La Liga has seen several close races for the title over the years, and this season is proving to be no different. The top four- Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla, are separated by just six points. With four games left to play, the teams all play each other this weekend. Barcelona’s draw with Atletico Madrid earlier today has handed Real the reigns in the title race.
Two Croatian magicians will go head-to-head in #RealMadridSevillaFC this Sunday! 🇭🇷✨🇭🇷
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) May 6, 2021
Real Madrid take on Sevilla on Sunday night, with Los Blancos aiming to repeat as champions. Julen Lopetegui’s side, meanwhile, are looking to win La Liga for the first time in 75 years. Only a win will do for the Andalusian club while Zidane’s men will be looking to get over their European exit with a solid win at home. But there are many more sub-plots at work in this must-watch clash, including the battle of their respective Croatian superstars in midfield.
THE MADRID MOVER
Luka Modric has been at Real Madrid for almost a decade now, and the 35-year-old has won it all, individually and club wise. His contributions to the team cannot only be based on the trophies or statistics. It runs deeper into how he has been making the team tick for so long.
Linking up with another maestro, Toni Kroos since 2014, Modric has amassed almost 400 appearances for the Madrid club. He has been a mainstay in the middle of the park and has been frequently cited as one of the most influential play makers of his generations, without getting the proper recognition. But it was not all so easy in the beginning.
Kroos 🤝 Modric. pic.twitter.com/QCDKxlIgPm
— Madrid Xtra. (@MadridXtra) March 16, 2021
Marca proclaimed him the worst signing of La Liga in 2012 but after overcoming the initial struggles of settling in Spain, Modric got to work. His standout performance in the El Clasico of March 2013 showcased everything that the player is about. Modric has a tremendous capability of dictating the pace of the match, as well as fine tuning the team’s attack.
35y 209d – Luka Modric 🇭🇷 (35 y 209 d) has assisted last three #UCL games in a row for Real Madrid, becoming the oldest player to do it in the competition since Ryan Giggs for @ManUtd in April 2011 (37 years old). Wine#RealMadridLiverpool #ChampionsLeague pic.twitter.com/hbFcoImkGL
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 6, 2021
His vision and range have been considered one of the best for years, especially during the 2014 Champions League season when Madrid won La Decima. Modric tallied assists in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and in the final against Atletico, it was his cross that led to the 93rd minute equaliser by Sergio Ramos.
🇭🇷 Luka Modrić 👑
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 28, 2018
Displaying a silk-like touch and ability to glide past bigger defensive players tasked with guarding him, Modric has dictated the play as Madrid have the second-best average of accurate passes over the season. Though age seems to have slowed him down a touch, especially evident over the two-legs against Chelsea where he struggled to make things happen, Modric remains a vital cog in this team.
Zidane will no doubt be relying upon the veteran to dominate in the middle of the park in a vital encounter, and against his own international colleague.
THE PRODIGAL SON
If Modric is to succeed, his teammates will need to guard the Croatian in the other camp well. Ivan Rakitic is in many ways, extremely similar to his national captain – a playmaker with visionary range of passing, deft ball movement and long-range panache. Rakitic though also brings a little more and little less to the table in terms of his play.
The ex-Schalke man began his Spanish career in Seville, winning the Europa League once over the course of his four seasons with Sevilla before leaving for Camp Nou. It was here that Rakitic, like Modric, started getting more and more recognition for the work that he put in.
With a passing percentage in the high 80s and 90s, he kept the Barcelona midfield one of the most feared in Europe. At this time, he also became known as someone who is able to break up opposition attacks and then launch the ball forward to their famous trio of MSN.
— FCBarcelonaFl (@FCBarcelonaFl) March 1, 2018
Modric eclipsed him towards the latter stages of his Catalan career as Madrid won three Champions League in a row and he himself picked up the Golden Ball award for captaining Croatia to the final of the 2018 World Cup. As he won the Ballon D’Or soon after, Rakitic found himself in a crowded battle for his club position.
Ivan Rakitic: Only Aissa Mandi (1510) has made more accurate passes than @ivanrakitic (1436) in La Liga this season
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 29, 2019
With new arrivals Phillipe Coutinho, Arthur and Arturo Vidal in contention, it was evident that his days were numbered. Sure enough, Rakitic would leave within two years with his last season at the Blaugrana statistically his worst as he managed just one goal in the league. Having made over 300 appearances during his time at the club, Rakitic rejoined Sevilla at the beginning of the current season.
22 – Ivan Rakitic was involved in 22 goals in #LaLiga 2013/2014 season (12 goals + 10 assists), more than any other midfielder, the fourh in the Top 5 European Leagues after @YayaToure (29), Roberto Firmino (27) & Steven Gerrard (26). Lavish@SevillaFC_ENG #ivanrakitic pic.twitter.com/Fj36XWG4Rq
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 1, 2020
Here he has featured regularly in a midfield three and seems to have regained his old self as the team push for an improbable title win under their ex-Madrid boss.
As both players look to guide their team to the win, it will be fascinating to see who can dominate the battle in the centre of the park. Rakitic might have the slight advantage in the early going due to more rest, but trust Modric to pick up the pace very quickly. With both teams knowing a win is crucial, a lot of responsibility will be on their Croatian superstars to shine.