Messi,Suarez and Neymar’s 122 have goals proved instrumental to Barcelona’s second treble success in the past 6 years. While their plaudits are deserved, and rewarded in accordance, the true triad that proved pivotal to Barca’s success, lay right behind them.
It isn’t a small coincidence, that Rakitic’s opener, was the first Barca goal, from open play, since February 28th, to have not been scored by any one of the attacking three. It’s not what Barca’s midfield are known for, and it’s not what makes them stand out. The fact that they aren’t flashy, makes their accomplishments all the more remarkable.
The midfield triad of Rakitic, Busquets and Iniesta, in many ways, the perfect midfield masterclass. Busquets, once regarded by Xavi as the smartest player he’s ever played with architects play from deep, and always functions four steps ahead of his opponents. Iniesta is the creator, who transfer the ball from midfield to attack, with near metronomical precision. It is Rakitic however, the non La Masia member of this midfield, that has proved most vital, as his all round functioning as a midfield powerhouse, serves as the life blood in which selflessly serves the entire team.
Given the whimper with which Barcelona’s, last campaign ended, there were questions raised about the longevity of Guardiola’s methods. Despite two managers succeeding Pep, the play style at Barcelona, remained largely un-altered. The personnel followed suit. Success, though inevitably attained, came at the cost of a morbid realisation- tika taka had reached it’s logical conclusion.
In order to alter this, Enrique was given the near impossible task of reorganising Barcelona’s midfield. A stern task for any accomplished manager, but an even bigger mountain to climb, for a manager in his first year with the club. Though the task seemed precarious to even approach, Enrique has changed and formulated a new system, that is more in-line with the modern style of the game. Brought out of their possession-based rigidity, Barcelona’s new-look midfield has pioneered one of the most dominant and attractive footballing campaigns of recent past.
The first casualty of this re-construction, was the beating heart of Barca’s midfield- Xavi. With age getting the better of him, Enrique began to sideline Xavi in a manner that reflected the needs of the present, without compromising the memory of the past. Using Xavi as an experienced and often inspirational presence in training, with a handful of playing starts, was the most optimum use of a player than has come so engrained in the club’s tradition.
With Xavi ageing, the inevitable question arose as to who would take on the mantle of orchestrating Barca’s midfield.
Unlike other managers around him, Enrique found the solution lying right in front of him- There was no way to replace Xavi.
Instead, re structured the Barcelona’s approach to have a multi dimensional three-man axis, that would alternate duties to ensure the weight was not bared singularly.
Moreover, the promotion of Sergio Busquets to the heart of the Blaugarauna’s midfield was nothing other than perfect. Like Xavi, he was trained in the traditions of the club. Like Xavi, his style included well timed passes, but unlike Xavi, he represented the mould of the modern La Masia graduate. A pillar of a central defensive midfielder, without whom Barcelona’s foundations would be incomplete.
Lying ahead of Busquets lay Xavi’s partner-in-crime, Iniesta. Often questioned over his contributions in Barca’s trophy-less campaign last term, Iniesta quietly, and effectively brought back his best when it mattered. His man-of-the-match performance in Berlin served only to attest the quality and experience that Iniesta contributes with a alarming accuracy. From fast paced dribbles and successful take-ons, Iniesta’s style under Enrique has noticeably matured. With an added sense of responsibility, Iniesta now identifies himself as an integral unit of a cohesive midfield, rather than a supply line of passes to forward players. Embodying the pass-and-move tactics to near perfection, Iniesta charged forward and took on Juventus’ back four, and employed a box splitting pass for Rakitic, setting the tone (inevitably) for Barca’s gameplay, and eventual victory. Though number and statistics may not always represent Iniesta as the most affective footballer, he embodies the team spirit of his club, that has reaped a bountiful harvest time and time again.
In an interview with Sky Sports, Iniesta’s former teammate Thierry Henry had remarked,
I saw him up close playing with him, but he also changed the game when he came on and played us in 2006, he destroyed us and won that final for them (Barcelona).
‘He has been doing that for a long time and you saw in the second half he was one of the few players at that moment where Barcelona were struggling that wanted that ball.
He was trying to drive the team forward and obviously he is amazing and to win the Champions League four times is just a joke actually. However you want to look at it, it’s just a joke.
The recipient of Iniesta’s fourth minute pass, Ivan Rakitic has proved himself to be the most influential. Despite the Europa League winning campaign with Sevilla, with him as captain, Rakitic was not the bookmakers favourite to make a mark in Barcelona’s midfield. Many raised apprehensions as to wether he would fit Barca’s style. The very fact that he was not cut from the same cloth, made the Croatian a integral part of the new system.
Rakitic brought a new element of power and industry to a midfield often characterised by rigid possessional play. Embodying the characteristics of the neo classical midfield powerhouse, Rakitic is more than a conventional box to box player. According to Whoscored.com, Rakitic, he averages a pass accuracy of 90% across all competitions, and makes at least 2 key passes every game. Against Barcelona’s more dogged opposition, Rakitic was often the player to step up into the attacking third and contribute, whenever the front three could not. Rakitic was the man who got the first goal of the game; he was the “abrelatas,” or can-opener, and it’s not the first time this season. He has opened the scoring for Barcelona on five occasions this season; he’s a man they can depend on when the attackers have been locked down.
Rakitic contributes tirelessly, and his opener against Juventus was simply the zenith of his Barcelona career thus far. Being an established leader in his peak, Barcelona might yet look to him to take upon a leadership role, something that he should be well an ready on his way to achieving.
With Messi the headline act, and Neymar and Suarez the special guests, the trio of Rakitic Iniesta and Busquests have quietly served as the event managers for one of Barcelona’s most remarkable, impressive and respectable seasons of recent past. If they are to stay together for years to come, we might yet be witness to another spell of Blaugarauna dominance.