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La Liga: Rayo Vallecano 0-2 FC Barcelona: Match Review

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A review of Barcelona's 2-0 La Liga win over Rayo Vallecano at Vallecas, as goals from Lionel Messi and Neymar were enough to secure another three points for the table-topping Blaugrana

Denis Doyle

FC Barcelona were far from their best, but remained too strong for Rayo Vallecano at Vallecas on Saturday evening as quick-fire first half goals from Lionel Messi and Neymar secured the three points for Luis Enrique’s table-topping side. Rayo battled and even matched the Blaugrana, but ultimately a shaky defense let them down, not to mention a lack of discipline. Even as Rayo were eventually reduced to nine men, Barça couldn’t grab another goal and ultimately had to settle for a somewhat narrow victory.

Rayo

Barcelona

Possession

41%

59%

Total Shots

14

18

Shots on Target

4

7

Pass Accuracy

76%

81%

Corners

6

7

Fouls

19

7

Offsides

3

6

Yellow Cards

2

2

Red Cards

2

0


For the first time in four matches, Luis Enrique opted to restore former regular Gerard Piqué to the starting line-up, as the Catalan was finally recalled to the backline after a spell on the bench. Marc Bartra also earned himself a start, although Jeremy Mathieu remained in the line-up, presumably taking Jordi Alba’s place at full-back. In midfield, Ivan Rakitić was dropped as Lucho reverted to the classic Busquets-Xavi-Iniesta triumvirate.

Up top, Munir replaced the ineffective and out-of-form Pedro, while both Lionel Messi and Neymar started, despite the latter picking up a knock against Paris Saint-Germain in midweek. Would the Blaugrana be able to bounceback, or would Rayo pull off an upset?

***

The hosts started the match positively, pressing the Blaugrana high up the field, just as they had promised to do in all the pre-match media coverage. Perhaps as a consequence of this, or perhaps as a result of their midweek slip-up, Barça struggled to settle into the match and arguably gave up more chances than they created in the opening quarter of an hour.

Alberto Bueno has been in excellent form thus far this season, and starting just behind Leo Baptistao in the Rayo attack, Bueno had space to work between the lines. Barça were slow to react when he did receive the ball as well and that could have cost them dear. Tito played the ball inside, Bueno had time and space to pick out a shot, forcing an excellent sprawling save from Claudio Bravo.

Minutes later, Rayo were at it again; Roberto Trashorras’ free-kick was blocked diligently by the Barcelona wall after a Xavi handball, and Bueno forced another save from Bravo with a header.

However, Rayo’s dominance would not last for long – Barcelona slowly grew in confidence and as they adjusted to the tempo of the match they began to create chances. A fantastic lofted through ball from Neymar sent Lionel Messi through on goal and while the Argentine was being forced onto his weaker right foot, this was still a great opportunity to break the deadlock. However, Tono was quick off his line and while Messi got his shot away, Tono was able to smother the effort and clear the danger.

Messi was at it again just moments later, driving at the Rayo defense and as he appeared to skip away from the challenge of the last man, he was scythed down by Abdoulaye Ba, who could perhaps count himself lucky to only receive a yellow card for his troubles.

Indeed, practically everything positive was flowing through Lionel Messi at some stage – he was the one to apparently break the deadlock after a pass from Andrés Iniesta but a late flag from the assistant referee cancelled that one out.

A little over half an hour had passed at Vallecas, and still no goal.

Not for long.

Step forward Lionel Messi. A smart run, a great pass from Gerard Piqué – no offside flag – and while Tono rushed out, Messi was too smart. A delicate chip and Barça were up and running.

Up, running, and moving into top gear – within seconds of the restart Barça had the ball in the back of the net again. Unfair on Rayo? Almost certainly, but such is life at times. The Rayo high line was just suicidal; a long pass from the back found Munir, who held the ball up well and released Neymar through on goal. The Brazilian made no mistake with the finish, calmly slotting the ball into the far corner and just like that, we’d gone from close game to game over.

***

Unsurprisingly, with a two goal lead it was Barcelona who started the second half as the brighter side. However, despite their dominance in possession Barça were not really creating many chances – again, it was Rayo forcing that particular issue early into the second period. Alberto Bueno was playing well and Leo Baptistao stung the palms of Bravo with a fierce shot just before the hour mark. Of course, the shut-out streak continued as Bravo repelled Rayo’s best efforts, but from Paco Jemez’ perspective, this wasn’t really a bad performance from the hosts.

Replacing Munir, Pedro was Luis Enrique’s first substitution as the Spaniard was given half an hour to get back into form against a team he actually boasts an incredible record against. However, Pedro would not be the one making the headlines just yet – Neymar drew another foul from Jorge Morcillo and the referee had no choice but to reach into his pocket and produce a second yellow card.

Rayo were down to ten men, were two goals behind and generally out of options. Paco Jemez had made a couple of offensive changes at the break and now they were just going to have to deal with it. Hope for the best, maybe Barça wouldn’t force the issue and go for more goals?

Well, in some ways, they didn’t. This wasn’t the fluid Barça performance that we saw a week ago against Granada for example, but equally it wasn’t the tepid display we saw against PSG or Malaga. It was something in-between, underwhelming, yet adequate. The introduction of Ivan Rakitić for Andrés Iniesta suggested Lucho was going for the kill, yet even the Croatian was just a fraction "off".

Given space and time, I expected him to test or even beat Tono with his first shot of the match inside the penalty area, yet his effort while powerful wasn’t directed at all. Straight at Tono, who easily batted it clear. Lucho made his final change – off went Neymar, on came Sandro and still Barça huffed and puffed without much end product. Aside from a couple of minutes, quite literally, we had been a little pedestrian.

I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as the three points are secured – Barça will top the table headed into the international break and we are still yet to concede in La Liga under Enrique. Keep on trucking FC Barcelona....keep on trucking...

Next up, we entertain Eibar at the Camp Nou, but only after another pesky international break. Until then, Visca el Barça!

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Commenter list Anirudh_Kul, Artemis11, Barca Boy, Catalan_Blood, El_Illusionista, FCB4Ever, Govand, Imalwaysofftopic, Inder Methil, Jake07, Jose-Armendariz, KiwiBarca, MessiLeftFoot, MiB75, Neyssi, NoImagination90, PG9, Ragnar_Lothbrok, Ron10, Som-i-Serem, Steven Cordero, TheOnlyPtolemy, Tokjee, TwoA, Uncharted_Almo, VarkeychanT, ViscaViscaBarca, Waje.y, Willis1984, ade fox, cgill424, craig00000, dlapa, lord.supertramp, saijaikumar, shubham2806, syredeathtrooper, tilak
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18 Catalan_Blood 7
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23 tilak 6
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25 Jose-Armendariz 5
26 PG9 4
27 El_Illusionista 4
28 lord.supertramp 3
29 Anirudh_Kul 3
30 cgill424 3
31 Inder Methil 2
32 VarkeychanT 2
33 Ron10 2
34 Tokjee 1
35 MiB75 1
36 ViscaViscaBarca 1
37 Govand 1
38 FCB4Ever 1