FC Barcelona (2nd, 63pts) vs Rayo Vallecano (14th, 37pts)
Competition/Round: 2021-22 La Liga, Matchday 21
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Pedri, Ansu Fati, Sergi Roberto, Samuel Umtiti (out)
Rayo Vallecano Outs & Doubts: Esteban Saveljich, Martín Merquelanz (out)
Date/Time: Sunday, April 24, 2022, 9pm CET (Barcelona), 8pm BST/WAT (UK & Nigeria), 3pm ET, 12pm PT (USA), 12.30am IST (India, Monday)
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Referee: Isidro Díaz de Mera Escuderos
VAR: José Luis Munuera Montero
How to watch on TV: Not Available (USA, Canada), LaLigaTV (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), MTV (India), Movistar LaLiga (Spain), others
Following a hard-fought victory away to Real Sociedad on Thursday night at the Basque Country, Barcelona return home to catch up with the rest of La Liga as they face Rayo Vallecano at the Greatest Stadium on Earth on Sunday Night Fútbol.
This game was originally scheduled for January but was postponed due to Barça’s participation in the Spanish Super Cup, and the Blaugrana have had that game in hand in their back pocket for the last three months as they took the league by storm and put themselves in great position to qualify for the Champions League and finish in second place.
Now it’s time to cash in that advantage and take a major step towards accomplishing their goal: with a victory on Sunday Barça will go three points clear of third-place Sevilla and, even more importantly, open a nine-point gap to fifth-place Real Betis with five games to go, which would virtually guarantee a Top 4 finish for the Blaugrana.
In theory they don’t have that tough a task: before their victory away to Espanyol on Thursday, Rayo Vallecano had gone a full four months without a victory, a 13-game winless streak that took them from the surprise of the league in the first half of the season to real relegation candidates before getting three crucial points in midweek.
But it’s easy to be fooled by the recent stretch and forget just how good Rayo were at the start of the season, and the truth is they haven’t done a ton wrong even in the middle of a terrible run of results. Their attack just went cold, and their defense couldn’t hold up once the goals stopped going in up front.
But this is still a very intense, well-organized side that knows how to create problems, as evidenced by their recent results against the other teams in the Top 4: two close 1-0 losses to Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, and a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Sevilla.
Rayo will come to Camp Nou knowing they can cause an upset against a Barça side that is clearly exhausted and in desperate need of a full week of rest which will come after this one. Xavi Hernández and his troops will have to find a way muster up enough energy and feed off the home crowd to play a good match and get all three points.
Barça don’t exactly need to win this one, but a victory would take away all the pressure from the final five games of the season and allow Xavi to rotate and maybe test some different tactics without the obligation of winning every match. Rayo will be tough to beat and Barça know that, so they need to be at their best even if they’re tired.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Alves, Araujo, Eric, Dest; F. De Jong, Busquets, Gavi; Dembélé, Aubameyang, Ferran
Rayo (4-2-3-1): Dimitrievski; Balliu, Maras, Catena, Rodrigues; Valentín, Comesaña; Isi, Trejo, García; Guardiola
I hate when I’m so confident ahead of a Barça game, but something tells me Sunday will be a fun night at Camp Nou: 4-1 to the good guys.