Goals from David Villa, Leo Messi (2), Xavi and Cesc Fabregas earned Barça an excellent 0-5 victory over Rayo Vallecano to stay top of La Liga for another week. The game was more closely fought than the scoreline suggests.
Tito Vilanova left Marc Bartrá on the bench after his encouraging performance against Celtic, choosing a centre back partnership of Sergio Busquets and Adriano. The choice of Busquets with Alex Song playing defensive midfield was a direct indication that the coach recognises Song’s problems at the back. It is a positive sign that Tito has known how to rectify his previous decision and today despite the early pressing from Rayo the defence looked more solid today. Alves wasn’t considered fit enough to start which gave Martin Montoya another chance to show his quality at right back. Cesc Fabregas returned to midfield in place of Andrés Iniesta while up front Pedro and David Villa were picked to reform the MVP combo, playing wide of the roaming Leo Messi.
Rayo coach Paco Jemez put out a similar 4-3-3 formation with two attacking minded midfielders in Leo Baptistao and Chori Dominguez. The bold attitude of the hosts led to a lot of early pressure on Barça’s defence with Rayo’s high pressing game earning a corner after just 8 seconds with José Carlos firing the first shot wide after 40 seconds. Jordi Alba went into referee Perez Lasa’s notebook after just 5 minutes and there was the general impression that Rayo were getting the better of things, especially when Adriano was forced into a couple of stray passes and the normally ice-cool Busquets needed to hoof a long ball to nobody after 12 minutes.
However, despite a lot of huff and puff from Rayo there was little direction to their attacks and Victor Valdés’s biggest scare early on came from a divot in the pitch diverting Adriano’s backpass, Valdés needing to run back after the ball as it trundled towards goal. Not a lot had been seen of Barça’s attackers, David Villa’s most noteworthy early action was to make a very good tackle to prevent a shot from the edge of the penalty area.
There was a shout for a penalty at both ends, Cesc seemed to clip Baptistao but just out side the area, while at the other end the busy Cesc was barged away from the ball as he went after Alba’s lobbed pass. Messi had hardly been seen but in the 19th minute he appeared on the left to get into the area and fire a shot that appeared to take a slight deflection before going wide. Perez Lasa ignored Barça’s appeal for a corner but the decision ended up working in our favour as we won the ball back quickly from the goal kick, Cesc received the ball and spotted a defence splitting ball through to Villa who took his chance first time, sending the ball right footed past the advancing Ruben from 16 yards
The goal seemed to settle us while Rayo could not be expected to maintain their early hard-pressing game. In the 30th minute Xavi set up Cesc to shoot but after the ball looped up off Ruben, Tito beat Messi to the header just a yard from the goal-line. Barça continued to have the better of the end of the first half though we were missing the final pass. The half finished with Valdés’s first save after Delibasic got in a shot from the edge of the area.
Just two minutes into the second half Barça made it 0-2. Pedro surged forward on the right and when Casado moved towards him, he slipped the ball out to the overlapping Montoya who did well to find Messi’s late movement to the edge of the area, and Messi finished with a fine shot high past Ruben’s left side. Valdés needed to be alert to push Javi Fuego’s low drive round the post and from the resulting corner Delibasic’s near post header just cleared our crossbar, but there was little more serious danger at the back. Messi might have had another after he was gifted a clean run at goal after a poor back pass, but faced with Ruben the Argentinian pulled his left foot chip a couple of yards wide of the far post.
Rayo’s final push came with 15 minutes remaining but Dominguez shot wide after Xavi, trying to be too clever, lost the ball 35 yards out, then Rodri shot wide after Amat flicked on a free kick. A goal here for Rayo and there might still have been a contest but a minute later Alexis, on as a sub for Villa, played in Alba on the left and his low cross was met by the stretching Xavi who pushed his shot into the far corner. Then in the 80th minute Fabregas volleyed in Pedro’s cross as Rayo’s heads dropped, and in the 89th minute Bartrá won the ball from a Rayo throw-in, Cesc flicked the ball on, and Messi ran through to take the ball round Ruben for Barça’s fifth.
Despite the scoreline being a bit unfair on Rayo, this was generally a very good performance from the team. It is always complicated when we play a high-pressing team especially in the early minutes, though we usually manage to kill these teams off with our patient approach. As our opponents drop the pressing we tend to find the gaps in their defence and tonight we should be very happy with our clinical finishing. A special mention should go to Cesc Fabregas who followed up his excellent game at Deportivo with another man-of-the-match performance tonight.
The victory means that Tito Vilanova’s Barça have now equalled Barça’s best ever start to a league season after nine games set in Louis Van Gaal’s first season with eight victories and a draw. Van Gaal’s team had an impressive 23-8 goal difference from those nine games but Tito’s record looks even better with 29 scored to 11 conceded.
I’m not aware that Messi broke any records tonight though he moved closer to Pele’s 1959 record for goals in a calander year. He now has 13 goals from 9 league games which gives him an average of 1.444 goals a game – if he continues at this rate he is going to beat last season’s astonishing total of 50 league goals. Can anybody else seriously be considered for the Ballon d’Or this year?
Rayo: Rubén; Tito, Rodri, Jordi Amat, Casado (Nickie Billie m67); Javi Fuego, Leo Baptistao, Chori Domínguez; José Carlos, Delibasic, Piti (Lass m57).
Barça: Valdes 7.5; Montoya 7, Busquets 7, Adriano 7, Alba 7 (Bartrá m81, 6.5); Xavi 6.5 (Dos Santos m84 –), Song 6.5, Fabregas 8; Pedro 7, Messi 7.5, Villa 7 (Alexis m63, 6).
Goals: m20 Villa 0-1, m48 Messi 0-2, m78 Xavi 0-3, m80 Fabregas 0-4, m89 Messi 0-5.
Yellow cards: m5 Alba, m26 Delibasic, m27 Rodri, m39 José Carlos, m70 Amat.