Two goals in the space of a minute from Leo Messi and Neymar Jr earned Barça a 0-2 win over Rayo Vallecano this evening which sees Luis Enrique’s men remain on top of La Liga going into the international break. Messi scored his 249th league goal for Barça ten minutres before half time which puts the Argentinian just two goals behind the legendary Telmo Zarra who has held the all-time Spanish league scoring record since the 1950s, and before Rayo could react to Messi’s strike, Neymar had fired in a second to wrap up the three points.
Another long-standing record was broken today, by Claudio Bravo who passed Pedro Artola’s 560 minutes without conceding a goal at the start of the season. Bravo had to work for the record with one magnificent 9th minute save from Alberto Bueno’s shot as Rayo started strongly, and later in the game the Chilean keeper reacted excellently to deny Leo Baptistao which, along with a very strong performance from Gerard Piqué, helped towards maintaining Barça’s seventh straight clean sheet in the league.
Following the defeat in Paris Luis Enrique brought in five new faces, with the most notable changes in defence. Bravo replaced Ter Stegen in goal and Gerard Piqué and Marc Bartra came into central defence while there was a surprise as the Barça coach switched Jeremy Mathieu to left back where the Frenchman gave a solid display. In midfield Xavi started in Rakitic’s place while Munir returned to the forward line in place of Pedro.
As expected Rayo came out to compete for the ball and with both sides playing a high press much of the early game was squeezed into a thin band near the halfway line. The pace was furious but neither team could gain much control. Barça’s main tactic was to look for Neymar’s speed behind Rayo’s defence but for the first half an hour the home team harried Barça enough to keep the game even. The only chance for Barça came in the 14th minute when Neymar sent a lob into the area but Rayo keeper Toño was quickly off his line to close down Messi’s shot.
But Rayo could not maintain their high-energy press for long. Gradually Barça begin to find more time and the passes behind the Rayo defence became more accurate. Piqué was particularly effective. In the 32nd minute he sent Munir away only for the linesman to incorrectly flag offside. A minute later Iniesta sent Messi through to score but this time the linesman’s flag was correctly raised. Then in the 35th minute Pique’s long ball caught the Rayo defence flat-footed and Messi held off Morcillo’s challenge before finishing with a neat little lob over Toño’s lunge.
Rayo had little chance to react to the goal. Almost straight from the restart the home team lost the ball, Bartra lobbed a long pass forward to Munir who held the ball up well before laying the it forward for Neymar who continued his diagonal run before whipping a shot back across Toño into the far corner. Two-nil and the game immediately seemed safe for Barça, surely now it was just a question of how many more. Piqué sent Munir away twice more before half-time. However, the first time the youngster crossed poorly and the second time he went down as he tried to dribble past Toño. It looked like a penalty but referee Mateu Lahoz ignored Munir’s appeal, it all might have been simpler if he’d passed to the left where Neymar was all on his own.
There was no letting up in Rayo’s attacking ambitions as coach Paco Jemez switched to three at the back for the second half. It looked like suicide but Rayo again started the half strongly. Bueno had two attempts with headers, the first went high and the second lacked power though Bravo had to leap spectacularly to catch. Piqué headed narrowly over from Xavi’s corner at the other end, then in the 58th minute Baptistao went past Bartra and shot powerfully and Bravo had to react superbly to divert the ball over the bar.
A Rayo goal might have changed things here, and the scare pushed Luis Enrique to make his first substitution, bringing on Pedro for Munir. However, a minute later Morcillo clattered into the back of Neymar and Mateu Lahoz gave the Rayo defender his second yellow of the game. Even with the numerical disadvantage Rayo continued to push forward but there was little more threat on Bravo’s goal besides a couple of hopeful long shots.
At the other end Rayo were wide open and Barça really should have scored a hatful. Messi, Iniesta and Pedro all had shots stopped by Toño then Rakitic, who had replaced Xavi, had a clear chance but fired straight at the keeper from ten yards. The worst misses came from Messi who fired three chances over the bar in the final ten minutes. Zarra’s record could have gone with better finishing from the Argentinian but now we’ll just have to wait until after the international break.
Rayo: Toño; Tito, Morcillo, Abdoulaye (Manuche h/t), Insúa; Baena, Trashorras (Jozabed m73); Licá (Aquino h/t), Bueno, Kakuta; L. Baptistao
Barça: Bravo 7.5; Alves 6.5, Piqué 7.5, Bartra 6.5, Mathieu 7; Xavi 6.5, Busquets 7, Iniesta 6.5 (Rakitic m69, 6.5); Munir 7 (Pedro m59, 6), Messi 7. Neymar 8 (Sandro m80, 6).
Goals: m35 Messi 0-1, m36 Neymar 0-2.
Yellow cards: m9 Xavi, m18 Abdoulaye, m33 Trashorras, m36 Morcillo, m60 Morcillo (2nd =red), m63 Aquino, m72 Pique, m91 Aquino (2nd=red)