Transfer windows, I generally find, are pretty tiresome affairs. Their infuriating combination of semi-informed conjecture and outlandish rumour is enough to get under the skin of even the most placid of observers, a situation that isn’t helped by Sky Sports News cranking up the hype up to levels one might have associated with the Second Coming. There has, however, been one transfer in particular that has caught the eye this January, that being Ivan Rakitic’s move from Schalke 04 to Sevilla.
Sevilla’s struggles this season have been well publicised, the Andalusian side’s shambolic defence and disjointed attack having seen them fall from grace under the stewardship of Gregorio Manzano. Currently eighth in La Liga with the third worst defensive record in the division, the team from the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán are categorically failing to live up to the high standards which they are continually expected to live up to.
One of the major afflictions from which Manzano has suffered this season has been a lack of creativity in the centre of midfield, his most regular central duo of Didier Zokora and Romaric being defensively natured and hardly predisposed to creativity. Missing Jesús Navas through injury until relatively recently as well as lacking an able playmaker, Sevilla have struggled to provide Alvaro Negredo and Luis Fabiano with the service needed to consistently worry opposition defences. Rakitic, however, could change all that.
A technically gifted attacking midfielder, the 22 year-old Croatian is adept at bursting into the penalty area from deep and has also proved himself a more than useful set-piece taker. Dynamic and offensively-minded, Rakitic has in abundance many of the qualities that are not possessed by Zokora and Romaric, as good as the pair may be in the defensive phase. Indeed, with Manzano’s midfield having looked very wooden of late, Rakitic might just be the crucial missing link between the ball-winners and the forwards.
The most simple solution for Los Rojiblancos would be to drop one of Zokora and Romaric (or perhaps even both with the arrival of Chilean anchor Gary Medel), pairing one of them with Rakitic and retaining the 4-4-2 formation that Manzano has used in all of his team’s last seven games. However, a change to 4-2-3-1 could well be an option now that the famously cautious coach has added the young Croatian’s creative prowess to his squad.
With Fabiano struggling for his best form and rumoured to be on his way out of the club, we may see Sevilla deploy Negredo as a lone striker with Navas, Rakitic and Diego Perotti in a bank of three behind him. This would also allow Manzano to continue to use a pair of holding midfield players, any two of Zokora, Romaric, Medel and Renato providing the defence with the extra protection that it has appeared to so desperately need at times this season.
A third possibility is a shift to 4-1-3-2, the system that Manzano experimented with in November with mixed results. Such a formation only allows for the one holding player, but would facilitate the use of a second striker alongside Negredo; Fabiano or Kanouté perhaps being rotated depending on the opposition. Sevilla’s problem, however, hasn’t been scoring goals, it’s been letting them in, and so reducing the amount of defensive cover available to his team is unlikely to be on Mazano’s “to do” list.
Whichever system Sevilla ultimately adopt, Rakitic represents a risk-free signing and an astute bit of business. With his contract at Schalke due to expire at the end of the season, the Andalusian club was able to secure his services on a three-year deal for the relatively paltry sum of €1.5m. We should be careful not to heap massive expectations on the shoulders of the Croatian, but the balance he should bring to Sevilla’s midfield might just be a determining factor in reviving their disappointing season.