Barcelona returned to action after the international break on Saturday afternoon with a crucial clash against Rayo Vallecano at Estadio de Vallecas. The team had not won at the stadium in two years ahead of kickoff, and it was not going to be easy to turn the trend around.
Xavi Hernandez’s lineup on the day boasted of numerous changes from the last game, many forced and some through tactical decisions. The first and most glaring change was Inaki Pena in goal after Marc-Andre ter Stegen was out of the game.
Inigo Martinez and Andreas Christensen started in central defence with the usual full-back setup of Alejandro Balde and Joao Cancelo starting at left and right-back respectively.
Oriol Romeu, Frenkie de Jong, and Pedri started in the middle of the park while Ferran Torres, Robert Lewandowski, and Lamine Yamal formed the trident up front.
The game at the Vallecas kicked off with Rayo Vallecano on the front foot in the opening minutes. The hosts pressed high up with numbers and looked to capitalise on the counter and managed to create an opening as early as the fifth minute of play when Pena could not neatly grab hold of Isi Palazon’s strike.
Jorge De Frutos appeared set to give his side the lead with the follow-up, but Inigo Martinez made an intervention in the nick of time.
Just three minutes later, Barcelona had their chance to take a slice of the cake. Pedri fed the ball into the box for Robert Lewandowski but the Pole could not get the ball past Stole Dimitrievski.
The hosts took the upper hand in the course of play that followed. Oscar Valentin was denied an opener by young Pena in the tenth minute, but it was clear that the Catalans were the side under pressure.
Perhaps Barcelona’s best chance of the first half came off the boots of Pedri in the 15th minute when his curling shot from the edge of the box was parried away by the Rayo goalkeeper.
Xavi’s side soon controlled their nerves and regained grip over the proceedings at Vallecas. The speed of play slowed down, and the Blaugrana enjoyed spells of possession and made solid attempts at penetrating the hosts’ defence.
Lamine Yamal was a spark on their left flank, eliminating defenders for fun and making incisive runs. Unfortunately, the end product was not up to the mark and gave Rayo chances to break on the counter.
The opener at Vallecas eventually arrived in the 39th minute, much to the dismay of Xavi. Rayo Vallecano’s freekick gave birth to a headed opportunity that Pena saved before Oscar Trejo’s follow-up volley was parried away as well.
The ball fell back at Unai Lopez’s feet well outside the box, but his belter of a volley was perfectly timed. Even a flying goalkeeper could not deny the strike.
Heading into the half-time break, Barcelona once again had their work cut out. Yet, being a goal-down at the midway mark was no new experience for the men in garnet and blue.
Barcelona’s first big chance of the second half arrived as early as the 53rd minute when Torres was played in with a chance on goal. His header, however, came up short.
Joao Felix and Ilkay Gundogan came on to replace Ferran Torres and Oriol Romeu in the 55th minute.
Barcelona cranked up the heat in the period that followed, making more tangible attempts to get past the Rayo defence. Pedri and Yamal were the team’s two most potent forces in the finish third with the former even coming close to a headed equaliser.
Balde was pushed and went down in the box after the hour mark but the incident did not catch the VAR’s interest. Minutes later, Gundogan’s cross created chaos in the Rayo box but came to nothing.
Raphinha and Fermin Lopez came on for Yamal and Pedri in the 74th minute.
The former made an instant impact upon his introduction. His shot in the 75th minute hit the post and almost led to Barcelona’s equaliser. Moments later, he paved an excellent cross for Fermin but the youngster could not capitalise.
The visitors’ eventual equaliser arrived nine minutes from full-time when Balde’s cross was set to find Lewy in the middle of the box. Lejeune attempted to block the ball from the Pole’s head but ended up guiding it into his own net.
Raphinha had a golden chance to take the lead and was brought down in the box. The foul appeared glaringly clear but VAR refused to award the penalty.
The game eventually ended with both teams splitting the spoils. Having dropped points however, Barcelona give Girona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid to pull further away and widen the gap on the table.