Barça responded well to the defeat at Getafe with four goals against Rayo Vallecano that put us back to within three points of Real Madrid though of course our rivals will have a game, at Sevilla, when we are competing for the Club World Cup in Japan in December. Alexis Sanchez had his best game since signing for Barça scoring the first two goals in the first half, David Villa added a third before the break and Leo Messi completed the scoring with a fine solo effort in the second half.
Rayo gave us plenty of problems early on with a very interesting and daring tactic of playing us as far up the field as possible and packing the midfield which left us often with no other option than the long ball. Rayo’s young striker Lass looked very lively early on and his run on the left led to Xavi Fuego shooting over in the first minute and soon after he turned up on the right to volley Figueras’s cross wide. Inbetween Iniesta back from injury almost surprised Rayo keeper Cobeño with an effort from inside the centre circle, the ball moved in the air and Cobeño had difficulty in putting the ball round the post for a corner.
Alexis started the game on the right but he began by wasting a cross after good work from Abidal and Messi. However, we were struggling to find any time on the ball and we were forced into a couple of poor balls out of defence from Piqué and Abidal while Valdés was also forced into kicking as Rayo pushed up to mark all our defenders. We didn’t manage a shot on target until the 16th minute when Alexis sent Alves into the area but Cobeño saved and Iniesta’s rebound was blocked by a defender. At the other end Valdés touched a swinging crossed free kick onto the top off the bar but it was after this that Barça began to take control. First Alves moved up into midfield leaving a defence of three and then Alexis and Villa swapped wings. In the 29th minute Messi played the ball infield from the right to Xavi who spotted Alexis’s run into the area and found him with the pass, Alexis steadied himself before curling an excellent shot that went in off the far post.
The goal helped us a lot and we might have had another a couple of minutes later after a fine combination between Xavi, Iniesta and Messi but Messi’s finish was disappointing shooting into the side-netting. Rayo had a brief reaction with Michel shooting over and then Lass lacked power with his effort, but then Barça finished the contest with two more goals before half time. In the 40th minute Xavi allowed the ball to run to Messi and darted into the area, Messi’s pass hit Xavi on the heel but the ball bounced nicely for Alexis bearing down on goal from the left and he beat Cobeño from close range. Three minutes later Piqué found space to bring the ball forward into Rayo’s half before spotting Alves goalside of the Rayo left back while their right back played him onside, Alves squared to Villa who had a relatively easy finish though the goal will no doubt do him good after recent criticism.
In the second half Rayo brought on our old enemy Raúl Tamudo and he did manage one effort that caused us to hold our breath but his volley went wide and by that time Barça had gone further ahead thanks to a fantastic goal from Messi. The ball was played out of defence to Messi on the half way line, Messi had his back to goal but laid the ball off to Alves while spinning and setting off to receive Alves’s return pass, Javi Fuego came across but Messi sped outside him and darted into the area from the right, the angle wasn’t great but Messi took one touch with his right foot to line the ball up on his left with which he made no mistake squeezing the ball inside the far post. Magnificent!
We didn’t score again but we could easily have done. Messi’s brilliance found Alves on the right but instead of shooting Alves tried to work the ball back to Messi and the defence intervened. Victor Valdés spotted Villa with only one defender and sent a long kick, Villa got the better of his marker but as Cobeño rushed out he could only shoot over. Then in the 78th minute we were treated to a moment of exquisite skill from Messi flicking the ball one side of the defender and going the other side but his final shot couldn’t find the target. In the last ten minutes Fabregas twice sent passes that might have meant a fifth goal but the first time his cross surprised everybody and then Piqué darting into the area couldn’t get round Cobeño. There were also two yellow cards near the end. First Valdés was penalised seemingly because the ref didn’t like his gesture when asking where to take a free kick from, then Piqué looked for his fifth yellow which means he’ll miss our game against Levante and therefore be available for the Bernabeu. Judging from Pep Guardiola’s face he didn’t look too happy with Piqué’s action so I think we can be sure it was Piqué’s decision and not an order from Guardiola.
The game was especially interesting thanks to Rayo’s formation, it took us a while to adapt and the first 20 minutes was quite worrying, but Guardiola proved he doesn’t need Tito Vilanova to help him make adjustments when our tactics aren’t working. Today the move forward from Alves helped a lot but it was Alexis’s switch to the left that was instrumental in our win. With questions being asked about our forwards it was great to see the brace from Alexis who showed today that he could well turn out to be a great signing for us, while Villa also had a decent game and the goal will have done him good. As I’ve been critical of Gerard Piqué I should point out he had a very good game tonight despite one poor pass early on but the best defender was Mascherano who had another splendid game. We will now have to build on this with another three points against Levante on Saturday. La Liga is far from over.
Barça. Valdés 6.5; Alves 7, Mascherano 8, Piqué 7.5, Abidal 6.5; Xavi 7 (Thiago m54, 6), Keita 7, Iniesta 7 (Fabregas m55, 7); Alexis 8.5 (Adriano m71, 6.5), Messi 7.5, Villa 7.
Goals: m29 Alexis 1-0, m40 Alexis 2-0, m43 Villa 3-0, m50 Messi.
Barça yellow cards: m80 Valdés, m84 Piqué (misses next game)