Can Ivan Rakitic Steer Sevilla Out of Its Ongoing Crisis?

Sevilla’s 2023/23 league campaign was a sobering crash down to reality. Europa League-winning coach, Julen Lopetegui moved to Wolverhampton Wanderers after a poor start to the season, the enigmatic Isco endured public acrimony with Monchi, the club’s legendary former sporting director, and his contract was terminated. The chaos continued to rumble on under Jorge Sampaoli, who returned to the club after his stint at Marseille.


In March, with the club desperately trying to stave off relegation, Sampaoli was dismissed and replaced by journeyman coach, Jose Luis Mendilibar. This appointment saw a shift towards a more conservative style of play, in contrast to Sampaoli’s idealistic, Bielsa-inspired tactics. This change precipitated an upturn in results which propelled Sevilla to becoming Europa League champions and salvage a 12th-placed finish in La Liga.


Tactical Analysis: José Luis Mendilibar’s Sevilla


Perhaps the catalyst to the club’s continued woes, was the departure of Monchi. During his tenure as sporting director, Sevilla won nine Europa League titles, two Copa del Rey titles and one UEFA Super Cup. Renowned for his ruthless appetite for silverware and fierce passion in its pursuit, Monchi left to rejoin forces with Unai Emery at Aston Villa. 


From Bad to Worse


Despite their triumph in the Europa League and the resulting qualification for the Champions League, Mendilibar couldn’t reverse the club’s fortunes. With only two wins by October and in 14th position in the league, Sevilla dismissed Mendilibar.  As a result, the club acted quickly, making the bold decision to appoint Uruguayan coach Diego Alonso, who had never before managed a European club but had enjoyed success in Mexico with CF Monterrey. 


After a mere two months in charge and just 14 games under his belt, time was called on Alonso’s pitiful tenure. With just two wins – both of which came in the Copa del Rey – and defeat in all four Champions League matches under Alonso, the club were in a perilous position. So they looked to former Watford and Getafe boss Quique Sanchez Flores, embarking on a rescue mission to save their top-flight status. A 3-0 win over fellow strugglers Granada marked a promising start for Flores.


Loïc Badé: Finding a Home Away From Home in Sevilla


Only time will tell if this is the start of something greater or simply another false dawn in Andalusia. Despite playing with an extra man for the final half-hour, Sevilla succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid on Saturday with Marcos Llorente’s goal proving the difference. Having lost three of their last four, they sit 15th in the table, three points above the drop, and they will be counting on Croatian captain Ivan Rakitic as they look to turn around a dismal start to the campaign which has seen them lose eight league matches and finish bottom of their Champions League group.


Never Count Out an Old Pro…


The foreboding and icy calm presence of Ivan Rakitic is a huge asset to Sevilla, even if it has not borne fruit on nearly enough occasions this season. He did score the equaliser in the ‘El Gran Derbi’, giving Sevilla a point and cancelling out Ayoze Perez’s goal in the early minutes of the second half. Nevertheless, the narrative of the match did serve to highlight the burgeoning gap in quality between Sevilla and their fierce rivals, Real Betis.  


Rakitic returned to Sevilla in 2020 after an illustrious six-year spell at Barcelona. Despite being a standout player under Ernesto Valverde, especially in the title-winning 2018/19 season, he experienced a sharp decline in playing time under Quique Setien. His return to Sevilla came at a time when Lopetegui had just rebuilt his image by leading Sevilla to Europa League glory and a third-placed finish in La Liga. The following season saw Rakitic make 6.73 progressive passes per 90 and put in some stunning midfield performances alongside Joan Jordan, who also thrived under Lopetegui’s leadership. 


Player Analysis: Youssef En-Nesyri


While Lopetegui’s departure triggered the eventual chaos and crisis under Sampaoli and Mendilibar, this poor spell has served to highlight Ivan Rakitic’s leadership qualities. His ability to speak authoritatively in the media during the barren winless run under Alonso has been admirable. Moreover, Rakitic continues to shine statistically for Sevilla. The Croatian is averaging more key passes this season per 90 than any other La Liga midfielder (3.19), and his number of shot-creating actions (5.18) is surpassed only by his compatriot Luka Modric (5.74).


According to Sofascore, Rakitic is seemingly being let down due to poor finishing from his teammates, as he has only registered one assist from an xA (expected assists) tally of 4.01. Sevilla are desperate for a secondary goal-scoring threat — apart from Youssef En-Nesyri (7), no player in their squad has more than 3 La Liga goals, and their recent defeat at Atleti was their third match in four games which saw the Andalusian side fail to find the back of the net.


With crucial matches against Alaves and Girona on the horizon, Rakitic is an imperative part of Quique Sanches Flores’ plans to steer the club away from danger. His creativity, composure and tactical adaptability have always been his key assets, but what he is continuing to show at Sevilla is perhaps an overlooked aspect of his game – his character.  


By: Ogunniyi Abayomi / @Cerebralcardo

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Quality Sport Images / Getty Images