Barcelona wasted the chance to effectively end the title race and remain 11 points clear at the top of the La Liga table with seven games remaining thanks to a 2-1 defeat away to Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday night in Madrid. Barça were dominated in the first half, conceded two bad goals and couldn’t mount a late comeback, dropping all three points to a Rayo side that played an amazing match and deserved the victory in front of a great home crowd.
Barça were thoroughly outplayed by Rayo in the first 30 minutes of the game, easily losing possession in dangerous positions and being overwhelmed by the home team’s intensity, high pressing and quick ball movement.
All of those things were a factor in the opening goal as Gavi lost an easy ball in midfield to Camello, who quickly moved the ball to Álvaro García and the winger fired home a powerful low shot into the bottom corner.
Rayo successfully got in Barça’s head and the Blaugrana lost their composure, committing ugly fouls and complaining to the referee way too much. But the visitors began showing signs of life towards the end of the half as Pedri improved his level of play and became more involved in the action, and he nearly recorded a beautiful assist with a perfect pass for a Robert Lewandowski goal, but the strike was disallowed by VAR thanks to a very narrow offside.
Barça had a couple of other dangerous attacks before the halftime whistle and looked better going forward, but still needed to play a lot better in the second half to have any hopes of a comeback.
Barça made no adjustments at halftime and continued to make simple mistakes in possession to start the final period, and they quickly paid for it when Rayo left-back Fran García won the ball from Frenkie De Jong in midfield and ran 50 yards all alone to get into the box and fire home the second for the hosts just eight minutes into the period.
Xavi Hernández quickly responded with two attacking substitutions as Jordi Alba and Ansu Fati came on looking to add some life to the left side of the attack, with Alejandro Balde moving to right-back and the entire team trying to play faster and press higher up the pitch.
The changes had almost no effect and Barça continued to do very little to trouble the Rayo defense while leaving big spaces in behind for the hosts to exploit and create danger with long balls and counter-attacks, and as we entered the final 20 minutes it felt like Barça didn’t have a real shot a comeback.
Xavi threw in the proverbial white towel by taking off Pedri, Frenkie De Jong and Gavi, and Rayo looked to simply run out the clock in the final 10 minutes. But Barça managed to make things interesting when a shot from Franck Kessie was blocked inside the box and Lewandowski pounced on the rebound, making it 2-1 Rayo and setting up a dramatic finish.
Rayo weren’t rattled by Barça’s goal, stayed solid at the back and protected their lead in the dying seconds, and the final whistle came to give the home team three points at home. Barça were never in the game since it began, and Rayo were the better side all night. A well deserved loss, and another reminder of just how much this team needs to improve for next season.
Rayo: Dimitrievski; Balliu, Lejeune, Catena, García; López (Chavarría 80’), Valentín (Mumin 89’); Isi, Trejo (Ciss 63’), Álvaro (Sánchez 80’); Camello (De Tomás 89’)
Goals: Álvaro (19’), Fran García (53’)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo, Alonso (Alba 57’), Balde; De Jong (Eric 79’), Pedri (Kessie 68’); Raphinha, Gavi (Torre 79’), Ferran (Fati 57’); Lewandowski
Goal: Lewandowski (83’)