Rayo Vallecano (10th, 40pts) vs FC Barcelona (1st, 76pts)
Competition/Round: 2022-23 La Liga, Matchday 31
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Sergio Busquets, Andreas Christensen, Ousmane Dembélé, Sergi Roberto (out)
Rayo Outs & Doubts: Radamel Falcao, Santi Comesaña (out)
Date/Time: Wednesday, April 26, 2023, 10pm CET (Barcelona), 9pm BST/WAT (UK & Nigeria), 4pm ET, 1pm PT (USA), 1.30am IST (India, Thursday)
Venue: Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas, Madrid, Spain
Referee: Jesús Gil Manzano
VAR: José Luis González González
How to watch on TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), TSN 3 (Canada), Viaplay Sports 1 (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), Sports18 (India), Not Available (Spain), others
Following a hard-fought, crucial win over Atlético Madrid at the weekend, Barcelona return to action on Wednesday with a trip to the Spanish capital for a La Liga clash against Rayo Vallecano at the Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas.
Barça come into this one after a much-needed victory and, more importantly, an excellent performance against a very good team that tested them and gave them a real scare in the end. Finishing was a problem, but the chance creation and quality of team play was encouraging after weeks of terrible attacking football and apathetic performances.
The return of Frenkie De Jong and Pedri from injury helped improve the level of play, and the team will be very close to full strength when Andreas Christensen and Ousmane Dembélé return at the weekend. Barça are healthy again and could clinch the title with time to spare if they continue to play well, finish their chances and get more wins on the board.
And thanks to Real Madrid’s loss to Tati Castellanos and Girona on Tuesday, the Blaugrana can increase their lead at the top of the table to 14 points with seven matches to go, effectively ending the title race and starting the countdown to the official celebration of their first league trophy in four years.
But getting all three points against Wednesday’s opponents is no easy feat. Casual viewers of La Liga might look at Rayo’s position in the table and the fact they’ve won only one of their last 10 in the league and think this should be easy work for the should-be champs. But it’s anything but that: Rayo have been Barça’s bogey side for years, and always play really well against the Catalans with a gameplan based on intensity, high pressing and courageous attacking play.
Their recent run of form has virtually eliminated them from European contention after looking like a lock for the Europa League places less than two months ago, but a run of bad luck and injuries has derailed what should have been a great season for one of the most underrated teams in the Top 5 leagues. They are legitimately good, and always bring their A-game when facing Barça.
But they are missing two key pieces in defensive midfield anchor Santi Comesaña and striker Radamel Falcão, and Comesaña’s absence is especially important given how well he’s played against the likes of Pedri and De Jong in past meetings.
Barça are favorites, no question, but they can’t take this Rayo team for granted. It’ll be a real battle, but a win will pretty much seal the deal when it comes to the title race. If we also see a great performance from the team, then this will pretty much be a dream couple of days.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo, Eric, Balde; Gavi, De Jong, Pedri; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Ferran
Rayo (4-2-3-1): Dimitrievski; Balliu, Lejeune, Catena, García; Valentín, Ciss; Isi, Trejo, Álvaro; Camello
Rayo is always a brutal test, but this is the best time to face them without two key players and in the middle of a bad run of form. They will be intense and tough, but Barça have more than enough to get the win: 2-0 to the good guys.