Barcelona are back in action on Saturday in La Liga after a two-week absence due to the international break. First up is a trip to Vallecas to take on Rayo Vallecano who have given Barcelona a few problems recently.
Here’s what to look out for this weekend...
Can Xavi secure first win against Rayo?
Xavi Hernandez takes on Rayo looking for his first ever win over Los Franjirrojos since taking charge of Barcelona.
Rayo Vallecano are the team that he has faced the joint-most times as Barcelona boss in all competitions without winning. In three games he’s yet to take the three points and he will surely be hoping it’s fourth time lucky on Saturday.
Rayo have definitely enjoyed playing Barcelona in recent seasons. The team from Madrid have not lost any of their last four matches against Barcelona in La Liga.
It’s the joint-best record against the Catalans in the league - with Granada the Blaugrana’s other current bogey team.
Who replaces Gavi?
The big question heading into the match is who will replace Gavi in the XI. Let’s not forget since he made his debut in August 2021, Gavi has played some part in 92% of Barca’s games in all competitions (that’s 111 appearances in 121 matches).
We already know that Frenkie de Jong should play after shaking off an ankle injury, while Pedri also looks set to start after enjoying some time off over the international break.
But who else will Xavi go for? Ilkay Gundogan is the logical choice but has played an awful lot of football this season and started both of Germany’s friendles during the international break.
Fermin Lopez and Oriol Romeu are two other midfield options for Xavi, who knows his team really can’t afford to drop more points after getting back to winning ways against Alaves last time out.
Barca will be relieved to see Álvaro García miss out
Barcelona’s defense has leaked goals this season and will no doubt be relieved to see Alvaro Garcia, Rayo’s top scorer, out of the game through suspension.
Garcia’s absence will be a real blow to Rayo. He has thrived against Barca in recent years, scoring three goals in six games and picking up an assist.
At Vallecas he’s scored two goals in three games against Barca in the top flight but will have to watch Saturday’s game from the sidelines.
Time for Inaki Pena to shine?
Marc-Andre ter Stegen is an injury doubt for the match which means we could get to see Inaki Pena for the first time this season. Pena has had his chances to move away from Barca but opted to stay and sign a new contract.
First-team chances have been few and far between but he could get the chance to show what he can do against Rayo. Ter Stegen has said he’ll wait to see how he feels but you suspect Barca won’t take any risks.
The Catalans play Porto in midweek in a crunch Champions League game and then head to Atletico next weekend in La Liga. Xavi will undoubtedly want his first choice stopper between the sticks for those two matches.
Another late show from Barca?
Late goals have been a theme for Barcelona so far this season, something Rayo will need to watch out for at Vallecas.
Saturday’s visitiors have won 14 of their 30 points in the current campaign from goals scored in the last 15 minutes of games. It’s the highest tally anywhere in Europe’s top five leagues so far in 2023-24.
Barcelona and Xavi would obviously like to have the points wrapped up long before then, but on a tricky away ground, and after a difficult week for the club due to the news about Gavi, the top priority will be to simply take all three points home no matter when the goals come.