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Analysis

The silent resurgence of Iván Rakitić

Adithya Eshwarla

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Header Image by Imago

After a secondary role at the start of the season, and after being close to an exit in each of the past transfer windows, Barcelona midfielder Iván Rakitić has experienced a commendable resurgence after the coronavirus break.


Iván Rakitić. A name that often fires up even the most saintly supporters of Barcelona. In all likelihood one of the most hated players of the squad in recent times, there are innumerable agendas against him. The hatred has spread as fast as a pandemic, and really for no fault of his. The dissatisfaction was justifiable to an extent, attributed to the fall in agility as he aged. To add to that, his inability to thread forward passes at crucial moments was something rather disappointing. But putting all these hindrances to one side, he has stepped up when the team needed him the most, proving exactly why he is valued so highly by coaches and teammates alike.

With Frenkie de Jong seemingly out for a few weeks, Barça find themselves in a rather uncomfortable situation. Playing a game every three days is no mean feat; every player is a bag of gold at this stage. The Croat is undoubtedly massively underrated at this stage of his career and, of course, heavily criticised. It is important, however, to give absolute credit where it is deserved.

Iván Rakitić Barcelona resurgence

After a tough start to the season, Iván Rakitić has had a resurgence lately and is earning a spot in Barcelona’s starting XI again | Photo by Carlos Sánchez Martínez / Icon Sportswire via Imago

On what seemed another desolate and despicable night of football against Athletic Club on Tuesday at the Camp Nou, he gave the city of Barcelona another reason to celebrate on St Johns eve. Needless to mention, his sumptuous strike just six minutes after coming on was more than just a perfect birthday present for Barcelona’s prodigal son, Lionel Messi.

Rakitić said after the game: “Well, it was an important goal. It was a tough game – it was hard for us to open the game up. Athletic played really well, we have to admit that, but at the end of the day our moment came and I am absolutely delighted to get my first goal of the season at last”.

“I want to dedicate the goal to my wife and daughters, who have had to endure me for the last few months. I am angry that my first goal in La Liga this season came so late”

Iván Rakitić

To be fair, his contribution goes far beyond just the winning goal against Athletic Club. Over the last two or three matches, there has been an evident shift in manager Quique Setién’s tactics. This has seen Barcelona press much higher up the pitch than they used to before, pressurising the opposition at the level of their centre-backs itself. This is much more conspicuous in the first 30-odd minutes of the game.

A major chunk of responsibility for this high energy press to win the ball back has fallen on the shoulders of this man. Right from the encounter with Leganés, Rakitić has played an active role in not just ball retrieval, but in connecting the defensive lines to the attacking third. His pace can be questioned, but his efficiency and dedication cannot be doubted. The verticality in his passing range has been on the rise.

Most importantly, though, Iván is showing how important it is to flow with the system at Barcelona. Having been at the club for a reasonably long time, he certainly has the trust of all players. He effortlessly combines with all the homegrown players, including Messi, often in scintillating one-twos. His energy has been crucial in maintaining possession of the ball, which is all the more important when the team lacks creativity in the heart of the midfield and width at the spearhead of the attack.

Quique Setién once again reiterated the Croat’s importance in the team in his post-match press conference after Tuesday’s win: “He came in in the second half for the Busi [Sergio Busquets] card. He has done it frankly well. He understands football very well. He has placed himself well, has stolen balls and has joined a definitive action. I am very happy for him”.

If there was ever a right time to step up, this would be it. With such a congested fixture list up ahead, it is vital that all the players stay at the top of their game. Undoubtedly, this resurgence from a rejuvenated Iván Rakitic can be nothing but a blessing for the club.


See more

Editors’ Takes: Debating on the Barcelona 1–0 Athletic Club

• Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig must play if Barça wants to stay alive

• Tactical analysis: Barcelona 1–0 Athletic Club

• Goal analysis: Barcelona 1–0 Athletic Club

I’ve watched football for years, but never again felt that special tug that I experienced when I watched Barcelona play for the first time. What started off as just a little inquisitiveness on Quora, ultimately developed into a magnificent passion for writing articles. The best part: You never stop learning in football; and it never ceases to amaze you.

Analysis

Ronald Koeman starts to find the pieces to Barça’s jigsaw

Dario Poggi

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Header Image by David Ramos via Getty Images

While the whole Europe has started or is approaching to start their respective national campaigns, Ronald Koeman is trying to find the right system to display his force as soon as the La Liga season starts for Barça in about a week. But with the Nàstic and Girona friendlies already on the Dutch manager’s stomach, has he already found the right men to do the job?


As Barcelona’s start of the season finally approach, after the team had more rest days due to the late Champions League ending, it is fair to underline how its newest manager, new coach Ronald Koeman is still trying to find the right notes to complete the symphony. A symphony that is yet to be completed and to be refined, but certainly one that has been quickly asserting the right tracks under its belly.

This year’s preseason has been an unknown for all professional sports out there, with many having to occur in faster, soarer training sessions than usual. While the fitness aspect of it all will probably be the main cause of differences this season, as fitness coaches had to reduce the workloads and increase speed sessions to keep the players fresh and ready, the managers’ job will be much harder in terms of creating the right harmony and cohesion in a short period of time. There is no enough time to practice the desired movements, tactical systems and other structural aspects of a team’s in-pitch organisation.

Barça, apart from an athletic routine that hasn’t much been under scrutiny in recent history due to the club’s different values, had a few more problems to cope with. Lionel Messi‘s transfer saga, the motion of no confidence against president Josep Maria Bartomeu, a new manager, a strange signings strategy – both in and out of the club –, and more. In all the chaos that Barcelona is right now, Koeman’s job has been much harder than what it could have been under normal circumstances. Still, the Dutchman is slowly finding his rhythm with the team.

Ronald Koeman Barça system

Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona is taking shape | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images

One of the biggest tactical unknowns of Koeman’s appointment was whether he was going to keep Barça’s vintage 4–3–3 system, or if he was going to change it in a 4–2–3–1, due to his own preferences and the team’s characteristics. After very much debating between fans and pundits, the first two friendlies of Barça’s short preseason gave the environment the answer it was looking for: 4–2–3–1.

While the tactical system is different from the culés‘ traditional one, Koeman’s mentality and footballing ideas are far from being the opposite of Barça’s. Offensive, intense and vertical football are a must for Barcelona’s expectations as much as Koeman’s interpretations. There is a perfect binomial conduction between the club and its new employee.

Football in preseason is as much a test for all the players in a team’s roaster as a training to keep the legs rolling and the lungs filling the air. So were the recent friendlies against Nàstic de Tarragona and Girona. As expected, Koeman literally played eleven different players per half in both games, with a few changes in the last one. And as the coach was varying things and changing the pieces of the puzzle, you could already see the ideas, the movements, the principles that he wanted to give to the team.

As many distressed fans have already noticed, the defence that suffered eight goals against Bayern Munich has not changed a bit. While it may seem discouraging for some, having such individual qualities at the back paired with some solid and correct defensive training may end up being the best signing Barça could do to improve its backline.

With Marc-André ter Stegen on its way back to recovery after surgery, Neto will be the only difference in Barcelona’s defence this season, with lack of competition from the bench arising. At least, as long as Manchester City keeps its firm stand on the Eric García situation and Sergiño Dest doesn’t move to the Camp Nou.

With a proven-to-be two-man midfield in Barça’s new squad, a Koeman favourite will certainly find his place game in, game out: Frenkie de Jong. As the same manager told upon his arrival, it is a shame to watch players like De Jong – and Antoine Griezmann – in unusual positions, as they will not perform at the levels they are expected to.

“The plan is to start playing Frenkie de Jong in the position that he plays with the national team as well. I remember attending a Barcelona game and I saw him play a position where I wouldn’t play him as a coach. You’ve spent a lot of money on a young player. You should then play him in his own position, where he can perform in a way you’d expect from him. He has shown at Ajax and with the Dutch national team which position suits him best and that is where he will be playing at Barcelona as well”

Ronald Koeman

With De Jong‘s place not being threatened by anyone else except himself, it is expected from Riqui Puig and Carles Aleñá to provide that support quality and solutions from the bench or, in some cases, to perform in an eventual three-man midfield, with Puig being hierarchically higher than the former Real Betis loanee.

Next to De Jong is a position that is going to be fought for the whole length of the season: Sergio Busquets’ intelligence or Miralem Pjanić‘s quality? With an ageing Busquets, it will be the first time in twelve years that his place will be under severe scrutiny by the club, as years go by and fresher legs come in place. But while the Bosnian’s quality will be very much needed throughout the entire season, Busquets’ tactical awareness is going to be a solid piece of refinery yet again.

Slowly approaching Barça’s biggest guns, it is no secret that the Catalan’s team offensive overbooking is going to keep several doors open throughout the whole season. Having the freedom of two players per position is a manager’s dream, but while it may be a benefit, it is also a challenge to keep the team balanced and the moods paced.

With the signings of two youngsters such as Francisco Trincão and Pedri, both incredibly bright against Nàstic and Girona, Barcelona’s wide game takes a big jump in terms of volume, youth and creativity. But with Luis Suárez’s mysterious future under supervision, the seniority of Barça’s main man upfront will take its advantage overall. At least initially.

“I liked Trincão positionally, sometimes coming inside and sometimes going outside. He has the quality and has to adapt to the speed and rhythm. He’s a great signing”

Ronald Koeman, on Francisco Trincão after the 3–1 win over Nàstic last Saturday

Apart from Ansu Fati, who is already considered a senior throughout the whole footballing world, Messi and Antoine Griezmann seem to be Koeman’s main men for the central roles up top: as much as they will both exchange their positions, the Argentinian is destined to take the playmaking role, while the French World Cup winner will move around him and try to create spaces and finish chances for the team.

Besides Barça’s business, Philippe Coutinho is another player to have returned to the blaugrana headquarters. Full of determination, he will look to prove himself once and for all where he wanted to be ever since his Liverpool days. With similar motives to the Brazilian’s, but with different sources, Ousmane Dembélé is approaching the start of a defining season for him: either he proves to be world-class or he goes home. And with the explosion of Ansu Fati and the incredible talent he brings to the field, those three may feature in most of Barça’s games in this start of the season. Ansu Fati’s injury permitting, of course. However, Trincão and Pedri’s talents may change many’s minds, Koeman’s included.

“He [Pedri] is a great talent. He’s 17 and such an important signing for our future. He has trained with us and has the quality to play, so we’ll see how much he can take part”

RONALD KOEMAN, AFTER beating NÀSTIC LAST SATURDAY

Ronald Koeman is slowly finding the pieces to solve this incredibly difficult puzzle that Barça appears to be. It is going to take more than just a few friendlies and a few good performances to overturn the season’s predictions around Barcelona’s offices. That is why players are tools for a team to perform. You can have better or worse ones. But the mentality and the identity of a team’s way of playing are principles much more important for a club’s success in the pitch.

It is no surprise that, perhaps, the most positive aspect of the new Barça’s performances over the course of the first two friendlies has not been a single player, a chance created or a defensive movement. Instead, it has been the intensity of the team’s ball movement mixed with those two, maximum three, touches per player.

The path to Barcelona’s native brilliance is long and hard, but having the right mindset to attack this jigsaw is the best strategy that the Dutch manager could employ. One idea, 4–2–3–1, eleven optimal choices and the highest intensity possible. Step by step, game after game, Koeman’s Barça will surface. With patience. And, as in microeconomics when supply meets demand, in football, when principles meet practicality, the puzzle is solved.

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