This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Barcelona have now played their first three games in the new 2019/20 La Liga season, and one major change from last season has been the omission of Ivan Rakitić, who has only tallied 45 minutes to his name so far.
And this actually might be the reason why the Catalans are struggling.
It’s safe to say that some new arrivals like Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong have somewhat altered the usual lineup we’re used to seeing from Ernesto Valverde. Just a simple comparison between the most used players last season and after the first three games in the 2019/20 La Liga campaign is proof enough.
Of course, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele are still out injured, which is why they’ve been absent, but some players, like Rakitić, for example, have simply been dropped for seemingly better and younger choices.
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The Croatian is already 31 and, despite him being a key figure last season, the time has come for the changing of the guard. But so far, that very change might be the source of their issues.
Rakitić has never been a flashy player. In 2017, he was clocked as the slowest Barcelona outfield player and for all his attributes, he never had the technical brilliance of the likes of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta or their creative capabilities. Of course, not many in the history of football have been on that level but when you’re at Barcelona it’s only natural that comparisons with those iconic midfielders are made.
With that being said, the Croat was always a true workhorse. He would provide a lot going forward and also defensively while running non-stop. So far this season, Barcelona have conceded five goals in three games and got four points out of a possible nine. This defensive issues might also be a direct consequence of benching Rakitić.
In all-competitions last season, the Catalan giants won 71% of their fixtures with Rakitic in the side, yet they only won 50% of the 12 games they played without him, per Soccerbase.
So far, the Croat has only played a total of 45 minutes this campaign. And even though it’s difficult to say whether his inclusion would’ve definitely fixed those issues, his record last season suggests that Barcelona benefit from his presence on the pitch.
He was often the one providing defensive cover for them and doing the unsung work while also banging in the goals when going forward.
Maybe now is the right time for the next generation to take over but this team could still be missing its key figure from last season, and maybe Valverde should consider making this transition just a little bit smoother than it currently is.