The recent international break was a chance for Xavi Hernandez to unwind, rewind and modify his dynamics to fix Barcelona’s broken confidence. It also gave the players a golden chance to freshen up their headspace and come back revitalized.
Yet, all that unfolded at Vallecas was more of the same misery. Barcelona dropped two points after a mixed performance of the night where they did have their chances in the second half but could not capitalise.
In the end, an own goal helped the Blaugranas equalise Unai Lopez’s opener and salvaged a point.
Barça Universal brings you three talking points from Rayo Vallecano 1-1 Barcelona.
The trend that needs to stop
‘Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles’ is a line most fans well-versed in the football world have encountered. If there was any doubt remaining over the credibility of the quote, Barcelona’s run to the La Liga title last season served as the perfect testament.
The defending champions have not seen many changes in personnel at the back this season and, in fact, have only added to their resources in the form of Inigo Martinez and Joao Cancelo. Yet, their defensive numbers this year have been startling.
Unlike last season where a sole goal was enough to take three points, the Catalans this season are conceding far more frequently. In recent games, moreover, a new trend has come to the fore – the knack for going down early.
Barcelona have now conceded first in their last three games, and the feeling of fighting against a disadvantage is getting habitual. After all, it leaves the men in garnet and blue staring up a mountain to climb, for they will then need two goals to take home three points.
Last night’s game was more of the same. Barcelona were uncharacteristically poor in the first half and once again went down early through a brilliant Unai Lopez strike. They came back better in the second period, but the task at hand was too big to conquer.
Xavi’s primary focus, thus, must be on the team’s consistency. Barcelona have shown promise even in recent games, but they often begin cranking up the heat too late in the game.
A comprehensive high-intensity performance from minute one, akin to what they usually produce in the final 20 minutes of matches, could be the missing key.
The referees curse
Lady luck has not favoured Barcelona this season. It has become a recurring story for the half-decisions to go against the Blaugranas more often than not. On other occasions, there are glaring refereeing errors that not much can be said or done about.
As Xavi pointed out in his post-game press conference, Barcelona could have had all three points in the bag last night had the referee made the right decision after the foul on Raphinha.
The incident in question occurred late in the second half at Vallecas when the Brazilian was through on goal and needed just a touch to put Barcelona ahead.
Just when he was about to make contact, however, a Rayo defender came flying in and caught his leg, sending the Brazilian to the ground. Notably, he also made no contact with the ball.
The glaring foul appeared a penalty from every angle, yet was not seen as an important moment by VAR. The referee, in fact, was not even called to the pitchside monitor.
Apart from the glaring error, Barcelona were at the receiving end of several unfair decisions throughout the night.
Clips from the game on social media show Lewandowski slammed to the ground by defenders without the ball in play and Alejandro Balde being pushed inside the box, both of which did not attract reviews.
To make matters worse, the initial offside on Rayo’s opener was considered non-intruding and allowed to stand. Barcelona must indeed do better on all fronts, but it does not help when all decisions go against the club.
A far-from-ideal start
The three games coming up on Barcelona’s calendar will make or break their season. Xavi Hernandez’s men are set to face some of the world’s most in-form teams, and heading into the tricky phase of a draw is far from ideal.
For starters, the Catalans are now down to fourth place on the league standings with 31 points in 14 games. Atletico Madrid sit in third place with as many points, albeit with a game in hand.
Matchday 15 of La Liga sees the two Spanish giants lock horns, while the following game pits them against leaders Girona.
If the Azulgranas continue their lean patch, they could well fall further behind on the standings and find themselves out of contention for the league title.
Further, Barcelona meet Porto midweek in the fifth game of the UEFA Champions League group stage and a defeat on the night might well see them give up their chances of finishing top of the group.
A lot is riding on the coming fixtures, and Xavi Hernandez must find a way to deliver results. Time is running out.