Frustrating start for new-look Barcelona
Xavi’s new-look Barcelona endured a frustrating start to the new 2022-23 season after being held to a 0-0 draw against Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou. Just four of Barcelona’s XI on Saturday started their La Liga opener last season.
Expectations were high ahead of kick-off as the 81,104 fans packed into the Camp Nou were able to see Xavi’s team in competitive action for the first time in the Spanish top flight.
Barca went on to enjoy 68% possession and managed 21 shots in the 90 minutes, compared to Rayo’s four, but could not find the back of the net despite the presence of new signings Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski.
Indeed the hosts needed goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to make some important saves to ensure they held on to a point against the visitors.
Xavi admitted after the game that “everybody was upset” because of the result which certainly wasn’t what the Catalans were looking for but was an improvement on last season’s home and away defeats to Rayo.
Quiet start for Barca’s new signings
Barca registered four of their new signings 24 hours before kick-off and they all saw game time against Rayo. Raphinha, Robert Lewandowski and Andreas Christensen all started, while Franck Kessie came off the bench.
Of course, all eyes were on Lewandowski but there was to be no goal for the Poland international on his La Liga debut. Indeed the former Bayern Munich man had a very quiet first half.
15 - Robert Lewandowski had just one shot in the first half against Rayo Vallecano, as well as taking just two touches in the opposition box (15 in total, the lowest of any Barça player). Wait. pic.twitter.com/MiTZkLbQDQ— OptaJose (@OptaJose) August 13, 2022
Lewandowski did have a great chance after the break but fired wide after a neat turn. He also got the ball in the net but saw it ruled out for offside. It’s the first time in eight years the attacker has failed to score on the opening day of a new campaign.
Raphinha had some lively moments, and thought he might have won a penalty early on after appearing to be clipped in the box, but was well defended by Fran Garcia and a switch in flank didn’t really help matters.
At the back there was a clean sheet for Christensen on his La Liga debut. Interestingly, the Dane made 61 passes during the game but 21 of those were back to Marc-Andre ter Stegen and just 25 went to midfielders or forwards.
Barca’s new signings will need time to settle but could still be joined by more arrivals, with Xavi calling for more transfers after the draw. He explained, “I’ve already said we have to keep strengthening and we have time until August 31.”
Will Barca sign two full-backs?
If Barca are to strengthen further it’s likely to be at full-back where the Catalans continue to have issues. Sergino Dest looks to have little future at the club after being left out of the squad entirely which led to Ronald Araujo starting at right-back.
The Uruguayan surely won’t spend the season at full-back, while heading into the new campaign with Sergi Roberto as the only other right-back option looks short-sighted at best.
Ronald Araujo after Rayo Vallecano drew with Barcelona:— Football España (@footballespana_) August 14, 2022
"I am there for whatever the manager asks of me and to help the team and I am learning. Rayo plays with a very fast winger, very open and we had to counteract that." pic.twitter.com/e2D7mLBo03
Barca have already missed out on Cesar Azpilicueta but, currently at least, it seems more likely the Catalans will sign a new left-back. Marcos Alonso looks set to be the next player to arrive at the Camp Nou and is expected to finalize a move next week.
Alonso’s arrival is unlikely to excite too many supporters but will put pressure on Alba for his place in the starting XI. The Spaniard was targeted by Rayo as Ivan Balliu admitted after the game.
He said after the final whistle, “We knew that we could generate danger behind Jordi Alba, also with the aerial game, and we worked to be able to attack in that area.”
Frenkie fights for his place
Another player fighting for a place in the starting XI is Frenkie de Jong. The Dutchman started the match on the bench with Xavi preferring a midfield three of Sergio Busquets, Pedri and Gavi.
De Jong came on for the final half hour and showed some real fight as he battles for his future at Barcelona. The midfielder even drew praise from Xavi after the match, although the coach didn’t exactly rule out an exit.
“His role is not as a substitute, he is an important player, I have said that many times,” he said. “He did very well coming on today — like last week. I don’t know what will happen in the transfer market, but if he stays, he will be very important for us. Especially with the attitude he has and his performances.”
It’s still not clear what will happen with De Jong, although you suspect the only realistic option if he does leave is Chelsea given Manchester United’s latest horror show against Brentford.
Meanwhile, Xavi will have to make a change to his midfield for Barca’s next game against Real Sociedad. Captain Sergio Busquets will be suspended after his late red card against Rayo which opens up at least one spot in midfield.
Are Rayo now Barca’s bogey team?
Rayo’s draw at Barcelona is the latest in a string of excellent results against the Catalans since Los Vallecanos returned to La Liga. Coach Andoni Iraola has done a fine job with Rayo and seems to love playing Barcelona.
3 - Andoni Iraola is the first manager in LaLiga history to keep a clean sheet in each of his first three matches on the bench against FC Barcelona. Master. pic.twitter.com/pyt0mnC0Ze— OptaJose (@OptaJose) August 13, 2022
Goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski, who has been linked with a move to Barcelona in the past, also seems to reserve his best form for the Catalan giants.
The stopper’s time-wasting was annoying but he left the Camp Nou a happy man after keeping another clean sheet against Barca.
100% - Stole Dimitrievski has saved all 10 shots on goal he has faced in his three LaLiga games against Barcelona since last season. Wall. pic.twitter.com/0kXVVLlWcW— OptaJose (@OptaJose) August 13, 2022
Barca will probably be relieved they don’t face Rayo again until April but face another tough test next at Real Sociedad. The Catalans used to struggle at La Real but are unbeaten at Anoeta in La Liga since breaking the infamous curse in 2018.