In January, Ivan Rakitic was sold from Schalke 04 to Sevilla in Spain's La Liga. His contract was up at the end of the year, and with Schalke struggling in the league and in a questionable financial state, Rakitic had no desire to sign a new one. The team was forced to take whatever they could get for the player, and just like that, their most creative midfielder was gone. Schalke have plenty of quality in other roles in the midfield, but they don't have another true playmaker like Rakitic.
Somehow, since the departure of their most creative player, Schalke have been fantastic in the UEFA Champions League. They have won three out of four games in the knockout stages, with the other match being a 1-1 draw against Valencia at the Mestalla. Despite the lack of a true creative presence in midfield, Schalke managed to score five goals at the San Siro against Inter Milan.
To imply that Schalke might be better off, either tactically or in quality without Rakitic would be disingenuous. He's been more or less replaced by Jose Manuel Jurado. Though he is a decent player, Jurado is nowhere near the quality of Rakitic, as evidenced by the fact that Atletico Madrid couldn't wait to give him away. If you don't know, Atletico Madrid's midfield is embarrassing. The fact that Jurado wasn't good enough to get a spot in that midfield is jaw dropping.
Since moving to Sevilla, Rakitic has already scored six goals, including a spectacular free kick this weekend against Villarreal. Still, despite his departure, his old team have somehow improved without his presence. It's completely inexplicable. There's no good reason why Schalke should actually be a better team without him.
Though, somehow, the results are better. Results based analysis in football, especially when the sample size is as small as four games, is extremely misleading. However, isn't the inexplicable underdog one of the reasons lots of people like sports? Isn't this why Bill Simmons invented the Ewing Theory and people ate it up? Isn't this why sports writers pen glowing columns about guys like David Eckstein and the members of the BBC line (how's that for an obscure reference?), scrappy guys with average skills who "lead" their teams to glory, while the likes of Alex Rodriguez sit at home?
I, for one, can't wait for the column someone's going to write about the heart, grit, and toughness of an inferior Schalke side if they pull off an upset against Manchester United. Unfortunately for Ivan Rakitic, he won't be along for the ride.