League leaders Barça travel to Madrid tomorrow to take on Rayo Vallecano at Vallecas in the fifth round of La Liga 2013/14 (Saturday 8 pm). Tata Martino is currently in Argentina for his father’s funeral but he is expected to return in time to take charge of the team from the bench.
Leo Messi looks likely to make his 250th appearance in La Liga in the game. The Argentinian has scored a remarkable 221 goals in the previous 249 matches, and in the last two seasons he has managed well over a goal a game – 50 goals in 37 games (1.35 goals a game) in 2011/12, and 46 in 32 games (1.44 goals a game) last season. The rate is even better this season with six goals in three league appearances so far, and that’s not to mention the hat-trick he scored against Ajax in the Champions League on Wednesday which took his career total of hat-tricks for Barça to 24.
This is Rayo’s third season in the top flight since their promotion in 2011. In the last four matches played between the clubs over the past two seasons the balance is clearly in favour of Barça with four straight victories and a goal difference in favour of 19-1. Twelve of those nineteen goals have been scored in Barça’s last two visits to Vallecas, a 0-7 thrashing in April 2012 and then a 0-5 win last October.
Rayo have made numerous changes since last season. Players such as Javi Fuego, Jordi Amat, Raúl Tamudo, Leo Baptistão and Chori Dominguez have all moved on and due to a very limited budget all their incoming players arrived either on a free transfer or on loan. The most likely of their new players to feature tomorrow are Alberto Bueno, Johnathan Viera, Seba Fernandez and Argentinian striker Joaquin Larrivey, Our opponents began this season with a promising 3-0 victory over Elche but since then they have suffered three straight defeats to Atlético, Levante and Malaga while conceding 12 goals in the process. Coach Paco Jemez will have to make do tomorrow without the suspended Lass Bangoura, while Nery Castillo, Jose Carlos and ex-big-hope-of-La Masia Iago Falque are all out injured.
Given the heavy fixture load at the moment there may be some surprises to the Barça starting XI. Almost any of the players who didn’t start against Ajax could get a chance but with Martino unable to take training for the last couple of days (his number two Jorge Pautasso has been in charge of sessions), it seems unlikely there will be too many changes though both Xavi and Pedro will probably be back in the line-up. Gerard Piqué picked up a slight groin strain against Ajax but he looks likely to play, but if Piqué is unavailable then Marc Bartrá will probably be chosen as his substitute as Carles Puyol seems unlikely to reappear for another game or two. Barça will be hoping to continue the 100% start to the league campaign with another comfortable win tomorrow though it is probably a bit much to expect a result as big as we have seen in the last two visits to Vallecas.
Possible starting lineups:
Rayo: Ruben; Tito, Galvez, Arbilla, Nacho Martinez; Saul, Trashorras; Seba Fernandez, Bueno, Viera; Larrivey.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Pedro, Messi, Neymar.
Prediction: Rayo 1 Barça 4
Date: Saturday 21 September 2013. Kick off 8 pm local time.