Barcelona came back from a goal down to beat relegation battlers Rayo Vallecano 3-1 on Saturday to strengthen their grip at the top of the La Liga table.
Returning to Camp Nou after four matches on the road, things did not begin all too well for reigning La Liga champions Barcelona as the 19th-placed Rayo Vallecano drew first blood, courtesy of a stunning strike from Raul de Tomas in the 24th minute.
However, parity was restored not long after, with defensive mainstay Gerard Pique heading in a sublime free-kick from club captain Lionel Messi in the 38th minute. Minutes into the second period, the Blaugrana were awarded a penalty after Jordi Amat fouled Nelson Semedo in the box and Messi made no mistake from the spot to make it 2-1 in favour of the hosts.
The Argentine came so very close to making it three, but saw his free-kick cleared at the last moment by Alex Moreno. However, Rayo could not stop Barcelona from adding a third on the night as Luis Suarez slotted the ball into the net after a neat exchange with substitute Ivan Rakitic in the 82nd minute.
Barça ground Rayo! pic.twitter.com/58MNVQpWC0
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 9, 2019
The result meant Barcelona maintained the seven-point gap with second-placed Atletico Madrid, after Diego Simeone’s men had reduced it to four points with a 1-0 win against Leganes earlier on Saturday. And here’s how Ernesto Valverde’s superstars fared on the evening at Camp Nou against the relegation-threatened outfit.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 6/10
Not a lot the German international could have done to stop De Tomas’ brilliant hit in the first period. Had very little to do in terms of saves post that, with Rayo hardly threatening going forward. Launched the move for the third goal with a quick throw to release Suarez.
Nelson Semedo: 7/10
Starting ahead of Sergi Roberto at right-back, the Portuguese defender had a solid game at both ends of the pitch. Defended well for most parts and was always an outlet on the overlap. Won the penalty leading to the crucial second goal for Barcelona.
Gerard Pique: 8/10
Another rock-solid performance from the seasoned campaigner. Could not stop De Tomas from scoring in the first period, but pounced on the chance to equalise, scoring his sixth goal of the season. Defended his territory well, ensuring that Rayo Vallecano had no chance of mounting any sort of comeback.
Samuel Umtiti: 7/10
Coming into the starting XI in place of the suspended Clement Lenglet, the Frenchman put in another assured display, as he steps up his comeback from a lengthy injury layoff. Won the ball back on numerous occasions and looked confident and at ease when playing out from the back. Encouraging signs for Barcelona.
Jordi Alba: 6/10
Offered endless energy and running on the left-flank, but the Spaniard wasn’t as incisive as he usually tends to be in the final third, with Rayo doing well to shut down spaces for him. Still managed to deliver a few dangerous crosses into the box.
Arturo Vidal: 6.5/10
The Chilean, handed a start over Ivan Rakitic, played with the typical hustle and bustle he brings to the table. Went into tackles strongly and used possession intelligently to launch attacks. Helped Semedo keep things tight in defence on the right-side channel. Solid, if not spectacular.
Sergio Busquets: 6.5/10
A controlled, disciplined performance from the midfield mainstay. Did the simple things well in the middle of the park, ensuring Rayo did not have any opportunity to break on the counter and tried to create chances with vertical passes.
Arthur Melo: 6/10
The Brazilian midfielder saw a lot of the ball in the first period but couldn’t make much of an impact as the visitors marked him tightly. Withdrawn at half-time by manager Valverde with the European encounter against Lyon on the horizon.
Lionel Messi: 8/10
As is the case more often than not, everything positive that Barcelona created in the final third of the pitch went through their captain. Sparked the comeback by setting Pique up for the equalizer with a lovely free-kick, before putting his side in the driver’s seat with a nerveless penalty after the break. Could have had a couple more, but saw a free-kick headed clear, while another missed narrowly.
Luis Suarez: 7.5/10
Worked hard in the final third of the pitch, running at the Rayo Vallecano defenders, creating chances for his teammates. Got the goal his performance deserved late on, as he linked up beautifully with Ousmane Dembele first and then Rakitic to prod home Barcelona’s third on the night.
Philippe Coutinho: 4/10
Given a chance to make an impression from the start, the Brazilian playmaker once again failed to make the most of it. Hardly created anything of note in the final third. Looked devoid of confidence for most of the game and was taken off for Rakitic late on.
Ousmane Dembele: 7/10
Replaced Arthur at the half-time break. Injected the pace that Barcelona seemed to be lacking in the first period. Caused a lot of problems to the opposition defence and played a part in the third goal for the Catalans. Picked up a hamstring injury that has cast serious doubts over his involvement in the UCL clash against Lyon.
Ivan Rakitic: N/A
Subbed on for Coutinho in the 80th minute. Neat one-two with Suarez leading to Barcelona’s third goal.
Came on to replace Busquets for the final five minutes.