Rakitic would like to play with Ronaldo amid doubts over Barca future

By Sports Desk February 13, 2020

Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic said he would like to play with Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo as doubts remain over his future at Camp Nou.

Rakitic was heavily linked to Serie A duo Juventus and Inter before the transfer window closed, while Premier League giants Manchester United were also reportedly interested.

It came as Rakitic was reportedly offered to Ligue 1's Paris Saint-Germain as part of a deal to prise Neymar back to Camp Nou at the start of the season.

Rakitic continues to be linked with Italian champions Juve and when asked if he would like to play alongside five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo, the 31-year-old told Bleacher Report Football: "Of course I would.

"He is also one of the greatest players in history.

"You enjoy watching him play and he's doing well at Juventus."

Rakitic is currently team-mates with Barca captain and six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi and he said: "It's amazing to play with him - he's special. There have been great players in every era, but I'm sure he's been the best in the last 15 years.

"In my opinion, I think he's the best of all time. Being with him for six years has been incredible."

Rakitic previously vented his frustration with how head coach Ernesto Valverde and his staff were treated upon their sacking in January, admitting he considered leaving Barcelona.

"It's a part of football," Rakitic said. "You have to understand that and be ready [to potentially leave] in January.

"You have to be happy, you have to think about your family, and if I play for Barcelona I am happy."

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    Handball – after matchday three of the 2020-21 Premier League season, that seems to be all anyone is talking about.

    It proved decisive in three different games over the weekend, with Brighton and Hove Albion, Tottenham and Crystal Palace all on the receiving end of controversial decisions – the latter's manager, Roy Hodgson, went on a tirade regarding the "nonsense" rule change.

    But arguably the most vociferous of the hot takes regarding handball – see Jamie Carragher deriding the decision as "an absolute disgrace" – focused on the events at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where in the seventh minute of added time, Eric Dier was penalised via VAR for handball despite having his back to the ball.

    Although Mourinho refused to criticise the decision, in his own unique Jose way he left no uncertainty as to his feelings on the matter – "If I want to give money away, I'll give to charities, not the FA," he told Sky Sports.

    Steve Bruce, whose Newcastle United profited from the decision to clinch a 1-1 draw, gave the impression of being almost embarrassed at having been a beneficiary, effectively suggesting some form of football managers' mutiny against the sport's rule-makers.

    But are they exaggerating the changes? Is handball proving more prevalent? We looked at the Opta data and, as the old adage says, there's no smoke without fire…

    Premier League on course for avalanche of penalties

    Before delving into the data, we have to understand what specifically has changed with respect to handball in the Premier League. Technically, the idea that it is a "new rule" this season is a red herring – instead, the law has been altered in England to bring it into line with those adopted across Europe last season.

    It's a stricter approach that basically means a player will be penalised for handball – in a defensive context – if the struck hand/arm is away from the body or raised, or if the player leans into the path of the ball.

    On top of those points, the International Football Association Board (IFAB, the body in charge of the rules) tightened up the boundaries involved, meaning handball should be given – regardless of intent – if the ball strikes the arm below the bottom of the armpit unless it has come off another part of the player's body first or they have fallen on to the ball.

    The numbers do IFAB and FIFA no favours.

    After 28 matches in the new Premier League season, 20 penalties have been given and six of them awarded for handball.

    That means there has been an average of 0.71 penalties per match this term, a huge increase on the averages from the previous four seasons.

    Last term it was at 0.24 per game – prior to that it stood at 0.27 (2018-19), 0.21 (2017-18) and 0.28 (2016-17).

    "But those figures could be down to an increase in bad tackling!" – don't worry, we thought of that.

    While that stat of six handballs may not sound huge, it's actually the same figure for the entirety of the 2017-18 season, while it also equates to 30 per cent of all penalties this term – in 2019-20, 20.7 per cent of penalties were awarded for handball, 13.6 per cent the year before and 7.5 per cent before that.

    Put into a 'per game' context, penalties for handball are being given every 0.21 matches – almost one in four. The most it reached in the preceding four seasons was 0.05 in both 2019-20 and 2016-17.

    While it is unlikely that penalties will be given at such a frequency throughout the season, it's not impossible.

    If it does carry on, we are on course for 271 in 2020-21, just four fewer than the totals for 2019-20 (92), 2018-19 (103) and 2017-18 (80) combined. Similarly, we would expect 81 of those to have been caused by handball.

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    Even though the rules are now supposed to be consistent across the top five leagues, we are still seeing a lot more penalties in general.

    Last season, Serie A recorded the highest frequency of penalties at 0.49 per game, with that figure dropping to 0.15 specifically for handball.

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    Ligue 1 (25.8 per cent) and the Bundesliga (24.7 per cent) aren't far behind, either.

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    After all, when asked about transfers on Tuesday ahead of the trip to Benevento, Conte was completely dismissive, stating he would rather the transfer window was not even open for the good of the players.

    Inter striker Lautaro Martinez had been linked to Barcelona, although that has since gone quiet, while Milan Skriniar could join Tottenham after not proving an ideal fit for Conte's defensive structure.

    When asked if he anticipated seeing a "different Inter" after the final week of the transfer window, Conte told reporters: "It would be fairer for the directors to answer that.

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    "I repeat, ask the directors about signings and sales," he said. "It does not seem correct to me to talk about individuals. These are questions to be asked exclusively to those who deal with them."

    But Conte was a little more forthcoming regarding his next opponents, who are coached by a man he knows well: fellow "football addict" Filippo Inzaghi.

    "I expect a tough game. Last year they won Serie B with many games to spare," he said. "Inzaghi was a team-mate of mine, I know what he can give to the team.

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