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La Liga: FC Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano: Match Preview

A preview of Barcelona's La Liga clash with Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce

FC Barcelona will have one eye on Tuesday's UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first-leg clash with Manchester City, but must keep their focus tomorrow evening when they entertain  Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou. A win would see the Blaugrana retain control of La Liga, virtually irrespective of the scores in Real Madrid's and Atletico Madrid's respective matches, but another slip-up and, well, let's just say the knives would be out for Gerardo Martino. Ahead of such an important game, he has to balance rotation and results, all the while knowing that the performance will still be judged by Culés increasingly high standards.

It's a tough ask, but I'm confident Martino is up to the task. He has been nothing but brilliant thus far in his career as head coach, especially when it comes to the crunch situations. In terms of managing the squad, Martino is also doing a great job. Take the reintroduction of Neymar for instance. He could have rushed him back, but he's taken it slowly and with the Brazilian set to make his comeback tomorrow, Neymar may be in a position to start against Manchester City in midweek.

Meanwhile, Xavi Hernandez drops out of the squad entirely -- a smart move from the Argentine coach, even if it does give something away ahead of the game with City. Against Rayo Vallecano, who may be a good "football" team but are struggling to translate their good play into results, Xavi isn't needed. Against City, he will be crucial and I want to see him in top form, just like I want to see Barça win tomorrow.

Can they keep the pressure on Real and Atletico Madrid with another victory?



The headline news? Neymar returns after nearly a month on the sidelines with an ankle injury, and of course his return to the squad increases speculation that he could start at the Etihad Arena against Manchester City on Tuesday. And who wouldn't be excited about that? Neymar scored the all important, trophy winning goal against Atletico Madrid and he scored an important, game defining goal against Real Madrid. If Neymar starts, he has the record to probably threaten a goal against Manchester City too.

Oh, but that's next week. This weekend we will see Victor Valdés return in goal, with Martin Montoya, Marc Bartra, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba my personal picks to start in defense. Carles Puyol could easily slot in ahead of El Jefecito, while Adriano Correia could replace Jordi Alba, but I'd save the latter for Tuesday, while I equally do not expect Puyol to be in a position to start tomorrow, otherwise he probably would have started on Wednesday.

Alex Song could start ahead of Sergio Busquets at pivote, while I anticipate that Sergi Roberto may start, or at least feature off the bench after a couple of games without an appearance. That would leave Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta to rotate in the other midfield slot, keeping them both fresh for Tuesday.

In attack, I suppose that Lionel Messi will start as usual, with Alexis Sanchez and Cristian Tello in support. Pedro will replace Sanchez in the second-half, with Neymar making his return in place of Lionel Messi after the interval. At least that's how the game played out in my mind anyway.


Former La Masia graduate Iago Falque inspired Rayo Vallecano to an impressive and somewhat surprising 4-1 win over Malaga last weekend, and the Tottenham loanees will be dreaming that he can make a similar impact tomorrow at the Camp Nou. Paco Jemez' side always put up a decent fight, even if they often end up losing heavily.


Barcelona: WWLWWD



Rayo Vallecano 0-4 FC Barcelona -- 21st September 2013 -- La Liga

A hat-trick from Pedro inspired Barcelona to victory in this tricky away trip to Madrid.


Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Montoya, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano; Song, Fabregas, Iniesta; Sanchez, Messi, Tello

Rayo (4-2-3-1): Ruben; Arbilla, Galeano, Galvez, Tito; Trashorras, Saul; Viera, Bueno, Falque; Larrivey


Barcelona won't have to work too hard to get a good result here. I'm going for a Manita.

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