Barcelona are looking to continue their march in the Copa del Rey when they lock horns with Rayo Vallecano at Estadio de Vallecas on Wednesday.

With Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid both knocked out of Copa del Rey, Barcelona will feel they have an excellent chance of winning the competition this season. In fact, securing the cup could be a necessity for Ronald Koeman’s whose side is unlikely to catch up with league leaders Atleti in La Liga.

Hence, a win will be imperative when they travel to Estadio de Vallecas to face Rayo Vallecano in a Round of 16 tie on Wednesday. Barcelona clearly weren’t at their best during their previous round encounter against third division side Cornella. But, it was followed by a 2-0 triumph over Elche in the league, with the Catalans looking for their third consecutive win in all competitions this midweek.

Rayo Vallecano won’t make things any easier, though, as they look to get back to winning ways following a crucial defeat to Mallorca. Incidentally, the Segunda Division outfit is coming into this game with a victory over Elche in the previous round, and that too by a 2-0 scoreline.

Fortunately for Barca, Rayo Vallecano may have one eye on the ongoing race for promotion in the second division, with the club trailing third-placed Almeria only by five points. So head coach Andoni Iraola might be wise about his priorities, and here, at The Hard Tackle, we will take a closer look at their against the Barcelona team this week, in this enticing contest in Copa del Rey.

Team News & Tactics

Rayo Vallecano

Rayo Vallecano head coach Andoni Iraola primarily likes to play with a 4-2-3-1 formation and things are unlikely to change this time around. It could, in fact, mirror Barca’s preferred shape, though we do expect the attacking midfielder in Oscar Trejo to operate deeper and assist the two central midfielders in the second line of press.

Alternatively, he may join forces with striker Bebe and look to disrupt Barcelona’s build-up from the back. Either way, the likely central midfield combination of Mario Suarez and Santi Comesana could play a key role in preventing the opposition from the dominating the game.

In the creative department, meanwhile, the onus will be on Isi Palazon and Alvaro Garcia to provide the necessary spark in the final third. They are primarily expected to play on the counter, though, with Rayo far less likely to dominate possession in this game.

As for the defensive unit, Iraola will be missing out on key defender Emiliano Velazquez following his injury against Mallorca. It should pave the way for Esteban Saveljich to get a rare starting opportunity alongside the likes of Alejandro Catena and Luis Advincula.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Dimitrievski; Advincula, Catena, Saveljich, F. Garcia; Suarez, Comesana; Palazon, Trejo, A. Garcia; Bebe

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Barcelona

Ronald Koeman’s experiment with La Masia squad in the previous round was close to failing, with the team requiring extra time to get the better of third division outfit Cornella. So the Dutchman might want to tone down on the number of changes he could be making for this particular encounter.

Ronald Koeman will be looking to win his first trophy as Barcelona manager (Photo courtesy - Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Ronald Koeman could make a few changes to his side. (Photo courtesy – Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, Koeman is still missing his lethal weapon at right-back in Sergino Dest. The American international yet to return to full fitness and has been omitted from the squad that will travel to Vallecas, alongside Sergi Roberto. It essentially means that Oscar Mingueza and Junior Firpo could once again operate as full-backs for Barcelona this midweek.

Elsewhere in defence, Clement Lenglet is hoping for a start after being benched against Elche. His experience and leadership could be key alongside Ronald Araujo in central defence while Neto is guaranteed to replace Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal.

In midfield, Barcelona have included Ilaix Moriba in their squad once again. The youngster had a promising debut in the previous round and will be hoping to make a bigger impact this time around. His technical prowess and link-up play with someone like Riqui Puig could be useful for the Catalans, with Miralem Pjanic a more assured presence in the number six role.

And finally, Koeman might want to consider more established options upfront in an attempt to kill the game early. Lionel Messi, for one, has been included in the squad, though it is Trincao and Ousmane Dembele, who may get the nod on the flanks. Martin Brathwaite, on the other hand, is set to spearhead Barca from the number nine position, with Messi as a potential second-half alternative.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Neto; Mingueza; Araujo, Lenglet, Firpo; Moriba, Pjanic, Puig; Dembele, Brathwaite, Trincao

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Key Stats

  • Barcelona are the top-scorers in La Liga this season, netting 39 goals in just 19 matches. Their closest competitors, Atletico Madrid, have scored three fewer though they have played a fewer match as well.
  • Rayo Vallecano have the weakest offensive record among the top four clubs in Segunda Division at the moment, having found the back of the net only 25 times in 22 matches.
  • Rayo Vallecano have lost each of their last ten meetings against Barcelona in La Liga, with their most recent defeat coming in Nou Camp back in March 2019.
  • Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi has a splendid record against Rayo, scoring 17 goals in just 10 matches. He is in the squad for the visitors heading into this game.
  • Rayo Vallecano’s most recent triumph against FC Barcelona came way back in December 2002, when Louis van Gaal was in charge of the Catalans.

Player to Watch

Ronald Araujo

Ronald Araujo has arguably been the most impressive player for Barcelona in recent weeks. Since the injury to Gerard Pique earlier in the campaign, the young defender has really stepped up to the plate. He has most notably starred in the last round triumph against Cornella while also playing a key role in the recent win over Elche CF.

Araujo’s aggression, combined with his ability to sense danger and some remarkable tackling prowess has now made him a rock at the back for Barcelona. It is a hurdle Rayo Vallecano attackers will have to overcome if they are to have any chance of causing a major upset in the Round of 16 tie in the Copa del Rey this midweek.

Prediction

Rayo Vallecano 0-2 Barcelona

Barcelona have a splendid record against Rayo Vallecano and it remains unlikely that they will find any particular difficultly in extending their ongoing run of two consecutive wins in all competitions. The presence of Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele in the squad could certainly make things difficult for Rayo, who are likely to shift their focus to the league and their upcoming game against Espanyol on Sunday.

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