Can Rakitic seize the opportunity of Arthur's injury?
Background photo: 1997, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Barcelona's midfield hasn't been the same since Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta departed the Nou Camp. The club has struggled to replicate its typically fluid passing system in their absence. However, following some decent pieces of business in recent transfer windows, the Catalans now look set to reactivate that magic.
Arthur Melo was signed in the summer of 2017. The Brazilian reminds everyone of Xavi at his peak with the way he treats the ball. Frenkie de Jong joined six months ago, with the Dutchman already proving to be a perfect fit for the club. Both men give the fans the hope that the beautiful football will return to Catalonian shores in the near future.
Alongside Sergio Busquets, they've formed a decent triumvirate in the middle of the pitch, making it easy for Barca to dominate proceedings against Spain's best. Their chemistry is growing tremendously, forming an almost telepathic bond at times. But, unfortunately, that has come at the expense of another vital player - Ivan Rakitic.
Everyone knows Rakitic's relevance to Barca. The Croatian was a mainstay in the Blaugrana's midfield after he joined the club in 2014. He was amongst the most deployed players in the squad during his first four years with the club. Rakitic expected that to continue in 2019/20. Perhaps he was foolish to do so.
The season didn't begin on a good note for Rakitic. The initiation of De Jong into the first-team immediately forced him out of the starting lineup. After starting just one of the opening 18 games for Barca across all competitions, he grew frustrated with the situation and admitted he could leave the club.
It certainly felt the 31-year-old was nearing the end of his stint in Catalonia, though what has taken place over the last few weeks has certainly quietened those rumours somewhat.
Arthur Melo is nursing a groin issue that has kept him out of action for the past few weeks. Despite having both Arturo Vidal and Carles Alena available, Ernesto Valverde decided to give the nod to Rakitic who has now started three straight matches.
Arthur is expected to miss a couple more matches, giving the Croatian an opportunity to get more game time and convince Valverde that he remains an indisputable figure at Camp Nou. But, can he seize momentum and turn his situation around?
One thing that is significantly noticeable is that the 31-year-old is playing with more confidence and decisiveness at the moment. He put up a decent performance and recorded an assist in the 5-2 humbling of Mallorca by the weekend. He was applauded by the Camp Nou faithful when he made way for Carles Alena in the 72nd minute. The fans are certainly on his side.
Valverde strongly praised Rakitic's performance after the game. The manager mentioned that when he wasn't playing, he kept working hard in training to seize his opportunity, hinting that the Croatian is determined to remain an integral figure at Barca.
On his day, Rakitic remains one of the finest midfielders in Europe. Having stayed at the top of the game for many years, we can trust him to regain his groove and emerge victorious. Although that may not mean that he'll start every game considering the level of competition in Barca's midfield at present, he will surely get his fair share of minutes in both La Liga and the Champions League.
We're approaching the stage in the season where games are coming thick and fast. This is now a squad game more than it ever was. Having an experienced, professional player like Rakitic available is every manager's dream.