Ivan Rakitic to Manchester City: Barcelona expected to hold firm
Ivan Rakitic has been linked with Manchester City. The Barcelona midfielder was left out of his side's 1-1 draw at Villarreal, prompting reports in his native Croatia he was on the move.
Here, ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent Jonathan Smith and Barcelona counterpart Sam Marsden discuss the situation.
MANCHESTER CITY (Jonathan Smith)
Rakitic would seem to be a perfect fit for Manchester City but there's little chance of a deal being done in the January transfer window. Barca boss Luis Enrique described the speculation as unreliable and sources have told ESPN FC that City are not considering making an offer.
Pep Guardiola has been left short of midfield options, with Germany international Ilkay Gundogan ruled out for the rest of the season after damaging his cruciate knee ligaments.
With Fernandinho starting a four-match suspension and Fernando suffering a slight muscle strain, City played full-back Pablo Zabaleta in the centre of midfield in Friday's 5-0 victory over West Ham United in the FA Cup.
However, if they are to make a signing in January, Guardiola has indicated that it will only be in defence as cover for captain Vincent Kompany, who failed to play a full match in the first half of the season.
It would seem natural that City would be near the front of the queue in the summer if Rakitic does decide to leave the Camp Nou. He has not featured in Barca's last three La Liga matches, casting doubts over his long-term future at the club.
It's a deal that could be looked at in the summer with questions over the futures of Fernando, who has started just five Premier League games this season, and 33-year-old Yaya Toure, who is out of contract at the end of the season.
Rakitic is able to play in the crucial deep-lying midfield position or further forward and that flexibility would appeal to the Catalan coach. He rarely gives the ball away, which also fits into Guardiola's master plan to control possession, and chips in with goals and assists.
The former Sevilla player has already stated he would be open to playing for Guardiola and was highly complimentary about the manager ahead of Barca's Champions League clash at the Etihad on Nov. 1.
"When I took the No. 4 jersey [at Barca] it was purely because of him," he said.
"It was a great opportunity. I took it with both hands. He was one of the best in the world. Your teammates tell you all about him.
"I hope he is really successful in the future. It would be great to play for him one day. If I don't, he can come for a coffee."
Rakitic won't be moving to the Etihad in January, but if he is still unsettled at Barca at the end of the season, he could become a summer target.
BARCELONA (Samuel Marsden)
Ivan Rakitic is going through his most difficult spell since joining Barcelona from Sevilla, but he remains someone the club are keen to keep hold of and reports of a move to Manchester City in January make little sense.
The Croatia midfielder has been an ever-present since taking Xavi Hernandez's place in his first season at Camp Nou. He's scored vital goals at key moments -- including in the Champions League final -- but it's his work rate and selflessness which have characterised his time at Barca.
But now, for the first time since pulling on the Blaugrana shirt, his position is under threat. He wasn't even in the squad for Sunday's draw at Villarreal, with Andre Gomes, his primary rival for a midfield spot, starting alongside Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.
Early burnout in previous campaigns may be the reason Luis Enrique is managing his minutes more carefully, but there seems to be more to it than that. It's when he's been used and when he's been rested which has been striking.
It's been over a month since he was taken off against Real Madrid and he's not played in the league since. He was hauled off at half-time against Real Sociedad the week prior to the Clasico, too, and his form has not been great.
Perhaps that's because he's been directly affected by the void left following Dani Alves' departure. As good as Sergi Roberto has been, he's not Alves and Barca's balance on the right isn't what it was.
However, Luis Enrique is unlikely to give up on Rakitic yet and the former Sevilla player -- who is not prone to sulking and is well-integrated into the squad -- is unlikely to push for a move. Vice-president Jordi Mestre says Barca still hope extend his stay beyond 2019, too.
"We're negotiating Rakitic's contract renewal," he said on Sunday when asked about the rumours placing Rakitic with Pep Guardiola at City. "We're delighted with him, as a player and a person. His renovation remains on track."
President Josep Maria Bartomeu, meanwhile, says no one will be sold unless they ask to leave. And even then, Barca would demand top dollar from a club used to paying a premium when they chase players.
It's a story which may resurface in the summer, but for now it seems a none-starter -- although Rakitic has suggested he'd like to work with Guardiola.