The common theme amongst the media today and indeed yesterday was the old cliché, "What a difference a year makes". FC Barcelona are a year and one day removed from their Manita victory in El Clasico, which was undoubtedly the best performance by any side in some time, perhaps of all-time. Now the Catalans are (for all intents and purposes) six points behind their great rivals. According to some publications, this is considered far more degrading than a 5-0 defeat...
The league is not over, and with the victory yesterday, one could argue that it is only just beginning. The first half performance was average, but heralded three goals, all clustered in the final 15 minutes of the half. This may seem inconsequential, but think about it a little more and it becomes a huge positive for the Blaugrana. Sometimes you do get teams that can defend well for two 45 minute halves, but this was not one of those games, and indeed large portions of the season have been the same.
Rayo switched off momentarily, gave Barcelona space, perhaps buoyed by their encouraging start and that was a huge mistake. As one would expect, the side stacked the world-class players pounced on this mistake and built up an insurmountable lead. There were problems on Saturday, but Guardiola has addressed the majority of them and now it is a case of building up momentum before the game against Real Madrid in just over a week’s time.
Victor Valdes 6.5
Valdes was much better than Saturday, but still made a few errors. His tip onto the crossbar from a mishit set-piece was unnecessary to say the least, but he was fine when called upon. Distribution was OK, but a little lacking by his exceptionally high standards, all in all an adequate showing from the keeper.
Gerard Pique 6.5
Pique is slowly but surely finding his feet again in this Barcelona team, and his performance was one that exuded authority. His surging run and pass to Alves were simply beyond what you would expect from a central defender, although he loses marks for that blatantly deliberate yellow card. Pep was shaking his head at the decision by Geri; after all, I am sure he would have been rested on Saturday. At least he will not miss El Clasico...
In truth, I have watched this game twice, and still not seen a moment where Mascherano made a mistake, or even touched the ball. Considering the amount of chances Rayo had, I presume he was out of position on a few occasions, but the clean sheet indicates that he played pretty well. Still, I would not count on him for El Clasico.
Dani Alves 7.5
Much better from the Brazilian. We all know how much influence his marauding runs down the right have on our attack and it was further demonstrated yesterday. Who else would bend a run to trick the offside trap and then set up a goal for an out-of-form striker in the same movement? Alves was selfless in his efforts, it really made a difference.
Eric Abidal 6.5
I was a little disappointed by Abidal yesterday, he was not his usual self defensively, being caught out more than once, and his attacking threat was minimal. However, I do understand how difficult it is to switch between centre-back and full-back, especially in this Barcelona side. Here’s hoping Pep will let him settle into a fixed position soon.
Seydou Keita 6.5
Again, Keita didn’t really do much at all. I didn’t see him anchoring the play like Busquets, nor did he pop-up in an offensive position to do any damage. In short, I prefer Keita in a central midfield role, but Pep has to understand that there is no longer a space for the Malian rather than attempting to convert him into a defensive midfielder.
Xavi Hernandez 7.5
Xavi always plays well, that is just a fact acknowledged in the footballing world. Yesterday was no exception, although there was a hint of fortune about some of his play. The inadvertent back-heel did aid the team, although he did not benefit from Keita’s positioning. This left the Spaniard doing two jobs, and his performance dropped a little. Nice to see him rested for the final half-hour as well.
Andres Iniesta 7.5
Iniesta slotted back into the team with ease and his sheer quality will always have a positive impact. Whether he was trying a lob from 40 yards, or just dribbling at the Rayo defense, he plays with an air of confidence that is just so infectious, therefore improving the team as a result. He does need to up his game for the Clasico though.
Alexis Sanchez 8.5 MOTM
This is why Guardiola paid so much for his services, because he just has the "X-Factor" that makes a difference. His first goal was world-class and motivation for David Villa given the ease with which he cut inside from the left and finished with aplomb. The second goal was a strikers finish and if he can bring the two skills together with a little more regularity we will be looking at one hell of a player. Think of his current stage as Cristiano Ronaldo circa 2006-07...
Lionel Messi 8.0
My favourite trait about Messi is his ability to drag the team to a victory, and boy am I glad that I didn’t see it yesterday. The team took up the responsibility, and it allowed him to drift in and out of the game, thus maximising his effectiveness. He did not score a hat-trick as some expect him to do every game, but his goal was typical Messi, starting and finishing a fine move.
David Villa 7.5
A resurgence? Return to form? I would hesitate to claim these just yet, but it was promising from Villa. His goal was a tap-in, but did have an impact on his confidence. We witnessed a David Villa with a little more faith in his own abilities, although he couldn’t add another to his tally. This performance will have bought him time, whether it’s a good thing remains to be seen.
Thiago Alcantara 6.0
His introduction around the hour mark was merely to give Xavi a little rest, and he didn’t have to exert too much effort. There is no denying his skill and potential, but I would have loved to have seen Thiago come on and despite the scoreline stay ruthless and create more chances.
Cesc Fabregas 6.5
Cesc is not your typical impact substitute, but he certainly could have been just that yesterday. His arrival did add a whole lot more creativity even though he replaced Andres Iniesta, but sometimes I wish he would pass the ball normally.
It would be harsh to judge him either way for this cameo, but he did pick up an injury, begging the question whether he was really fit to return.