Campo de Vallecas, Madrid
21 September 2013; 20:00 hrs, local time
Atletico Madrid (2), Levante, Malaga, Sevilla, Valencia, Ajax – Barcelona have played against these teams till now and it’d be stretch to say that they have been impressive. Yes, a one-off 7-0 mauling of Levante did manifest some cohesion in the team, but Levante isn’t exactly the yardstick that teams playing in the Champions League and aspiring to win it, would like to measure themselves against. It is understandable that under a new manager, in a new regime, most teams take time to take-off. And in accordance to that, the fans might cut them some slack, but the decision not to sign a centre-back, given that Eric Abidal too had been released, is appalling to say the least. Against the minnows of La Liga, the Catalan warship might not break a sweat, but when facing the music (read playing against the heavy-weights of Europe), the real character, or perhaps the lack of it, will come to the fore.
Gerardo Martino has made it clear that he will rotate the squad to keep the veterans fresh and give the youngsters a chance to stake their claim for a starting line-up berth in days to come and keeping his word, he didn’t start Xavi in the midweek clash against Ajax. However, in retrospect, he hasn’t given the youth team players as much chance as they would have liked. This is the match to make amends.
Last season in this fixture, Barcelona scored five goals – Messi (2), Villa, Xavi, Fabregas. Campo de Vallecas is a very small stadium with a capacity of about 14,000. Home advantage won’t count much for Vallecano, who are just a point clear off the drop zone.
Team News & Tactical Brief
They have won one of the four games so far in La Liga and are just above Almeria. A whitewash at the hands of Malaga, last week, wasn’t exactly something that will give them any confidence against the reigning champions. Mounir El Hamdaoui (Malaga) ran past the Rayo defense and scored a hat-trick on debut. The prospect of facing Lionel Messi, after a stunning hattrick against Ajax in midweek, won’t be a pleasant one.
In defense the Madrid based side will field Tito, Galeano, Galvez and Nacho, with the double pivot of Niguez and Trashorras just ahead of them. The duo will have their task cut out – they will have to sit back and absorb pressure from the Barcelona midfield and at times dispossess them and go for a quick counter. Roberto Trashorras will have a major role to play against Barcelona and he will have to initiate the counters. “What we have to do is exhaust all possibilities against a team who we know are capable of dominating all aspects of a game. Everyone has to play at their highest level,” said the 32-year old. More importantly, of the 4 goals scored by Rayo, a couple of them were assisted by the midfielder.
Up front, Viera, Fernandez and Bueno will have to exploit any opening in Barcelona’s leaky defense with Larrivey upfront to convert their chances. Despite the lackadaisical form of Pique, the Rayo offense will have to face Mascherano who has been much better, so far, this season and a defensively more disciplined Adriano and eventually Victor Valdes, who looks to be in the form of his life. Rayo are perhaps in for a long and cold night.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Ruben; Tito, Galvez, Galeano, Martinez; Trashorras, Niguez; Bueno, Fernandez, Viera; Larrivey
Gerardo Martino has travelled to Argentina to attend his father’s funeral and won’t be with the team for a few days. In his absence, assistant coach Jorge Pautasso has been conducting training sessions. Paco Jemez’s Rayo has had some heavy defeats this season and Barcelona will be looking forward to improve their goal-difference this weekend. While Martino has been criticised, for not employing youth players, Barcelona might field the duo of Bartra and Mascherano in the wake of Pique’s discomfort. Adriano will again start in the absence of Jordi Alba.
Martino decided to rest Xavi in midweek and the midfielder played only 20 minutes of the game. These are the matches where the mettle of the squad should be tested and Xavi should be rested. Again. Iniesta and Busquets had a great game and they will start – Cesc who wasn’t as lively will again get the nod ahead of Xavi. Upfront, it has to be Lionel Messi and two other players. Neymar has hit the ground running and is almost certain to start. Tello should get the nod ahead of Alexis, but it look highly likely for the Chilean to get yet another start.
Victor Valdes, who has reiterated his desire to leave Camp Nou at the end of this season is perhaps in the form of his life. He has been the difference at the back and has saved Barcelona from a lot of embarrassment, early into the season.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano; Cesc, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Neymar, Alexis
- Rayo have already conceded 5 goals against Atletico Madrid and Malaga – both away from home.
- Rayo have scored 4 goals in 4 matches. Lionel Messi has 6 in 4.
- Rayo (65.9%) have second highest average possession in La Liga this season, after Barcelona (70.4%).
- Rayo (85.3%) also have the third highest pass accuracy in La Liga, after Barcelona (90%) and Real Madrid (87.2%).
Player To Watch Out For
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
After a sparkling hat-trick against Ajax, in midweek, the diminutive Argentine will look forward to increase the gap between him and Cristiano Ronaldo. After coming back to full fitness, Messi never looked as if he was ever injured. His jinking runs, dummies and positioning is still what it was last season and perhaps has gotten even better.
Rayo 0-5 FC Barcelona
After conceding 5 goals against Atletico and Malaga, this again looks to be a goal-fest for the Catalans. Expect Lionel Messi to find the back of the net, more than once. With this, they might find themselves in the dreaded drop zone – a spot which they have been trying to avoid, desperately.
Blast From The Past