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El Clásico 2017: The Difference for Barcelona Might be Ivan Rakitic

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The genius of Messi is a constant, so the X factor is the midfield.

Real Madrid CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

It’s hard to talk about El Clasico and not just say: “Lionel Messi, Lionel Messi, Lionel Messi, Lionel, Messi, and Lionel Andrés Messi.” But let’s put that aside for a second, as well as Marc-Andre Ter Stegen’s world class performance in front of goal, in Barcelona’s 3-2 win over Real Madrid.

The surprising, and most encouraging, news might be Ivan Rakitic’s performance. He scored a worldclass goal, set up another, created chances, and in general played a very good game, and that could be a deciding factor if Barcelona are to complete a domestic double. Rakitic has had an up-and-down season, but if he keeps his level up, it could be a huge help.

The truth is Luis Enrique didn’t want it to be this way. He signed three midfielders over the past two years: Arda Turan, Denis Suarez, and Andre Gomes... plus brought Rafinha back from a loan in his first season. Lucho probably intended Rakitic to be just another piece of the rotation, rather than such a key part of the starting XI.

But whether it’s inconsistency or in Rafinha’s case, injury, the others have not nailed down as important a role. It’s up to Rakitic to hold down the midfield alongside Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. Rakitic will never be the main star of the team, but he can be quite an effective cog, an all-arounder who can score, pass, and defend.

Next season, whoever is in charge will have to figure out the midfield rotation alongside, hopefully, a new signing in the mix. But for now, it might be Rakitic or bust.