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Three talking points ahead of Rayo Vallecano vs Barcelona | La Liga

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Photo by AXEL HEIMKEN/AFP via Getty Images

14 long days after Barcelona last took to the field, they return to action on Saturday afternoon in a clash that will test their mental resilience. The men in garnet-and-blue travel to Estadi de Vallecas to take on Rayo Vallecano, a team who drew Real Madrid and narrowly lost to league leaders Girona in their last two outings.

Francisco Rodriguez’s men have tormented Barcelona in recent years, especially at home. The Catalans have after all lost both of their last two games at Vallecas by 2-1 and 1-0 margins respectively and are winless at the stadium since January 2021.

There is a lot riding on the game on Saturday and a whole lot of changes for the dressing room to adapt to. With the pressure piling on Xavi Hernandez, it remains to be seen how the Spanish tactician navigates his way out of a tricky situation.

Barça Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Rayo Vallecano vs Barcelona.

A pill too bitter to swallow

The image of Gavi walking off the field in tears while playing for Spain left a lasting impression on football fans across the globe. One could imagine the cry of disbelief the youngster let out in the dressing room, for his actions on the field proved that the game was his life.

An ACL injury is a nightmare for footballers, and it could not get worse for Gavi than a cruciate ligament rupture with a meniscal tear. The combination necessitates surgery and has ruled the star midfielder out for over seven months.

Gavi is the soul of Xavi’s Barcelona setup. Every attack builds through the La Masia graduate, and every press off the ball is led by his incessant hunger to reclaim possession.

His absence, thus, is the absolute worst development the manager could have received all season. With the youngster out, the team not only lost quality on the field but also a leader and a big part of their fighting spirit.

The 19-year-old cannot be replaced, for there is only one of his kind in the game. Filling the void is thus a big task for the manager, and it remains to be seen if Xavi opts for a tactical change. Frenkie de Jong’s return could hold the key.

No German wall

Ter Stegen out, Pena in. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

The one striking takeaway from Xavi’s 22-man squad list for tomorrow’s clash is the absence of Marc-Andre ter Stegen. After all, the German wall is generally the first name on Xavi Hernandez’s team sheet.

The manager confirmed the same in his pre-game press conference and announced that Inaki Pena would step up in his place against Rayo Vallecano.

Needless to say, this comes as a big change in the Blaugranas’ dynamics. Pena has only played two games for the team in La Liga this season, averaging just over 36 minutes per game.

It thus remains to be seen how the youngster manages to hold his own against one of Spain’s in-form teams. After all, a strong performance would lay the foundation for more involvement this season for Pena.

The need for personality

Barcelona fell off sharply after the first half against Real Madrid one month ago. The Blaugranas were in good shape and spirits heading into the dressing room on the night, but what unfolded after the restart brought it all crashing down.

Real Madrid’s comeback at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys shattered the Catalans’ spirits and dropped them into a pit they are yet to climb out of. Recent games are a testament to the same.

Barcelona’s win over Real Sociedad after El Clasico was undeserved and made possible only courtesy of Ronald Araujo’s strike against the flow of play. They then took on Shakhtar Donetsk in Germany and came second best on the European stage.

Against Alaves, Barcelona pulled off a comeback win after going down in just the first minute of the game. However, it was possible only courtesy of a late penalty from Robert Lewandowski.

Xavi’s men are thus in dire need of a strong and convincing performance; one that rebuilds confidence and a feeling of accomplishment. That performance must come tomorrow, for the games that follow could potentially decide Barcelona’s fate across competitions.

After Rayo Vallecano, the Azulgranas have Porto, Atletico Madrid, and Girona up on their calendar. The two fixtures are against La Liga’s fourth and first-placed sides respectively, while the UCL game could make or break Barcelona’s chances of finishing top of the table.

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