FC Barcelona made up for their loss on Saturday with an easy victory over Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou on Tuesday night. The Blaugrana went ahead through Alexis Sanchez on the 28th minute and never looked back, with Sanchez helping himself to another, before goals from David Villa and Lionel Messi (who else?) rounded off the scoring. The gap is now down to three points at the top of the table, albeit with Madrid boasting a game in hand.
Keen to erase the dreadful memories from Saturday night, FC Barcelona hosted Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou, with Pep Guardiola making a few changes to the starting XI. Still no place for Carles Puyol, nor Isaac Cuenca, but Andres Iniesta was restored alongside Xavi and Seydou Keita.
Barcelona started a little slow, while Rayo started well, pressuring high up the field and having the first shot of the evening. It may have been a long-range effort from Javi Fuego that went well over, but it was an effort nonetheless. Andres Iniesta clearly took offense to this, attempting a shot from 40 yards with Cobeno retreating well to save his embarrassment. Rayo were sticking to their philosophy of attack, and a diagonal ball over the Barcelona defense found Lass, but he couldn’t control the effort and sent it wide at the near post.
Dani Alves was looking better in the opening stages, and he was the next to have a chance, cutting in from the right wing and drilling the ball towards the far corner, but it was saved by Cobeno in the Rayo goal. The performance was not up to Barca standards, but far better than the weekend’s dismal showing. Certain players were looking off-form, but almost as if they could hear the critics’ voices getting louder, there was a response.
Alexis Sanchez was fed the ball by Xavi Hernandez, and cutting inside from the left-wing he manoeuvred the ball onto his right-foot. H didn’t even need another touch to get the ball out of his feet and he bent the ball towards the far corner where it ricocheted off the post and into the net. Barcelona were 1-0 up, and the crowd settled down just a little bit more.
Lionel Messi had a chance to double the advantage just minutes later, but he chose to shoot when presented with an opportunity to cross the ball for David Villa. Lass ensured that Barcelona were still on their toes with a tame effort at least forcing Valdes to pick the ball off the ground, but it appeared to me that the Blaugrana were working up a head of steam with Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez at the hub of this.
Messi was running towards goal and spotted Xavi ahead of him, so naturally he sent the ball his way. The pass was a little behind so Xavi attempted to flick the ball into his path just like he did for the first goal in the famous Manita victory over Real Madrid a year ago. He couldn’t quite manage it, but it turned into a fine inadvertent pass that found its way to Alexis who slotted home past Cobeno. 40 minutes on the clock and Barcelona were 2-0 ahead.
Would they settle for a two-goal lead at half-time? Of course not! Gerard Pique rampaged forward from the centre of defense, surging into the Rayo half and picking out the expert run of Dani Alves with a picture perfect slide-rule pass. Ever the team player, Alves spotted Villa alongside him and laid the ball off for El Guaje to get a much needed confidence booster. That was the final action of the half, and again contrast was the word that described it best.
Rayo took the half-time break to make a change, bringing on ex-Espanyol striker Raul Tamudo, while Barcelona kept the same XI on the field. Barcelona started the half well and it was less than five minutes before they found another goal. This time Lionel Messi took the initiative upon himself, embarking on a trademark run down the right wing and cutting inside to fire the ball past Cobeno into the far corner of the net. It was his 16th La Liga goal of the season; the Argentine is simply irresistible.
Guardiola was clearly waiting for this four-goal lead before making his changes, and on came Thiago Alcantara for Xavi and Cesc Fabregas for Andres Iniesta. However, still no respite for Lionel Messi...
Tamudo had been quiet since his introduction, but reminded everyone at the Camp Nou of his undoubted pedigree. Rayo sent a cross over the heads of the Barcelona defense, and despite seeing it fairly late, Tamudo let fly with a volley. His effort was directed towards the far post, but ended up whistling wide.
David Villa was starting to show remnants of his old form as well, with a penalty appeal turned down (correctly I must say), and an exquisite turn and lob that went agonizingly close. It was certainly an improvement for Villa, but that wasn’t going to be difficult. Adriano replaced Alexis Sanchez , who received a rapturous applause for his efforts and that signalled the time where the game started to wind down for the hosts.
That being said, to their credit Rayo kept fighting with Michu getting off a shot after a fine turn, but Valdes got down well on his left-hand side to deny the striker a late consolation, thus preserving Barcelona’s unbeaten record in La Liga and made sure of an 11th successive clean sheet, with both records applying just to league matches at the Camp Nou.
Man of the Match goes to Alexis Sanchez for his brace that really helped the Blaugrana on their way to a routine victory. He will be important in the weeks to come, and these goals are sure to boost his confidence and relieve some pressure on Lionel Messi.
¡Visca el Barca! Next up is Levante on Saturday.