Pedro Rodriguez looks set for his first start in three weeks when Barça take on Rayo Vallecano in tomorrow’s midday kick-off at Camp Nou (Sunday 12.00). Pedro will replace the suspended Neymar while Luis Enrique will also have to make do without Sergio Busquets who is likely to be out with his ankle injury for 3-4 weeks. All available first team players plus Munir El-Haddadi are in contention to play as the Barça coach won’t name his match squad until the morning.
Besides the absence of Neymar and Busquets there will probably be more changes to the team that won at Villarreal on Tuesday. Bravo, Alves and Rakitic should all return to the team while Mathieu and Xavi would also seem to be likely starters. Mascherano is the most obvious choice to take the defensive midfield role though in today’s press conference Luis Enrique named Rakitic, Xavi and Sergi Roberto as possible alternatives.
One can only have respect for Paco Jémez for keeping a small club like Rayo in the top flight while always maintaining an attacking philosophy. They are now in their fourth season since gaining promotion in 2011 and despite the pressures of fighting relegation they have insisted with a high-pressing possession-based game that has similarities to Barça’s way of playing. This is not so easy without the star players at Barça’s disposal and Rayo deserve credit for their brave approach.
This season they have lost 14 games which is more than any other team in the division while only Levante and Elche have let in more than their 43 goals conceded, yet despite this they are in 11th position on 29 points and they can boast five away wins. Their swashbuckling style was in evidence last weekend when they earned a 4-2 victory over Levante with all four Rayo goals scored by Alberto Bueno in the space of fourteen minutes.
However, the record of recent games between Barça and Rayo leans heavily in our favour. In seven league meetings since 2011 Barça have won all seven while amassing 31 goals to Rayo’s one. Leo Messi with ten goals and Pedro with six have been Barça’s top scorers in those games and they both scored in the corresponding fixture last season which Barça won 6-0. Both players will be gunning for more tomorrow and another thrashing would not be too surprising, especially if Luis Suárez continues with his recent good form..
Real Madrid (61 pts) still top the table but their lead over Barça (59 pts) is back down to two points with thirteen games remaining. Atlético Madrid (54 pts) have slipped off the pace a bit and look unlikely to retain their title which makes the Camp Nou Clásico on March 22 even more vital. Barça must beat Rayo tomorrow and win at Eibar next Saturday to ensure that a victory over Madrid will see us go top again.
Barça: Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mathieu, Alba; Rakitic, Mascherano, Xavi; Messi, Suárez, Pedro.
Rayo: Alvarez; Tito, Castro, Amaya, Nacho; Baena, Trashorras; Licá, Bueno, Kakuta; Manucho.
My bet: correct score: Barça 5 Rayo 1 (current odds: 15.00) The best odds for soccer betting are at William Hill.
Date: Sunday 8 March 2015. Kick-off 12.00 midday local time.