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Modric brilliant, Rakitic shines just as bright

Luis Suarez's 56th-minute strike secured a 2-1 victory for Barcelona and their coach Luis Enrique, who has steered his side to a four-point advantage at La Liga's summit from their great rivals Real Madrid.

For Carlo Ancelotti in the Real dugout, rampant mid-season performances are now a distant memory as a baying Madrid press pack sharpen their pens and their knives.

The names that have dominated this fixture in the modern era continue to loom large. Luis Enrique will look to Lionel Messi to lead a potential sweep of silverware at the season's end, while Ancelotti will reckon that Cristiano Ronaldo - scorer of Real's equaliser at Camp Nou - can force a late turnaround.

But when the din of Spain's bitterest club argument subsides, the bosses should identify Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric as pivotal figures in their current, contrasting plights.

Highly skilled midfield performers on the ball, the Croatia international team-mates are the velvet-footed jacks of all trades, knitting together the sparkling tapestries of the Santiago Bernabeu and Camp Nou.

Suarez would ultimately steal the weekend headlines but not before Modric showed his value by inspiring Real's best period of the contest.

Now in his third season with Madrid, Modric returned from a lengthy thigh injury absence this month to find the smoothly functioning team he helped to orchestrate earlier this term badly misfiring.

How they had missed the razor-sharp anticipation that disturbed Barca's hypnotic rhythm and turned the midfield battle in Real's favour.

Every pass from Modric has a purpose, none more so than the slide-rule effort that picked out Karim Benzema to tee-up Ronaldo's leveller.

Rakitic and Barcelona were the ones needing half-time, but the frailties in Ancelotti's Modric-light side that Atletico Madrid and Schalke exploited over recent weeks reappeared after the break.

The former Tottenham man was powerless to stop Barca tearing through their rivals at will after Suarez's goal, with only goalkeeper Iker Casillas preventing a rout.

Nevertheless, Modric had pointed the way back to the form that closed 2014 with 22 consecutive wins; after Ancelotti's men once again showed their problems, he offered a solution.

Rakitic's seamless introduction to life at Barcelona since moving from Sevilla last year has proved as remarkable as it has under-stated.

During the club's halcyon tiki-taka days under Pep Guardiola, Xavi was the on-field embodiment of the 21st century's most influential tactical philosophy.

The great schemer's advancing years restrict him to a squad role nowadays but what should have felt like a major void has at times gone unnoticed, with Rakitic's comfortable and intelligent two-footed style providing the perfect foil for Andres Iniesta.

Camp Nou rose to acclaim Xavi's cameo for a record-equalling 42nd Clasico appearance during the closing stages, a cause for celebration and not trepidation on Raktic's account.

The Croat was himself rested among the substitutes for both of Barcelona's 2015 Liga defeats to date, a now established risk Luis Enrique will be unlikely to take again having seized a healthy lead at the top of the table.

Inside the first minute on Sunday, Dani Alves extinguished Ronaldo's first foray down the left flank and Rakitic emerged, unflustered, with the ball to set the tone for Barca's early control.

His place in the pecking order of superstars was perhaps confirmed when Suarez got in the way to stop Rakitic from converting an Iniesta cross.

One imagines Luis Enrique would place few ahead of the player who has contributed so much to a relative air of serenity now awash in Catalonia.

And as the flames engulf Ancelotti at the Bernabeu, Modric offered the latest demonstration of why he should lead the firefight.