.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Ivan Rakitic must go down as one of the best recent signings for Barcelona.

Some 50 appearances on from his transfer from Sevilla, it's abundantly clear what the Croatian brought to the Blaugrana party over the course of 2014/15.

It seems almost criminal that the Catalans were able to steal him from the Andalusians for just €15 million when you consider a team such as Bournemouth had to shell out over €11 million to bring in Tyrone Mings this summer, per BBC Sport. Work that one out.

Despite taking a little while to settle, as might have been expected, once Rakitic got to grips with exactly what Luis Enrique required of him, a starting berth in the side each week was virtually assured.

Rakitic has played a support role to Barca's front men superbly.
Rakitic has played a support role to Barca's front men superbly.Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Supporters were slowly won round to the idea of the Croatian starting in place of Xavi Hernandez, a situation that required sensitivity but also pragmatism. A reality check was in order, and it told us, quite clearly, that Old Father Time was catching up with Xavi and Barca needed to find a replacement.

Perhaps the thinking behind acquiring Rakitic in the first instance was precisely because he was not a Xavi clone and because he could afford Luis Enrique the opportunity to take the team in a different, but no less successful, direction.

There simply isn't anyone who can play Xavi's role better than the man himself, so why settle for second best and leave disappointed.

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.@ivanrakitic Stats in 2014/15 @FCBarcelona #fcblive #treble2015 #4 http://t.co/cuiYQX5shk

Rakitic's role at Sevilla required him to recycle possession quickly, transition from defence to attack more vertically and support the attack when required. 

It's a role that he has carried out at Barca with aplomb, and he is instrumental to Enrique's modus operandi.

The Croatian is still adept at playing a quick passing style if required, but his trump card is that ability and nous when moving through the gears.

Pete Jenson of the MailOnline noted back in October:

Barca started well [against Real Madrid] but lost control of midfield 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 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.

Against Manchester City in the Champions League, we saw just what Ivan Rakitic was all about. In among it with an industrial work ethic throughout, he sprang from a defensive position and ran the length of the pitch virtually unchallenged to supply the finishing touches to a wonderfully quick and incisive move.

In the Champions League final against Juventus, his being in exactly the right place at the right time again saw Barcelona take an early lead in Berlin.

One of his biggest successes has been learning how to play and adapt to the Lionel Messi-Dani Alves partnership down the right-hand side. Knowing where to be, when to be there and when to deliver that final ball.

It's this vision and purpose that has contributed handsomely to this new Barca.

It's in his versatility where Rakitic excels and where he is vital to the continued fluency of the Blaugrana midfield.

He offers something Barca hadn't really missed until last season because they'd never really had it in the first place. Their game was based around an entirely different premise.

Now, Rakitic's game is instrumental to meeting the needs of Luis Enrique's game plan, and to that end, his in-game intelligence is almost peerless.

Very rarely have we borne witness to a mistake from the Croatian who remains a player committed to the team ethic and will almost always sacrifice individual plaudits for the same.

Having him in the Barca side is a luxury, but he's far from a luxury player.

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