Barcelona survived an early scare to once again stage a comeback against Rayo Vallecano. Raúl de Tomás opened the scoring for the visitors, but Barcelona replied with three unanswered goals of their own to secure the win. Gerard Pique tied it up before the break and Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez completed the turnaround in the second half.
With the upcoming massive fixture against Lyon, heavy rotation was expected, but those reports weren’t entirely true. There was some rotation, with Ivan Rakitić and Ousmane Dembele remaining on the bench, but more was expected. Samuel Umtiti replaced the suspended Clement Lenglet to start alongside Pique. Nelson Semedo returned at right back and there were no surprises on the left side. In midfield Sergio Busquets played behind Arthur and Arturo Vidal. In attack Philippe Coutinho took Dembele’s spot alongside the two usual suspects.
Rayo Vallecano started the match very defensively, and with five in the back-line there was very little Barcelona managed. Despite the defensive start the visitors would be the first to launch a good attack as de Tomás caused problems to the Barcelona defenders, but in the end Marc-Andre ter Stegen went untested.
After the opening ten minutes Barcelona started showing more life and more creativity in attack. On a couple set-plays Umtiti was the intended target, but Stole Dimitrievski was there to punch the ball out of danger. On another play Busquets found Coutinho in the danger area, but before the Brazilian could fire on goal the ball was cleared away. With Barcelona pressing, the visitors took up a very defensive formation and finding space proved very difficult. In the 19th minute Suarez forced Dimitrievski to make a fingertip save on a sneaky good curling shot, but the play was whistled dead for a Messi offside. The very next minute Semedo looked to create a scoring chance with a well-timed run, but his back-pass didn’t find a teammate.
In the 23rd minute Barcelona created their best chance of the game, but Messi’s attempt was saved. Just moments later Dimitrievski once again had to make a strong save, this time after a lovely play between Messi, Vidal and Coutinho, but the Brazilian’s shot wasn’t good enough to beat the Macedonian.
Rayo immediately made Barcelona pay for those two missed chances. De Tomás was sent alone against three Barcelona defenders, but none of them put enough pressure on the Real Madrid youth product and Rayo’s top scorer fired from outside of the box and beat ter Stegen to the far post. Barcelona quickly returned to the offensive, but Rayo now happily committed even more efforts to playing behind the ball.
Just after the half-hour mark Pique won an aerial duel inside of Rayo’s area after a free kick from Messi, but a slight tug from Santi Comesaña was enough to skew Pique’s aim and his header went wide. Barcelona were struggling, like they were at the Vallecas where a last minute comeback secured a thrilling win for the Catalans, but despite their struggles the hosts would tie the game at one before the break. In the 38th minute Messi sent a floating free kick into the danger area from the right side. There the visitors left Barcelona’s best header of the ball wide open and Pique quickly deposited the ball into the back of the net past a charging Dimitrievski.
Up until the halftime whistle Barcelona were pushing for the deadlock-breaking goal, but even though a couple half-chances were there for the taking, the two sides would go down the tunnel tied at one.
Hoping to catch Rayo off guard to start the second half, Ernesto Valverde made a halftime substitution, leaving Arthur inside the locker room and bringing on Dembele. The immediate results weren’t there as Rayo would threaten first, but Barcelona’s defense held on. In the 50th minute, with the action on the other end, Semedo was brought down inside the area after a perfectly timed run for a penalty kick. After a quick check with VAR the decision was upheld and Messi calmly sent Dimitrievski the wrong way to put Barcelona in the lead.
The Catalans weren’t going to waste any time and returned to the attack immediately, but Rayo tightened up their ranks even more. Even though the visitors now needed a goal for a positive result they weren’t going to open up just yet. Still, in the 59th minute Messi had another good look on goal, after a poor Luis Advíncula clearance, but the Argentine didn’t get enough power on his right-footed try to beat the goalkeeper.
Barcelona were dominating the ball and were attempting to draw Rayo to step higher up the pitch, but the visitors remained in a deep stance. In the 64th minute, however, Rayo abandoned the five-man back line as Jordi Amat made way for José Ángel Pozo. Immediately the Madrid-side looked more aggressive and not even a minute after the substitution won a corner kick from which Álvaro García fired just wide from the edge of the area.
This, in turn, also allowed more space for Barcelona in attack and in the 70th minute the hosts threated from a free kick won after a quick attack through Rayo’s opened up lines. Messi stepped up for the free kick that was a bit to the left side and fired a seemingly perfect shot destined to squeak inside the near post, but Álex Moreno broke off from the wall at the last second to cover the post and headed the ball away.
But Rayo also had their moments of pressing Barcelona deep and oftentimes threatened from corner kicks. While it didn’t always look pretty, Barcelona’s defense kept ter Stegen’s involvement to a minimum. Rayo were allowing acres of space on the other end, but Barcelona weren’t able to take advantage. The Catalans launched several promising attacks, but seemingly always there was one pass too many and Dimitrievski went untested.
In the 81st minute Míchel brought on another attacker for a midfielder, while Valverde took off Coutinho for Rakitić. And on his first play on the pitch the Croatian picked up an assist. It was a textbook counter-attack with ter Stegen starting the play with a quick pass forward after a collected cross. A couple passes later Dembele received the ball on the right wing before sending it back to Suarez inside the area. There Suarez first-timed it to his right to the onrushing Rakitić. The midfielder sent the ball back to the Uruguayan who was left with an easy finish to double Barcelona’s lead.
With five minutes of regulation left, Malcom made a rare appearance as he took Busquets’ place. The Brazilian took his spot on the right side while Dembele switched wings. After the third goal Rayo showed very little as they succumbed to their fate. Barcelona would look to dazzle a couple more times and walk the ball in once again, but the score-line wouldn’t change even after two minutes of added time. With the win Barcelona restored the seven-point La Liga lead, but now a daunting task named Lyon awaits on Wednesday.