Match 19
Game Details
Saudi Arabia
Match 18
Game Details
LIVE 65'
Match 20
Game Details
12:00 PM UTC Jun 21, 2018
Match 21
Game Details
3:00 PM UTC Jun 21, 2018
Match 22
Game Details
6:00 PM UTC Jun 21, 2018
Match 23
Game Details

Barca hope to tick with Rakitic

Luis Enrique will officially start his reign as Barcelona coach in the Camp Nou on Sunday evening in a league fixture against Elche -- and the level of the side's performance will be judged as much as the result.

After a bitterly disappointing end to last term in the same stadium when Barca meekly surrendered their La Liga title with a 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid, the fans want to be given the hope that Enrique will breathe new life into a squad that has been accused of living on past glories.

- Team news: Neymar to miss Elche opener
- Rakitic: I was right to join Barca
- La Liga preview: Will Barca bounce back?

The arrival of the suspended Luis Suarez has occupied most of the headlines during a summer that includes six new signings but it's another man who will generate the most interest on Sunday. The performance of Ivan Rakitic will give us the best indication of how Enrique's new team is going to shape up over the season.

Rakitic's signing from Sevilla for 18 million euros may have gone slightly under the radar during a World Cup dominated by some great football and Suarez's biting incident but it is arguably the most important bit of business carried out by Barca.

Suarez will add goals to a side that already had plenty of them but Rakitic can be the flag bearer of a new team in need of a new direction.

The Croatian will be favoured over the legendary Xavi in midfield as Enrique attempts to subtly alter Barca's possession-based style of play in favour of a quicker, more dynamic game.

Rakitic made way for Xavi after the first 62 minutes of Barca's final friendly game on Monday when they thrashed Mexican side Club Leon 6-0 and it is likely the legendary Spaniard will have to get used to watching the most part of games from the bench.

Only Rakitic's level of performances will determine whether he remains first choice, so it will be interesting to observe if he can step up and continue to play in the way that made him stand out as the outstanding player at Sevilla in the last three seasons.

The 26-year-old appears to have all the attributes required to make it with the La Liga giants; his passing, shooting and powerful running make him a perfect fit to take the midfield into a new era as the club attempts to gradually replace the influential Xavi.

While he has an eye for goal, Rakitic will be judged more on his assists in a side boasting such goal scoring talent. It will be Enrique's job to get a balance of play from the Croatian that incorporates enough defensive cover depending on the quality of opponents and types of matches encountered as the season goes by.

And if he is not up to the job he knows he has a player who has won everything in the game waiting in the wings.

On Friday, Xavi promised fans he will work as hard as possible to be useful to the side, promising that he is "fiercely competitive" and that his team will win at least one title in the coming season.

They kick off against an Elche side that finished just one point above relegation in their first season back in La Liga, after 24 years in the oblivion of Spain's lower leagues.

Having lost their most influential player in Carlos Sanchez to Aston Villa, they have looked to build again by signing 10 new players in a bid to survive a second season in the top flight.

In May, Barcelona were frustrated by a battling Elche that played for a 0-0 draw as the season reached its climax. This time, the hosts will hope their home form that saw them drop just five points in the Camp Nou will continue.

A result similar to the 4-0 home win in January will be more to the Blaugrana's liking and Rakitic could be the man to deliver it from midfield. If he doesn't, Xavi is waiting for his opportunity.


Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.