After a defeat it is always good to get back in action as quickly as possible so it is good to have a home match with Rayo Vallecano which can hopefully get us back on the winning path. The game is the first of three at Camp Nou in the space of eight days in the run up to our big match with Madrid and we really cannot afford to lose any more points before the Bernabeu. There definitely seems to be the feeling now that this season is going to be a real test for Guardiola as it is the first time that we have found ourselves so far behind our rivals. It would be absurd to spreak of a crisis after the team have just been on a 27-game unbeaten run, however, there is practically no more margin for error and this may add unwanted pressure on a team that in all honesty looked more tired mentally than physically on Saturday. This game has been brought forward due to our participation in the Club World Cup in December and I feel that psychologically it is vital we take all three points.
Our rivals Rayo haven’t got the best record at Camp Nou though they did manage one 0-2 victory in 2000 when Barça were going into meltdown at the end of Louis Van Gaal first stint as first team coach, but that is their only victory here in nine visits. The last time the two sides met at Camp Nou was in May 2003 when Barça finished easy 3-0 winners with goals from Luis Enrique, Marc Overmars and Javier Saviola. Rayo have begun their return season in Primera as though they intend to be around for a while, they are currently 10th in the table on 16 points and they are no mugs on the road having won at Getafe and at Betis. It is true they lost 6-2 to Real Madrid but they led for 37 minutes at the Bernabeu before their second half collapse, I recall that Madrid had two penalties in that match which highlights the statistic from El Sport today that since Mourinho took over at Madrid they have received 18 penalties in favour while Barça have only had 7. I try to give refs the benefit of the doubt on individual decisions as I understand how difficult it can be to make a split-second decision with everything moving so fast but the lack of penalties awarded to us is beginning to irritate.
Briefly back to Rayo to say that the thing that worries me more than anything else is famed party-pooper Raúl Tamudo who would no doubt love to kill off another title dream. Tamudo scored seven goals last season for Real Sociedad before moving on to Rayo when Real did not renew his contract. For Rayo he has notched four goals in 11 games this season including Rayo’s goal in Saturday’s 1-2 defeat to Valencia. At 34 he may not be as quick as he once was but he is a crafty so-and-so who will have to be watched very carefully, hopefully Mascherano will be back in defence.
Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas are both fit again and with so much competition for places it is a tough call again to think what team will play though there are bound to be changes to Saturday’s team. Pedro could make his first start since getting injured at Granada on October 25 while Adriano will also be hoping for another chance after a good start to the season, and Puyol could very well return in defence too. I can’t say I’m too sure how we’ll play but I think we’ll go with 4-3-3. I cannot envisage anything other than a victory, all other possibilities are all too ghastly to think about. Am I worried about this league slipping away from us? I’m afraid I am. Do I think it is all over yet? No way Jose! We have plenty of fight in us yet and quite simply too much talent not to be right up there at the end of the season. However, every point is vital from now on. Do I think we will beat Rayo Vallecano? You bet I do.
Kick off 9pm local time (CET)
Possible starting XI: Valdés; Alves, Mascerano, Puyol, Adriano; Iniesta, Keita, Fabregas; Pedro, Messi, Alexis.
My prediction: Barça 4 Rayo 0