Even though he was hailed as one of Barcelona’s best transfers in history by their own legend, Xavi Hernández, Ivan Rakitic has definitely seen better days at the Catalan capital. From a hero of the fans, he quickly went to being their scapegoat, a martyr for every bad day, every bad pass or a bad result. And as his time with Barcelona was seemingly coming to an end, his qualities are being seriously questioned by many.
For that reason, this tactical analysis scout report will aim to uncover Rakitić’s best traits and tactics with the usage of analysis and will bring you the Croatian’s full player profile along with his most important statistics.
Ivan Rakitic is a 31-year-old Croatian midfielder who arrived at Barcelona in 2014 from Seville. Since then, he has been an indispensable piece of the Catalan puzzle and an important contributor to their overall success. His key traits compose of extraordinary passing abilities, relentless stamina and work-rate, exceptional defensive contributions, awareness and versatility.
Rakitić is a true box-to-box type of midfielder who provides the team with a lot going both ways. His long-range efforts and set-piece speciality also make him a big threat to the opposition outside the box. He is also calm, cool and collected and usually a player for big games.
He has been, however, guilty of often being too safe and pragmatical, contributing more to the team’s build-up rather than aiding their creativity and dynamism. But when all is said and done, Rakitić is a top-class midfielder on his day. This scout report will now use analysis to dissect his best traits in more detail.
When it comes to Ivan Rakitić as a midfielder, we can say that he is not really a player of exceptional technical gift or one that simply awes you with his talent. Rather, he is the one to put in the work and get the job done. At times, that means he’ll do the simple things exceptionally well and often, those things get overlooked in fast-paced modern football games.
What Rakitić is best at, however, is definitely his passing game. Last season, the Croatian was seventh in the top five European leagues in total passes distributed and stood tall at 2480 while Chelsea’s Jorginho ranked first with 2947 (domestic competitions only). That means Rakitić sent out 80.55 passes per 90 minutes and did with incredible 92% passing accuracy.
And just so we can dismiss the backpassing myth right from the start, here are the passing styles of all Barcelona midfielders, including the newcomer Frenkie de Jong. The passes are differentiated according to the direction so we have forward, backward and lateral passes.
As we can see from the graph, Rakitić is the second-best midfielder when it comes to sending passes forward with 35% and just behind De Jong who’s on 39%. He is also the second-lowest back passer in the team with 15%, tied with De Jong and just behind Sergio Busquets who’s on 13%.
But when we take a closer look at his passing abilities, we can see that Rakitić’s skill set is best utilised in fueling the build-up and stabilising the game when needed. In other words, regaining control and calming down the opposition’s aggressiveness. We can conclude that from his passing type graph that you can see below.
When compared to the other La Liga midfielders with over 1000 minutes, we can see that he is not among the most direct passers of the ball nor that he sends extremely long balls very often. Switching the play and swapping sides, sure, but usually, he’s the perfect midfielder for the quick and short passing tactics that Barcelona enjoy.
But this doesn’t mean he’s not deadly for the opposition when the opportunity arises. Rakitić has a keen eye for a dangerous through ball, especially when it goes over the defence and into the free pockets of space behind their backs.
Notice below how that transpires on the pitch. The Croatian will usually position himself just a bit deeper away from the box while the opposition is either in their low block or reorganising. This is done so he gets more time and space on the ball. As a general rule of thumb, he is a player who will need both of those to provide the best pass he can. We’ve already said that his technical side is not as sharp as with your usual Barcelona prototype midfielders.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t play one-touch football like the best of them. Above, he receives the ball just outside the area and immediately sends it flying over Liverpool’s defensive block and into the feet of Lionel Messi.
Whether this was a part of Barcelona’s tactics or improvisation on the pitch, it still took a lot of skill to pull of. But he can also send ground balls across the field as well and while under pressure. We can see an example below.
Rakitić sends a pinpoint through ball into the feet of his teammate from almost half the pitch away. And this is no coincidence either. Despite what the media and social media are trying to enforce, Rakitić sends 5.49 long passes per game with 64% accuracy and 1.57 through balls with 29.8% accuracy.
But one of his more dominant traits are definitely passes into the final third. He tallied 11.61 on average with 85% accuracy in 2018/19 across all competition. He ranks sixth in top five European leagues in total passes into the final third with 424, counting domestic competitions only. But how does he rank against his teammates in this regard? The graph below will tell us a better story.
As we can see, Rakitić has a better percentile rank than Arthur and Busquets in all the depicted passing categories and falls short only to Frenkie de Jong. This is taking the 2018/19 season into the consideration while the Dutchman’s stats are taken from the Eredivisie.
Seeing the numbers gives us a slightly better perspective at the whole debate about Barcelona’s midfielders and how useful Ivan Rakitić actually is. But despite his more than competent passing, that is not nearly the only thing the Croatian offers to Barcelona.
Even though Rakitić is predominantly used as a right midfielder (47% of the time) in a trident at Barcelona, he is more than capable of slotting into various other positions on the pitch, as well. Wyscout’s database has him on four different major positions, which can be seen below.
But that doesn’t nearly do him justice. Rakitić is literally a one-man army and is willing to sacrifice his own preferences to help the team. Whether it’s playing the pivot role, going out wide, playing the famous lavolpiana or even straight-up centre-back, he won’t really care that much.
But his versatility goes beyond just being able to play multiple positions. For Rakitić, that means that he can fulfil multiple roles regardless of his registered position by the teamsheet. Let’s see what that actually means in an on the pitch scenario.
Below, we can see Rakitić drop deeper to help his teammates avoid the opposition press and battle the numerical inferiority. Once he receives the ball, he is quickly collapsed upon by three markers but he slips away with a nice piece of skill, carries the ball and then sends an accurate and powerful pass to his forward.
And were it not for his tremendous lack of pace (Rakitić was clocked as the slowest Barcelona player on the team), he would actually make for a brilliant advanced playmaker, something he used to excel at while at Seville.
In 2018/19, he averaged 1.7 dribbles per game with 56.3% accuracy, which is a decent return and means he completed just under one successful dribble per game.
But even though we can clearly see him in a deeper role in the above examples, he is often present in the advanced ones as well. In the next example, we have Rakitić tracking back from the opposition’s final third to intercept a loose ball and regain possession with a quick and precise reaction.
Finally, here is his heatmap that will all but confirm his presence on the pitch. Rakitić has a prefered spot on the pitch but over the course of 90 minutes, he can be seen almost everywhere.
From the deeper positions, going all the way between the centre-backs to the opposition’s box, the Croatian sensation never stops, and his engine makes sure of that.
We also have to mention Rakitić’s shooting tendencies very shortly. In general, he is very well known for his long-range efforts and set-piece efficiency. Last season, he averaged 1.41 shots with 29.8% accuracy across all competitions.
But when we inspect these shots more closely, we can see that he takes a lot of long-range efforts and most of his strikes come outside the box. His precision, however, has somewhat dropped from 36.6% he had in 2017/18. But back then, he did shoot less often with 1.11 on average.
Finally, Rakitić overperformed both his xG and xA values in 2018/19. He scored three goals and assisted five while having 2.69 xG and 1.91 xA respectively.
The final aspect of this tactical analysis scout report on Ivan Rakitić will be the player’s defensive contributions to the team. This is a huge aspect of Ernesto Valverde’s tactics as the Basque coach prefers a defensively solid team above anything else.
And the Ant did manage to get the best out of Rakitić’s defensive skillset but while squeezing the very last ounce of energy from the Croatian and stretching him throughout the pitch in the process. But he did succeed in his attempt.
Now, Rakitić is among the most important pieces in Valverde’s defensive tactics because he is often that security behind Barcelona’s backs.
Above, we can see him sprinting back to stop Olympique Lyon from executing their fast break. Despite his limited pace, the Croatian gets there in time and successfully slides in for the tackle to regain possession.
The best part is, this is no coincidence either. Last season, he averaged 0.9 tackles, 4.78 interceptions and 0.65 clearances on average in all competitions, making him a clear contributor to the defensive side of Barcelona’s tactics. He also won 58.1% of all of his defensive duels.
Usually, he will position himself just behind the full-backs who overlap so he can offer that defensive cover in case a quick counter is instigated by the opposition. While Barcelona are in possession, Rakitić will often be the one to stay deeper for precisely those reasons.
Above, we can see examples of his defensive positioning and cover during opposition transitions.
This tactical analysis scout report has hopefully shed some light on Ivan Rakitić’s obvious qualities and the contribution he brings to Barcelona in general. The stats do show that he is clearly a well-rounded player who has his flaws in a sense that he is sometimes too safe and a bit technically limited, but still a top-class midfielder.
What exactly does the future hold for this Croatian superstar remains to be seen but regardless if he stays at Barcelona or moves away, he will still remain a high-quality footballer.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the August issue for just ₤4.99 here.