FC Barcelona continued their winning ways as Pedro's hat trick led El Blaugrana past Rayo Vallecano 4-0 in Madrid on Saturday night. Rayo Vallecano made it tough for Tata Martino's men in the first half as the home team played a solid half of football. But a quick break in the 32nd minute led to Lionel Messi faking out one defender, move away from another, and then make the pass to a wide-open Pedro who buried it behind the net for the 1-0 lead.
Trouble came in the 34th minute as a penalty was called in favor of Rayo. Trashorras stepped up to take the PK. Valdes went right and stopped Trashorras' shot. It was VV's second penalty shot save in the last four days.
In the second half, Barcelona finally got things going as Cesc Fabregas made an on-point cross to Pedro to make it 2-0 in the 46th minute. Xavi set up Cesc and Pedro finished it off for his brace on the night. It was Neymar who assisted Pedro in Barcelona's third goal of the night in the 72nd minute as a very similar play to the second goal occurred. Neymar sent a cross to the middle of the box and Pedro tapped it in for his hat trick. A Rayo defensive mistake led to a Xavi interception, which then saw him pass it to Cesc who made it 4-0 in the 79th minute.
Let's take a look at the Best, Worst, and What We Learned from this game.
The Best: Pedro and Victor Valdes
In my previous article, I mentioned how the right-winger for FC Barcelona needed to step up and support Lionel Messi and Neymar on offense. On Saturday, Pedro stepped up for this Barça offense. Pedrito was very opportunistic, and was in the right place at the right time for all three goals. This is what made Pedro such a breakout player a few years ago. After two straight seasons of mediocre play, Pedro is looking to make 2013-14 a strong one. Saturday's performance helps out his confidence as well as Tata's confidence in him.
I praised Victor Valdes in my previous article. VV was excellent against Rayo once again, grabbing nine saves total. Victor is, in my opinion, playing the best at the goalkeeper position in all of Europe this competitive season. As a joke, I suggested that Sandro Rosell should blackmail VV in order to keep him in Barcelona.
I still believe Valdes' decision to leave is final, so for now, let's just enjoy our time with Victor Valdes.
VICTOR VALDES RIGHT NOW > Every other GK in the world— Xoel Cárdenas (@XoelCardenas) September 21, 2013
Worst Needs Improvement: Martin Montoya
Last week, I mentioned that Martin Montoya needed to get the start against Rayo to send a message to the kid that he is an important part of this team. I'm glad Tata Martino read my article, because Tata started Martin. But the kid struggled a bit, including nearly making an own-goal, but VV was there for the stop.
I know the kid wasn't at his best, but he will be OK. This was Martin's first start this season, and he will improve. I'm sure Tata will work Montoya into more games as the season moves on.
What We Learned?: Martino's Style Is Coming Together for Barça
Perhaps the biggest stat of night was this one: After 316 games, for the 1st time since May 2008, FC Barcelona (49%) had less possession than the opponent. Five years! Tiki-taka domination.
But after Saturday's end of the streak, is this a sign that the tiki-taka is fading away?
Absolutely not. But the tiki-taka is now combining with Tata Martino's style to make something new for FC Barcelona. Let's call it "tiki-tata."
While tiki-taka will always be the foundation of the club's style of play, this Barça team needed a new element to mix things up. Tata's tiki-tata teachings of widening play, hustling to try and get the ball back, pressing, and a solid rotation are just some of the things Tata has brought to this team. Saturday was not a shining example of Barcelona ball-possession dominance, but the Rayo game was an example of taking the opponent's best shot, stand strong, and execute on the opponent's mistakes to set up goals. Nothing too fancy, just plain old good football.
What's Next?: Tuesday against Real Sociedad
It's a quick turnaround for Messi and company as they will host Real Sociedad in Liga action on Tuesday at the Camp Nou. Look for Dani Alves to start as he did not play against Rayo. Sergio Busquets may see time as he was left out of the squad for the Rayo game to get some rest. Alexis Sanchez will more than likely start in place of Pedro, and Andres Iniesta will probably be a starter for the La Real game as he came on as a substitute in Saturday's game against Rayo.
One player I hope gets more time is Marc Bartra. Javier Mascherano and/or Gerard Pique could use the rest. Bartra, like Martin Montoya, needs to be shown that he is an important part of this team's present, not just its future. We can say the same thing about Sergi Roberto.
Xoel's Final Word
It was a tough first half for FC Barcelona, but the defending Liga champions turned up the press, and took advantage of Rayo Vallecano's mistakes to stay undefeated in La Liga with a 4-0 win in Madrid on Saturday.
Neymar will eventually score goals, Messi is still Messi, and Victor Valdes is proving that he is not just the best goalkeeper in Spain, he's arguably the best current GK in Europe. The defense is still a work in progress, but for now, they are doing enough.
No time to rest too much, as La Real comes to the Camp Nou on Tuesday. Gotta stay focused, FC Barcelona. Vamos!
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona