La Liga: FC Barcelona 3-1 Rayo Vallecano: Match Review

David Ramos

A recap of Barcelona's comfortable 3-1 La Liga win over Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou

FC Barcelona head into the international break with a thirteen point lead in La Liga courtesy of tonight’s comfortable 3-1 win over Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou. David Villa opened the scoring after 25 minutes with a sublime first-time finish following an assist from Lionel Messi, and El Guaje would return the favour by setting up the Argentine for yet another brace – as the four-time Ballon d’Or winner struck either side of half-time to secure the points. Raul Tamudo pulled one back for the visitors on 70 minutes, but it proved to be too little too late.

Barcelona

Rayo

Possession

53%

47%

Total Shots

19

17

Shots on Target

7

8

Pass Accuracy

83%

80%

Fouls

9

18

Offsides

2

0

Yellow Cards

1

4

Red Cards

0

0

Jordi Roura made four changes to the team that defeated AC Milan on Tuesday, as Xavi and Victor Valdés dropped out of the matchday squad through injury and suspension respectively, while Pedro and Dani Alves had to settle for a place on the bench. This meant starts for Cesc Fàbregas, Jose Manuel Pinto, Alexis Sánchez and Adriano Correia although there was no place in the starting XI for Marc Bartra despite Carles Puyol’s injury.

Rayo Vallecano started the match well, sensing that they needed to take their advantage of any early chances that fell their way at the Camp Nou. Roberto Trashorras came close to opening the scoring within a minute of the opening whistle, missing the target with a speculative effort after cutting in from the right-hand side although that would not discourage the visitors who looked to pressure the Blaugrana defense into an early mistake. Gerard Piqué obliged, conceding a relatively needless corner in the second minute – which thankfully came to nothing.

However, Barcelona know how to deal with pressure – and they demonstrated that they are still perfectly capable of turning the screw themselves on Tuesday night, exacting revenge on AC Milan to qualify for the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals – so it wasn’t long before Barça found their stride. Excellent hold-up play from David Villa created space for Cesc Fàbregas on the overlap, and the Catalan midfielder selflessly squared the ball to Lionel Messi for what should have been the game’s opening goal – until the Argentine lost his footing at the crucial moment. By the time he had recovered, Messi was swarmed by a number of white shirts and ultimately, the chance had gone.

Leo came close to making amends though in the 8th minute, rattling the woodwork with a well-taken free-kick – a free-kick that the Argentine won himself, drawing a foul from Alejandro Galvez. Barcelona continued to venture forward in search of an opener, but they were struggling to create clear-cut chances against a resolute Rayo Vallecano defense. In particular, Alexis Sánchez had started brightly but he was also being subject to some rough treatment from the visiting defenders; which ended up earning Piti the first yellow card of the evening after just 18 minutes.

Barça were getting closer, but still struggling to create anything like a clear goal-scoring opportunity; and unfortunately one of their "half" chances resulted in an injury for Adriano who appeared to overstretch himself in an attempt to test Ruebn in the Rayo goal. Sporting a new hairstyle, Dani Alves took his place at right-back and within minutes, Barça had broken the deadlock.

Admittedly, Alves’ substitution merely coincided with the opener – it wasn’t like he played an integral part in the build-up; that role fell to Lionel Messi who displayed fantastic skill to first escape from Jordi Figueras and then supply David Villa with a perfectly weighted through ball. Cutting in from the left-flank, Villa took the chance at the first time of asking, burying a right-footed effort in the top corner of Ruben’s net. 25 minutes on the clock and Barcelona were ahead.

Credit to Rayo for fighting back; they weren’t prepared to go down without a fight, even if the odds were stacked against them as both Adrian and Piti tested Pinto from long-range. Neither effort was ever going to find the back of the net, but at least they were giving it their best shot. At the other end, Barcelona were plugging away at the Rayo defense in search of their second goal of the game – and what would probably be the coup de grace; step forward Lionel Messi.

After combining with David Villa for the first, Messi found that El Guaje was prepared to return the favour as Villa held up play following a nice pass from Sergio Busquets, therefore allowing Messi the time to surge into space on the left-hand side of the Rayo penalty area. Villa promptly fed Messi the ball, and for the eighteenth successive La Liga match, the Argentine found the back of the net – taking his tally to a staggering 54 goals for the season. Courtesy of an efficient first-half performance, Barcelona found themselves two goals ahead at the break; would they be able to extend their lead after the interval?

Neither manager opted to make a change at the break – of course Barcelona had already made one change so no-one expected Roura to make another during half-time. Speaking of Adriano, news soon emerged that the Brazilian has suffered a hamstring tear and will be sidelined for the next 4-6 weeks, joining Carles Puyol on the sidelines. Getting back to the game, the second half started as the first-half ended: with Barcelona firmly in control. Dani Alves came within a few inches of extending the lead just minutes after the restart, but his snapshot from the right hand side of the Rayo area struck the inside of the post rather than the back of the net.

Alexis Sánchez arguably should have atoned for Dani’s miss on 54 minutes, especially given that the Chilean had an open goal at his mercy, but with a number of defenders blocking the way Sánchez dragged his shot wide of the post. Would Barcelona be made to regret their "wastefulness" in front of goal? Could Rayo Vallecano pull off a memorable comeback of their own?

Nope.

Once again, Lionel Messi linked with David Villa and the end result was another goal as – for the second time this evening – Villa released Messi with a brilliant through-ball and the Argentine raced inside the challenge of Arbilla to lift the ball over the head of Ruben and complete his brace. I make that the 350th goal of Messi’s career (including goals scored for the Barça B and C teams), but I can definitively say that it was Messi’s 42nd La Liga goal of 2012/13, which means that Messi has outscored fifteen of the remaining nineteen La Liga teams on his own.

Now three goals to the good, Barcelona decided enough was enough, and that Thiago Alcântara deserved half-an-hour to strut his stuff, with Andrés Iniesta making way. With Iniesta leaving the field, Barcelona needed a new captain – and who better than Lionel Messi? I would love to say the captain’s armband invigorated Messi to reach entirely new heights, but truth be told – he’s probably reached the pinnacle of the game anyway, so he continued as usual and was unlucky not to complete his hat-trick on 68 minutes following a pass from Cesc Fàbregas.

With the game all but out of reach, Paco Jemez decided to roll the dice one last time, bringing former Espanyol striker Raul Tamudo off the bench on 70 minutes – and his decision paid off as Tamudo took just seconds to get himself on the score-sheet, sliding home Piti’s teasing low cross from inside the six-yard box. It was a real poacher’s strike from Tamudo and marked his eighth career goal against the Blaugrana; although more importantly, it meant that Barcelona could not claim their third successive clean sheet – not that it really matters when the three points are all but secure.

Nevertheless, Barça had to weather something of a flurry of Rayo pressure in the minutes after the goal; with fellow substitute Lass Bangoura going closest to a second for the visitors mere moments after play had restarted. Fortunately, the pressure didn’t amount to anything and Barcelona saw out the final 15 minutes without too much incident. The win maintains Barcelona’s 13 point lead over Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, although Barça have to wait (roughly) a fortnight before they return to La Liga action thanks to the international break. Until then, Visca el Barça!


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