For the third successive season Barça leave Vallecas with all three points having given Rayo Vallecano a good thrashing. If it was 0-7 and 0-5 in the last two years this time Barça settled for four with Pedro Rodriguez scoring his first ever Barça hat-trick before Cesc Fabregas completed the rout ten minutes from the end. Things might have been quite different if it Victor Valdés hadn’t again made a series of fine stops including a 36th minute penalty save with the score at 0-1 in an evenly contested first half. However, once Pedro had made it 0-2 early in the second half there was only one side in it.
Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino returned from his father’s funeral in Argentina in time to take charge of Barça from the bench. The Barça coach continued his policy of rotations, making four changes to the team that started against Ajax on Wednesday. As expected Xavi and Pedro returned to the team in place of Iniesta and Alexis, Alex Song replaced Busquets as the holding man in midfield while there was a surprise appearance for Martin Montoya in place of Dani Alves at right back which means that Martino has now used every one of his available outfield players from the first-team squad.
Poor Montoya had a bit of a nightmare in the first half. Rayo came out strongly with the intention of attacking the Barça right-back at every opportunity. The impressive left back Johan Mojica sent in two crosses in the first three minutes, with Alberto Perea meeting the second with a firm header and Valdés had to make his first good save of the night.
Rayo’s high pressing game threatened to unsettle Barça but it left space at the back for the likes of Messi and Neymar to exploit. Messi came close to opening the scoring in the fourth minute, after taking the ball past Rayo’s keeper Ruben, but Arbilla arrived at the last moment to take the ball off the Argentinian’s foot. The next chance fell to Neymar after Xavi’s cross from the right arrived to the far post but the Brazilian’s shot was cleared off the line by Tito.
Barça began to look a bit more comfortable, but the more direct style demanded by Martino led to more losses of the ball than is usual in a Barça side with Valdés, Piqué and Mascherano playing long balls to try and send the forwards in behind Rayo’s high defence. Rayo were showing more aggression which was reflected by the first 11 fouls of the game being awarded against the home team. There was a lack of focus at times from Barça as shown in the 21st minute when in an attempt to cut out a forward pass, Montoya sent an overhit 25-yard backpass that went just inches wide of Valdés’s left-hand post.
The game was evenly balanced but then Barça took the lead in the 33rd minute. Song won the ball and played it to Messi 25 yards out, the Argentinian turned Tito this way and that to create space and then sent a killer pass into Pedro inside the right of the area and the Canarian finished clinically with a side-footed shot with his left foot inside the far post. Pedro could have a grabbed a second a minute later after Messi’s headed pass forward sent him clean through but his chip over Ruben also cleared the crossbar.
Rayo came back at the other end. Piqué and Montoya got in a mess, allowing another cross into the area from Rayo’s left, Barça’s defence failed to clear the ball and as Adriano jumped for a header ex-Barça boy Roberto Trashorras played the old trick of ducking his head and backing into the jumping player, causing both players to fall in a heap. Referee Clos Gomez saw it differently and signalled for a Rayo penalty. Trashorras tried to blast his shot straight down the middle but Valdés held his ground well to make his second penalty save in a four days. Three minutes later Rayo had another chance after Johnathan Viera got past Piqué but his shot was straight at Valdés. Barça finished a complicated first half with Adriano taking a nasty whack on the cheek after jumping for a header with Alberto Bueno.
Fortunately Adriano was fine to continue for the rest of the game with a plaster covering the cut under his eye, and things got considerably easier for Barça after Pedro made it 0-2 86 seconds into the second half. Xavi slipped a good pass through to Fabregas who crossed from the left for Pedro to slide in a stab the ball high into the net from six yards out. Neymar should have added another a couple of minutes later but instead of shooting he passed to the offside Messi.
Rayo’s best response was a 30-yard efford from Baena that went straight at Valdés but Barça were well on top now. Messi caused panic in Rayo’s defence with one run but his final shot went straight at Ruben. Then in the 66th minute Mascherano played the ball forward to Neymar but after a good run into the area the Brazilian’s shot bounced out agonizingly off the inside of the far post.
Valdés’s only slight mistake in an otherwise excellent performance came in the 71st minute when he failed to hold an awkward Trashorras free kick. Pedro put the game beyond Rayo’s reach a minute later when he completed his hat-trick. Neymar played a one-two with Fabregas and when the Brazilian crossed Pedro was there again to convert from close in. Pedro was given a well deserved rest with Iniesta coming on in his place soon after. Then in the 75th minute Messi was denied a goal in his 250th game for Barça by Ruben’s excellent low save to his left.
Rayo misery wasn’t quite complete yet. In the 79th minute Galvez gave an awful pass out of defence that went straight to Xavi who quickly found Fabregas on the edge of the area and he beat Ruben with a low shot inside the post. There was little more in the last ten minutes, Tello and Dos Santos got short run-outs while Valdés continued to show his excellent form stopping Trashorras’s drive then in injury time blocking Saul’s header at the far post. Three more points to maintain the 100% record in La Liga so far though Atlético Madrid are staying the pace and are also on 15 points after their 0-2 win at Valladolid.
There was certainly a change to Barça’s style tonight. Martino said after the match that he wanted to exploit Rayo’s advance lines by getting the ball forward more quickly. In the first half tonight the tactic led to Barça losing possession more than usual, while also during the first period there was the impression that Rayo had more desire for the victory. There was an improvement in the second half and Barça looked more in control, though this could easily be due to the disheartening affect of Pedro’s second on the Rayo players. The team needs time to adapt to Martino’s adjustments, there is nothing wrong per se with adding new alternatives to our style as it always helps to keep the other side guessing. However, there are times we look confused and the uncertainty leads to chances for our opponent. While we keep winning, most culés will probably continue to back our new coach but a defeat will surely lead to more questions about the adjustments. Fortunately, we have Victor Valdés in possibly his best ever form, while even on a day when Messi couldn’t find the net, a player like Pedro can take advantage of the opposing defence’s preoccupation with the Argentinian and Neymar to make the difference.
Rayo: Ruben; Tito (Nacho h/t), Galvez, Arbilla, Mojica; Saul, Buena, Trashorras; Perea (Embarba m48), Bueno, Viera (Larrivey m58).
Barça: Valdés 8.5; Montoya 5, Piqué 6, Mascherano 7, Adriano 6; Xavi 7 (Dos Santos m83, –), Song 7, Fabregas 6.5; Pedro 8 (Iniesta m75, 6), Messi 7.5, Neymar 7 (Tello m80, 6).
Goals: m33 Pedro 0-1, m47 Pedro 0-2, m72 Pedro 0-3, m79 Fabregas 0-4.
Yellow cards: m23 Trashorras, m32 Adriano, m40 Baena.