When asked on Friday how the players reacted to the announcement that he was leaving, Pep Guardiola answered that they had trained like beasts. Tonight the players demonstrated that this team has plenty of future by knocking seven goals past poor Rayo Vallecano. Leo Messi was again at the helm scoring twice and taking part in four more goals.
Messi’s brace takes him level again in the battle for pichichi with Cristiano Ronaldo on 43 league goals. Messi’s overall season total now stands at 65, just two short of the all time European record of 67 set by Bayern Munich’s Gerd Muller in 1972/73.
With Xavi and Piqué out injured Guardiola also chose to rest Fabregas, Iniesta, Alves and Valdés which meant Juan Manuel Pinto got a chance for some match practice to prepare him for the Copa del Rey final with Athletic on May 25. With Rayo playing a high pressing game we had a couple of nervy moments trying to keep possession at the back and Busquets had to make a good but risky tackle to prevent Diego Costa getting a clear run.
However, it didn’t take long for Barça to start taking control of things and as soon as the passing started to work, the goals began to fall. In the 16th minute Alexis combined with Thiago before finding Pedro in space on the right, Pedro’s low cross was met by Messi at the far post who had the simple task of knocking the ball home.
Pinto had to make a good save when the defence allowed a ball to bounce just in front of him but there was little threat from Rayo. In the 26th minute Messi robbed a poor defensive pass and quickly knocked the ball back to Keita who slipped the ball through for Alexis to run on goal from the left, he took the ball outside the goalkeeper before trying to turn the ball back in from an angle, the unfortunate Rober was running back and couldn’t stop himself from deflecting Alexis’s effort over the line.
A minute later Messi was an inch from converting Adriano’s cross, then Keita missed a chance from Alexis’s centre. Trashorras’s free kick forced a diving save from Pinto and then Lass miskicked a half chance at the far post. Any sign of a Rayo comeback was finished when Barça scored a third in the 38th minute. Messi received the ball near the right touch line and he set off on a horizontal run across the edge of the penalty area, Nuñez came out to block the way, Messi skipped past him, then Trashorras came and Messi skipped past him too, then Arribas stood in his way and Messi sent a pass through the centre back’s legs to Keita all alone with the easy task of sidefooting the ball past Cobeño.
The second half was completely controlled by Barça. The fourth goal came soon after the break, Puyol went on one of his typical surges upfield and after appearing to lose possession managed to get the ball to Messi who sent Alexis away on the left, Alexis’s cross was sent against the bar by Messi but Pedro was on hand to stab home the rebound.
The game could have ended here but Barça had ambition for more and with Ibrahim Afellay coming on for the last 20 minutes for his first appearance since September we scored three more. In the 77th minute Alves combined with Pedro on the right before sending in a cross that Messi left for Thiago to head down past the helpless keeper. The celebration dance with Alves was a bit uncalled for as captain Puyol made quite clear. Then in the 87th minute a corner was cleared but only as far as Messi who waited for his moment before flighting a pass through to Pedro on the left to sidefoot past Cobeño. There was still time for one more at the end. Thiago sent a ball into the area, Afellay failed to get a good control but the ball ran to Pedro who knocked the ball back to Messi who picked his spot coolly.
This was a fantastic reaction from the players after a difficult week for them and the response demonstrates the intentions for the future. I was especially pleased with Alexis who put in a very good performance creating danger from the left. This has been a problem position for us but I feel that Alexis should be given more time to play this role. There was also a very good game from Keita in midfield. After all the praise he has received from Guardiola it was fitting that he should score and play so well. The only negatives were we again looked a little uneasy keeping possession at the back and it seems we will just have to accept that Pinto doesn’t give us quite as much security as Valdés when playing with his feet. I was also disappointed with Mascherano whose distribution was a bit wayward at time.
Rayo Vallecano: Cobeño; Rober (Aitor Nuñez m29), Arribas, Pulido, Tito; Movilla (Diamanka m45), Trashorras; Michu, Tamudo, Lass; Diego Costa (Benito m69)
Barça: Pinto 6.5, Montoya 7, Puyol 7.5, Mascherano 6, Adriano 6.5 (Alves m60, 7), Busquets 7 (Afellay m73, 6.5), Keita 7.5, Thiago 7, Messi 8.5, Alexis 8 (Tello m80, 6), Pedro 7
Goals: m16 Messi 0-1, m26 Rober o.g. 0-2, m38 Keita 0-3, m47 Pedro 0-4, m77 Thiago 0-5, m87 Pedro 0-6, m90 Messi 0-7.
Yellow cards: m20 Rober, m34 Tito, m45 Arribas, m52 Pedro.