Clash of the Maestros

Spain vs Croatia has the chance to be the most exciting game at the Euros so far. The race to be crowned the best team in Europe has definitely had its moments, but has also had its fair share of dour games, with less than two goals being scored on average per game.

A game between these two teams, then, who are two of the only teams to have scored three goals or more in this tournament, may potentially be one of the most exciting and technical games of the tournament so far, thanks in no small part to two Blaugrana midfielders who are vital to their respective countries.

Andrés Iniesta and Ivan Rakitić have been first-choice midfielders for Luis Enrique’s Barca for two full seasons now. They provide the perfect foil for both each other and heir teammates, and are special in the sense that they are both very similar and extremely different at the same time. Their roles are tailored to suit Lucho’s Barca and they complement each other to perfection in most cases, so seeing them both today, on opposite sides, with their countries’ hopes on their shoulders, will be quite a spectacle.

Andrés Iniesta needs no introduction whatsoever. Arguably the greatest midfielder of this generation, he also just happens to be the go-to clutch player for both club and country. He now has nine man-of-the match awards in international tournaments, in addition to a man-of-the-match award in the Champions League final, the golden ball at the Euros and countless other accolades over his decorated career. The things about El Illusionista, however, is that he is much much more than stats and accolades. That is what sets him apart from the Ronaldos of the game; what he brings to the team and to the beautiful game is so much more than his goals and assists. He controls the tempo of the game, he keeps the ball at his feet and never gives it away, and when needed he can provide that defense-splitting pass or that killer goal as well. Watch for him tomorrow, and blink at your own risk, such is Don Andrés’ magic.

On the flip side of the coin is our favorite golden-haired Croat. Rakitić was signed in Lucho’s debut season as a replacement for club legend Xavi, which in itself was a gargantuan task. At Sevilla, he was the team’s main creative hub, through which every play went. He had a killer through ball and knew how to trouble defenders with his vast array of passing, also having a knack for scoring goals with late runs into the box.

Lucho required something different of him, however. He needed someone would would co-ordinate well with Messi and Alves on the right, so that the former could cause havoc and the latter did not have to worry too much about his defensive responsibilities, knowing that the Croat would be there to bail him out. It admittedly took Rakitić a while to adapt to the demands and style of his new club, but once he clicked there was no looking back. Not only was he working his socks off to track back, he began scoring goals and getting involved in the play, forming a formidable trio with his partners on the right-wing. Last season he was the coach’s most used player, which in itself says a lot to his importance in a team that consists of the best football players in the world. Lest we forget, he was also the one who laid the pass into Messi’s feet for THAT goal against Bayern, the one I watch almost everyday.

Their roles for their respective national teams are a lot more important and they’ve managed to pull them off with some aplomb, with Iniesta adding to his MOTM trophy set and Rakitić scoring a chip-goal that Lionel Messi would have been proud of.

Yes, there are other star players on both teams and yes, this isn’t a straight up battle between these two midfielders. It’s worth noting, though, that with the midfield prowess each team possesses, the result will probably come down to which midfield asserts its dominance, and these maestros will be at the heart of it. In Berlin, two years ago, Iniesta set up Rakitić for the opener in the Champions League final. Today, they will stand on opposing ends, each trying to dictate the game and bend the result to his will. It’s the battle of the midfield maestros, and I can’t wait to see who comes out on top.

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  • Serkan Savas

    come on now… even as a hardcore barca fan if you make a title “clash of the maestros” and you’re talking Croatia vs Spain, and you pit Iniesta vs Rakitic, than i have to wonder … Seriously. if there’s such a thing as clash of the maestros, it’s Iniests vs Modric. I like Rakitic, but Modric is the player that i wish most would’ve joined us a few years ago and still do, today, because he’s one of the few special players with very heigtened footballing intelligence that could’ve on a intelligence level synced with iniesta and messi. I love Rakitic but compared to Modric in that area he’s average. Modric is a chessplayer on a football field just as Xavi was in his best days, he would’ve fit our football perfectly and elevated us another level or 2 the last few years

    • Eivind Niclasen

      Just my words. I love Rakitic, but he is no Xavi in his prime, or Modric, who is the heart and soul of both Croatia and RM. Without him, both teams´midfield is a right mess.

      • Serkan Savas

        Exactly, i was talking to some people recently about how Iniesta, Modric (ozil slightly underneath them but similar style) are 2/3 of a dying breed of midfielders who go by skill, intelligence, spatial awareness, and this insane calm in the middle of chaos. Look at a team like France, tons of players with speed, dribbling skills, all kinds of skill, but it’s a total mess because they do not have that midfielder that dictates the pace, that finds calm in chaos and finds the solutions in a haystack of headless chickens. That notion makes me sad, because what is in fact happening is, football has moved toward the model of Ronaldo and Mourinho ideas, and not of the Iniesta, Xavi, Messi, Zidane, Modric, Nedved, type of players. I know it’s cause physique and defensive and team organization are much easier to train and find than absolute talent and genius football intelligence and awareness, but it’s truly saddening that this is where football is going. I think Barca owes it to not only us, but the football world to create the perfect conditions for Iniesta and Messi in the last years of their carreers to essemble the perfect team around them to get the most out of THEIR qualities, instead of them having to adapt to less smart players with all due respect, because we have diamons in our hands. Not even Neymar or Suarez can touch them, with all due respect. There will be new neymar’s and new Suarez, but i doubt we’ll see many Messis or Iniestas

        • Eivind Niclasen

          Mourinho has won the longterm battle. Easy solutions and physical (defensive) bullying have been the order of the day for the last many years. Barca´s historic miracle has been defined by being the sole team swimming against the stream, while still winning trophies. Mourinho, Simeone and their ilk have brought the game down to the lowest common denominator. Atletico have somewhat recovered financially in recent years, thanks in part to the Champions League and Chelsea. Their aim at the beginning of last season was therefore to play a more entertaining and positive brand of football, but could they live up to that promise? No. It just shows that Simeone, Mourinho and their likeminded are one-dimensional and negative. Their approach is not down to being a tactical genius; it has to do with bullying the opposition, bullying the referee and ruining what was once called football. Neither Mourinho nor Simeone would make it at the Camp Nou – and they both know it.

        • Pius Kamau

          Serkan, nice observations there mate. The diamond gems are they in our junior teams?…I try to follow the junior teams and I’ve been very impressed especially with the younger teams, the skill level, composure and footballing wit being showcased by these youngsters is just crazy for their age category.
          And yeah it’s true, the Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Modric, Figo, Zidane, Pirlo type of players are fast fading away, I also liked Kaka, Bergkamp, Deco on their days.
          I think Barcelona is one of a handful of teams that showcase the traditional classical artistry and expression in football, actually it’s the only European giant that plays like this, Bayern kind of improved with Pep, they weren’t like this before him but their artistry, ingenuity, intelligence and individual skill level is still not the classical Messi, Iniesta, Zidane, Xavi type, it’s good however.
          I think we’re witnessing the dying phases of such type of players, it’ll be a sad day when Messi and Iniesta hand up the boots for me, I’ll actually feel like I’m in a funeral, the death of artists (which means the exit of geniuses, maestros and artists)
          Which team have you found impressive thus far in the Euros??

          • Eivind Niclasen

            Good point about Zidane. As mesmerising as he could be as a player, he is a phenomenal bore as a coach. It could be down to two reasons; one is that he is at a club with a famously trigger happy president, who fires managers for fun. That´s not an environment where managers are tempted to take chances in order to develop. Better play it safe, as long as it lasts. Secondly, he is relatively new to the job of coaching and possibly with undeveloped ideas. He is no Pep, who took over at Barca at only 37 with fully finished ideas of his own. Zidane is not a great coach by any means. He is boring and privileged. RM is notorious for getting easy draws in the CL, which he practically won just by showing up for the games. He didn´t change RM in any way. He may get a portion of next season in charge, as well, before unemployment inevitably beckons. Unlike when Guardiola moved on, no big club will hire Zidane post-Real Madrid.

          • Pius Kamau

            Yeah man, I think Real Madrid’s working conditions play a part in this, the other reason is that Zidane as a coach has had to work under the tutelage of pragmatic bore fests like Mourinho thereby picking his ideas on how best to play and get results, Mou’s influence cannot really be good at all. The other reason is Madrid as a club (for some time now) have become more of a direct British type club with their direct approach that puts emphasis on speed, aggression and pragmatism, Zidane can only do so much with such a club.

    • Dri

      Sorry bro, but Xavi was 100000000 times better than the best modric you’ll ever see. Don’t make stupid comparison, please. Rakitic is a different player than Modric, who indeed is more skillful with the ball but hasn’t the power, the shot and the passes Rakitic does have.

      • Serkan Savas

        i think Modric has all the quality, but you have to realize Xavi was tailorfit for the playing style that was played in his prime and that not only made the team look better, it also made him look better. Modric at Barca would’ve been a much better player because he’s working with players who understand him and he’d understand them, just like Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, and to a level Dani and Busquets fed off eachother. Modric has never played in that type of team with that type of players yet still puts his mark on all the teams he plays for. Xavi wouldn’t have shined as much at just any other club either, it has to click to get the maximum out of that type of players.

  • Serkan Savas

    you know what, Fabregas never fails to convince me again and again how great a decision it was to get rid of him. He’s a fraud, he’s a fony fake wannabe xavi or messi or some other genius he pretends to be who walks around the pitch like he’s too good to break a sweat. Then we have Del Bosque, horrible coach who got 2 free international cups curtousy of Pep and Barca. horrible

    • Pius Kamau

      Yep! Del Bosque should have literally kissed Pep’s shoes after winning the world cup and the 2012 Euros.
      Never really was a fan of him, Fab can’t even shine Modric’s shoes in terms of match impact and consistency let alone dine on the same table as Xavi, Iniesta and Messi.
      De Gea was making me pissed off with how bad and ‘heavy’ his first touch which almost led to Rakitic’s goal, effects of the shitty non technical BPL football where the goalkeeper’s feet and the football seem like 2 alien things when put together.
      Messi is really bossing the Copas!