Rafinha Alcantara has always been noted as being Thiago's younger sibling. Not anymore.
A powerhouse performance against Villarreal deservedly won him the man-of-the-match accolade and with it the plaudits from all quarters. Rafinha very definitely gives Barca a steely edge to their game, something that the Catalans have been accused of lacking in the past.
Moreover, the true box-to-box nature of his game is an element that the Blaugrana have hitherto failed to use. The naysayers may deride parts of the player's game as a little more industrial than what we are used to seeing from the exponents at Camp Nou.
Yet there's certainly a place for that type of game in amongst the pass masters. That much was evident from the Villarreal game. A robust individual with no little skill, Rafinha eloquently fuses together the passing game that Barca are synonymous for, and the need to boss the midfield areas and get in amongst it.
Certainly, if Barca are looking for the "Plan B" that evidently seems beyond them at times, then they need look no further than the direct running of Rafinha. His goal against Villarreal was a just reward for his efforts and if he can add a few quality strikes to his game, he becomes almost indispensable.
Better than Rakitic
A direct competitor for his role is Ivan Rakitic, a heralded signing from Sevilla. If we look at the numbers, it's actually Rafinha that has a better ratio for completed passes and successful tackles made.
Steeped in Blaugrana having been educated via La Masia, arguably the youngster is a couple of steps ahead of one of Barca's star summer signings, and one who is still settling in to a new way of playing.
Whilst the reasons for playing Rafinha ahead of Rakitic against Villarreal are unclear, after his notable contribution, it's hard to imagine that Enrique will immediately dispense with his services. He is showing a clear propensity for hard work and quality and, importantly, no fear. You don't teach that.
Furthermore his skill set is complimentary to Andres Iniesta, allowing "El Illusionista" to work his magic in more decisive areas of the pitch, instead of being bogged down further back than he or Enrique would like.
Perhaps the question that Barcelona really need to ask themselves is can they afford to do without the youngster? Thiago walked away from his boyhood club after not being given enough chances to impress, so there is a precedent.
Mazinho, their father, will not hesitate to recommend a move away for his younger son if he feels that his interests are not being taken care of. Do the Catalans really want to leave themselves open to that scenario?
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