BARCELONA Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic is determined to fight for his place at the Spanish champions after falling out of favour with coach Luis Enrique, local media reported on Sunday.
The Croatia international, who was left out of the squad for Sunday's 1-1 draw at Villarreal, has not played a Liga game since Dec. 3, although he did start in the 2-1 defeat at Athletic Bilbao in the King's Cup last 16 first leg on Thursday.
Rakitic, 28, was a regular starter in his first two seasons at the Nou Camp following a 25 million euro ($26.31 million) move from Sevilla in 2014 and scored the opening goal as Barca beat Juventus 3-1 in the 2015 Champions League final.
But he faces increased competition this season following the signings of midfielders Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes, though until his recent exclusion from the team he had started all of Barca's biggest games in La Liga and the Champions League.
Croatian newspaper Jutarnji reported on Sunday that the midfielder had agreed a move to Manchester City to link up with former Barca coach Pep Guardiola but the player's management team have denied in Spanish media that a deal has been struck.
Barca coach Luis Enrique also rubbished the story after the draw with Villarreal, saying: "Most of the information in the media is not reliable, be it from Croatia, Spain or England. This has nothing to do with him not being in the squad."
The coach did not shed any light on why he had left the Croatian out, however, adding: "You can come to your own conclusions but picking squads and starting lineups is my job."
Rakitic is not the only player to suffer from an unexplained absence from the squad this season. Luis Enrique has continually excluded right back Aleix Vidal from the squad even when first choice full back Sergi Roberto has been unavailable.
Sunday's draw at Villarreal saw Barcelona finish the weekend third in the standings, one point below Sevilla and five off leaders Real Madrid, who also have a game in hand.
Luis Enrique could not fault his side's display, however.
"I'd like to say Barcelona played badly but that wasn't true here nor in Bilbao," he said. "Both performances were satisfactory, but the results are not. We have to turn things around but we showed a lot of ambition."
($1 = 0.9501 euros)
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris)