For the third time in four meetings, Rayo Vallecano outplayed Barcelona and walked home with all three points. While it might appear to be an upset, a review of the game would only solidify one’s understanding that Andoni Iraola’s men simply deserved it.
Goals from Alvaro Garcia and Fran Garcia had the hosts up 2-0 before the hour mark. Barcelona’s efforts largely came to nothing on the night and only a stunning finish from Robert Lewandowski could halve the deficit.
In the end, it was the hosts’ relentless work rate and drive to win that saw them take the leaders down with ease. Barça Universal brings you three talking points from Rayo Vallecano 2-1 Barcelona.
1. A chance squandered
Valentin Castellanos’ emphatic four-goal effort against Real Madrid was the talk of the town earlier this week. The Argentine striker had single-handedly torn apart the reigning champions, leading his team to a famous 4-2 win that will be remembered for years.
The biggest talking point of the result at Estadi Montilivi, unsurprisingly, was Real Madrid’s league campaign that now appeared completely lifeless. The men in white had dropped three more points, and with Barcelona already knowing the result, it was an advantage to the Catalans.
A win on Wednesday night would have established an astounding gap of 14 points with seven games to go. That, in theory, could have been game, set, and match.
What unfolded at Vallecas was beyond one’s imagination. Xavi Hernandez’s men saw their chance to extend their lead crumble in front of their eyes. Rayo Vallecano ran away with the game and a chance worth more than its weight in gold.
The league may still be in their hand, but Barcelona have no excuses to squander chances repeatedly. To not capitalise on Real Madrid’s last two slip-ups is criminal, especially given that La Liga is the only competition the Blaugranas are left competing in.
2. Pedri is human
Pedri is the heartbeat of Barcelona. There are no two ways around it. The youngster, since his move to Catalonia at a tender age, has constantly punched above his weight and performed with maturity. His unique skillset has tempted even the most skeptical minds to compare him with the great Andres Iniesta.
Such is the quality of the young starlet that many see him to be the messiah in Xavi’s setup. After all, the 20-year-old is responsible for a major chunk of the team’s creativity.
The Blaugranas suffered in Pedri’s absence over the past few months. The midfield looked lost for ideas and everything was expected to change with his return against Atletico Madrid.
On Wednesday, the world was witness to the fact that Pedri is human too. The youngster clearly had the symptoms of a player starved for minutes and looked sluggish on the ball.
He did not control the game with his usual poise nor could he maintain possession with his usual ease. The fact that he still created the chance for Lewandowski’s disallowed goal with a defence-splitting pass is just a reflection of his quality even at his worst.
Pedri completed only 80% of his passes on the night and did not manage a single key pass or cross. His defensive contribution was close to nil and he often lost the ball in dangerous positions leaving Marc-Andre ter Stegen exposed.
3. Barcelona’s new nemesis?
Xavi Hernandez has faced off against Rayo Vallecano thrice as the manager of FC Barcelona and has come up short on all three occasions. In fact, his side have lost to Andoni Iraola’s men in two of the three matches.
Ironically, Ronald Koeman’s sacking from the club also arrived after the team’s defeat to Rayo Vallecano last season. To lose three out of the last four meetings against any team is clearly unacceptable at a club like Barcelona.
Even the best sides in the world have their hiccups. After all, even Real Madrid have failed terribly in controlling Villarreal this season and lost both times to the Yellow Submarines in La Liga.
Rayo Vallecano could thus be Barcelona’s next mental nemesis. The Catalans’ performance last night had a tinge of fear and uncertainty throughout, and at no point in the game did Xavi’s side look clearly better. Can the manager turn around the tables next season?
Only time will tell.