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Rayo Vallecano vs Barcelona, La Liga: Final Score 1-1, Wasteful Barça rescue point on the road

Barça still can’t beat Rayo, and the two points dropped could prove very costly

Rayo Vallecano v FC Barcelona - LaLiga EA Sports Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Barcelona’s first La Liga game after the final international break of the year ended in a disappointing 1-1 draw away to Rayo Vallecano at the Estadio de Vallecas on Saturday’s early kickoff. The Blaugrana struggled to create real chances in the first half and found themselves behind at the break, and despite some real improvement in the second half they couldn’t find a way to win at the end and dropped two points on the road. Xavi Hernández is yet to beat his bogey team, and the Blaugrana could find themselves even further behind the top two teams in the table by the end of the weekend.

FIRST HALF

The first period was played at a slow, methodical pace as Barça had most of the ball and tried to patiently move it between the lines against Rayo’s high press to try and create opportunities.

Frenkie de Jong’s return helped make the passing process a lot cleaner and the Blaugrana constantly found themselves in interesting positions, but the final ball was lacking and several promising attacks were wasted by poor passes and bad decisions in the final third.

The Catalans only had two moments of danger, one on a shot from Pedri that required a solid save by Stole Dimitrievski and the other after a brilliant solo run from Lamine Yamal through five Rayo defenders that only lacked a proper finish to test the goalkeeper.

Rayo did very little to threaten Barça going the other way, but with five minutes to go in the period they found an unlikely breakthrough: after the Blaugrana failed to properly clear the ball away on a free-kick, Unai López took hold of the rebound and fired a gorgeous shot with the outside of his right foot that curled away from Iñaki Peña and into the bottom corner for a stunning opener for the visitors.

Barça naturally tried to apply some pressure to steal an equalizer before halftime but couldn’t create a proper chance, and the Catalans could have easily been down two goals if not for a crucial goal-line clearance by Alejandro Balde to deny Rayo an easy tap-in on a counter-attack.

The halftime whistle came to end a frustrating period for Barça, who should have done much better to pay off their positive moments in possession but were very wasteful up front, and they had to be a lot more effective if they wanted to make a second half comeback.

SECOND HALF

Barça were finally able to translate their solid possession work into real chances in the opening moments of the final period, with Ferran Torres and Pedri each missing a wide-open header less than 10 yards away from goal in the first 10 minutes.

Xavi Hernández made a quick decision to take advantage of the forward momentum and send in Ilkay Gündogan and João Félix to try and add more creative spark to the attack, and as we reached the hour mark it felt as though the equalizer was just a matter of time.

Rayo also sensed Barça’s growth in the game and did their best to disrupt the visitors’ rhythm by kicking the living hell out of every Barça player in sight. They walked the tight rope a few times with their physical play and the Blaugrana had a very strong penalty shout when Isi pushed Balde in the back inside the area, but both the referee and VAR decided it was not a penalty.

Rayo’s physicality was successful in slowing down Barça’s pace, so Xavi made two more changes with 15 minutes to go as Fermín López and Raphinha came on for Pedri and Yamal looking to add a couple of fresh bodies for the late push. Raphinha nearly made an instant impact with a rocket from outside the box that hit the post, but Robert Lewandowski couldn’t sort his feet on the rebound and missed a huge chance to finally break the deadlock.

Time was beginning to run out on Barça’s comeback bid, but with 10 minutes to go they finally found an equalizer: a fantastic pass from Iñigo Martínez found the perfectly timed run of Balde who put in a great cross looking for Lewandowski, but Florian Lejeune got to the ball before the Barça striker and scored against his own net to make it 1-1 and give the Blaugrana a real chance to win it late.

But the chance creation problems showed up once again in the dying moments, and Barça couldn’t give themselves a real opportunity to get all three points. The final whistle came, and Xavi is yet to beat Rayo after four attempts. The next two league games are against Atlético Madrid and leaders Girona, and the two points dropped in this one could prove very costly depending on how the next couple of weeks go.

The good news is Frenkie de Jong is back, and it’s not a coincidence that Barça played their best game in at least a month with him back in control of the midfield. The people in front of Frenkie were the problem in this one, and they need to get better fast if Barça want to stay in the title race.

And a monster clash with FC Porto in the Champions League is next. Oh boy.


Rayo: Dimitrievski; Balliu, Mumin (Ciss 75’), Lejeune, Espino; López (Ratiu 78’), Valentín; Isi, Trejo (Pérez 68’), De Frutos (Bebé 68’); Camello (Falcao 75’)

Goal: López (39’)

Barcelona: Peña; Cancelo, Christensen, Iñigo, Balde; Romeu (Gündogan 55’), De Jong; Yamal (Raphinha 75’), Pedri (Fermín 75’), Ferran (Félix 55’); Lewandowski

Goal: Lejeune (OG 82’)

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