Ivan Rakitic has played more matches than any other footballer in the 2017/18 season, yet more proof of the midfielder's importance for both Zlatko Dalic and Ernesto Valverde, the Croatia and Barcelona coaches respectively.
The midfielder has been able to maintain an exceptional level throughout the season, playing a fundamental part in Barça's league and cup double, before forming an unstoppable duo with Luka Modric as Croatia finished runners up at the World Cup.
Zlatko Dalic had these kind words to say about Rakitic and the partnership he has with Modric before the match against France: "This is the best version of Rakitic and we must enjoy it. He's performing at the same level as he did at Barcelona all season. For us he's a key player, very important, and alongside Modric they've created the best midfield partnership at the World Cup."
Likewise, at the Camp Nou, Valverde has constantly stressed the importance of Rakitic to his team. "In our team Ivan is incredibly important and not just for his game (1-0 victory against Atletico Madrid). He helps us keep our shape, he's the man that brings balance to the team. He's got it all: scores goal, tactically sound and works hard. It's a pleasure to have him with us."
more than anybody else
With Croatia's defeat against France, Rakitic reached 71 matches for the 2017/18 season - more than anybody else. Chelsea's Willian (70) has the second most with Son Heung-Min (Tottenham), De Bruyne (Man City) and Rashford (Man United) on 68 in third.
Rakitic played eleven matches with Croatia, including the seven at the World Cup and the four friendlies in preparation for the tournament.
In terms of club football, Rakitic played 60 matches for Barcelona: five friendlies and 55 official matches (35 La Liga, 10 Champions League, 8 Copa del Rey and 2 Spanish Super Cup).
the complete footballer
The key behind Rakitic's performances is that he brings the perfect balance to his teams. He's technically great, tactically savvy and supremely fit. At Barcelona, when Messi became the focus of the attack, the Croatian was liberated in covering for the Argentine and become more involved in building up the play and as such reduced the area of the pitch he was previously limited to.
The biggest benefactor in all this was Sergio Busquets, who finally had company in the middle of the pitch. As a consequence it helped improve the balance of the team and its ability to press higher up the pitch.
With Croatia, Dalic had Marcelo Brozovic as Rakitic and Modric's bodyguard. This allowed the Barça man to venture further forward and play alongside Modric, dictating the pace of the match and creating Croatia's lethal attacks.
Rakitic finished the World Cup as the player with the sixth most minutes played at the tournament (638), very close to Modric's total (694).
In Barcelona's 2017/18 season, Rakitic was the most used player by Valverde in terms of matches played (55, ahead of Messi 54 and Luis Suarez on 51) and the fourth most minutes played (4,264 behind Messi's 4,467).
In light of all those matches and minutes played, Rakitic retained his high level until the very end of the season, even if the last match was bittersweet for him. The World Cup final defeat shouldn't take anything away from what has been an excellent season for Rakitic.