Right, that’s it from me. Here, by way of going-home present, are some match stats for you. Until next time!
Well that might have been a decent game, had Rayo only kept 11 men on the field. But to take on Barcelona with nine men is unlikely to be much fun, and the visitors cantered to an easy victory without having to try very hard. Still, some enjoyable moments. Barcelona move eight points clear, and are unbeaten now in 35 games in all competitions, a Spanish record.
Final score: Rayo Vallecano 1-5 Barcelona
90+1 mins: Four goals, a missed penalty and a red card in that half, and the referee plays four seconds of stoppage time. I demand a refund!
90 mins: Rayo mount a token attack, Tito heading a difficult chance wide. Their fans, commendably, continue to wave big heavy flags and jump up and down behind the goal.
88 mins: Neymar is booked for … well … I’ve seen two replays and I’m still not sure. He’ll miss Barcelona’s next game.
GOAL! Rayo Vallecano 1-5 Barcelona (Arda Turan, 86 mins)
Mathieu crosses from the left, Arda Turan heads in at the far post, totally unmarked. Easy. Well, against nine men it would be.
85 mins: Messi should really have had a fourth there, after being picked out in half a penalty area’s worth of space, but his first touch is not good enough, or rather it’s too good – the ball stops dead, and he can’t get in a shot before he’s closed down.
82 mins: Oooh! Again! Iniesta passes to Suárez and runs into the area, so the Uruguayan – who can rarely play a one without following it with a two – tries to scoop the ball back to him. It hits a defender, though, so Suárez takes it back, runs into the area himself, and then plays the ball hard across goal from a silly angle – probably a shot.
80 mins: Another substitute for Rayo: Manucho comes off, and Javi Guerra comes on.
78 mins: Arda Turan slides in and trips Tito, and the referee blows his whistle, strides over, and shows the Turk a red card! Then he puts the red card back in his pocket, takes out the yellow, apologises profusely (presumably) and shows that instead!
77 mins: Barcelona take off Busquets and bring on Vermaelen. Meanwhile, some excellent bench-shaking skills here:
77 mins: Penalties are the one thing Barcelona really are pretty rubbish at.
76 mins: Rayo also had two men sent off the last time Barcelona visited. Incidentally, in all the excitement I failed to tell you that Arda Turan had replaced Rakitic.
74 mins: That was, apparently, the third time this season when Messi has been on a hat-trick when Barcelona have been awarded a penalty, and not taken it. He’s since completed his hat-trick anyway.
GOAL! Rayo Vallecano 1-4 Barcelona (Messi, 72 mins)
Now Messi is played through, and there’s no flag this time. Antonio Amaya – just on as a substitute, replacing Bébé – is guilty of leaving him in all sorts of space, and is punished as he’s played in from near halfway, runs to the edge of the area, and tucks the ball in at the near post.
70 mins: Within 60 seconds of the penalty both Neymar and Suárez are caught fractionally offside, when played through.
69 mins: Suárez’s penalty is saved! It’s a poor penalty, blasted not far off the ground, not far from the middle, and Juan Carlos, having dived the right way, can hardly fail to save it.
Another penalty! And another red card!
68 mins: After the ball hits the bar, Busquets reaches it first and he seems likely to score, at least until Iturra takes him out from behind!
67 mins: Neymar hits the bar! Moments later there’s a free-kick from the edge of the area, and the Brazilian hits it over the wall and into the meat of the bar.
66 mins: Juan Carlos tries to give away another goal. To be fair, Suárez’s shot was low and firm, but the keeper had two gloves on it. It squirmed away into the middle of goal, Juan Carlos desperately palmed it a bit further away, and somehow he got away with it.
64 mins: Messi slams a first-time shot high and wide from 16 yards, after Mathieu pulls back.
61 mins: Rayo are still trying, bless them. Tito has a shot from 30-odd yards, which floats over the bar. I guess if they score one more they’d only have to score one more to be nearly winning.
GOAL! Rayo Vallecano 1-3 Barcelona (Manucho, 57 mins)
And Rayo have a goal! It’s a cross from the right, which finds Bébé beyond the far post, and he heads back across goal to Manucho, who has the easiest of tasks to head in from four yards. Commendable and remarkable commitment to attack there from the side with 10 men and 3-0 down.
56 mins: A substitution for Rayo: Piti goes off, and Joni comes on.
55 mins: Neymar races past Embarba, a makeshift right-back, but shoots the wrong side of the near post.
GOAL! Rayo Vallecano 0-3 Barcelona (Messi, 54 mins)
The only question there was who was going to score. The ball is sent to Sergi Roberto on the right, who crosses low towards Neymar. A defender gets in the way but the ball falls to Suárez, whose shot hits the post but rebounds to Messi, whose effort hits Juan Carlos on the line, but goes in anwyay.
52 mins: Suárez goes close! Messi hogs the attention of three defenders, leaving just one to deal with Neymar and Suárez, and he eventually passes to the latter, whose shot from an acute angle goes wide.
50 mins: And a minute later they get another chance to attack, but Bébé is surprised by the pass when it comes, and lets it run through to Bravo.
49 mins: Rayo break, and when Busquets misses the ball on the halfway line there’s a two-on-two, with Embarba carrying the ball and Manucho with him all the way. When the pass finally comes, though, Manucho can’t control it, and the chance is lost.
47 mins: Oooh! Neymar plays the ball to Suárez, who sends it looping over what’s left of the Rayo defence and back to Neymar, whose first-time shot goes wide. In other Spanish football news, Granada have beaten Sporting Gijon 2-0, and Real Betis are 3-0 up and on their way to victory at Espanyol.
46 mins: And they’re off! Again!
The players are back out. More action imminent …
Rayo have had four players sent off in their last four games against Barcelona. Not a good habit to get into.
Barcelona’s second, though, could have been given offside. And Llorente shouldn’t have been sent off.
Crumbs, that opening goal doesn’t get any prettier with further viewings. Juan Carlos couldn’t have done a better job of giving away a goal except by actually physically throwing the ball into his own net.
Half time: Rayo Vallecano 0-2 Barcelona
45+1 mins: The first half is over, as indeed are Rayo Vallecano’s chances of getting anything from this game. Paco Jémez tells the referee what he thinks of him on his way off the field.
Red card! Diego Llorente has been sent off!
43 mins: Llorente slides in to win the ball ahead of Rakitic, and his momentum carries him into the Barcelona player. His right foot, which caught the ball, keeps rising and lands on Rakitic’s thigh. Was that intentional? It’s very hard to tell, and there didn’t seem to be any violence in it. No matter, he’s off!
42 mins: Chance for Rayo Vallecano! Embarba crosses from the left, and Quini appears in the box, from right-back, but heads wide!
38 mins: And then, a chance for Suárez! The ball drops to him just outside the area, with Juan Carlos out of his goal, but the shot is still too close to the keeper, who catches it with estimable nonchalance.
38 mins: It’s all turned a bit scrappy and disjointed. Suárez trips Llorente, who rolls around a bit and wins a free kick.
35 mins: This may be the smallest ground in La Liga, but there seems to be a lot of space for Barcelona, helped by Rayo playing a bravely high line, leaving plenty of space for those forwards to run into. For all that, no real chances for a while.
31 mins: Embarba and Piqué go for the same ball. The Rayo player gets there first, sends the ball to the defender’s right and then dives dramatically to his left. The referee tells him to get up, which he eventually does.
27 mins: Another attacking set piece for Barça and this time the ball drops to Mathieu, lurking in the area, but his right-foot shot thumps into Manucho’s shoulder and flies wide. The next corner is cleared.
26 mins: Our very own Sid Low is present, it seems.
GOAL! Rayo Vellecano 0-2 Barcelona (Messi, 24 mins)
That’s two goals in, well, not many seconds for Barcelona. Messi runs down the middle and plays in Neymar, who looks at goal, just about convinces his marker that’s where the ball’s going, and then passes inside to Messi, who is unmarked and slides in at the near post.
GOAL! Rayo Vallecano 0-1 Barcelona (Rakitic, 22 mins)
And that is a bona fide, genuine goalkeeping howler. The corner heads right across the area and is sent back in. Out comes Juan Carlos, though, to collect the cross, under no kind of pressure. And he doesn’t! The ball squirms from his gloves and falls to the ground, as indeed does he, and Rakitic is first to it!
21 mins: Messi has a shot! He picks up the ball inside the penalty area, burst from right to left, and then shoots low towards the near post. Juan Carlos turns it around said post, for a corner.
18 mins: Suárez races down the left, Llorente gamely keeping up, and then decides to get rid of the pesky defender by giving him a fulsome shove. The referee doesn’t like it, and Suárez doesn’t like that.
15 mins: The second shot on target is also Rayo’s, but Embarba’s right-footed effort from just outside the box is weak and easily saved.
14 mins: Sergio Busquets clatters into Iturra – or the other way round, it’s hard to tell – and both end up writhing around on the floor. Barcelona get the free-kick, and after both players eventually get up, they chip it into the mixer, and it’s headed back out of the mixer again.
12 mins: This is already looking a bit ominous. Suárez is played in down the right, tries to cut inside and loses the ball, but as it runs loose Neymar is very close to reaching it first, a defender just about nicking it away from his toe.
10 mins: Moments later the ball is played through the defence to Messi, who chips over the advancing keeper, but the linesman is flagging.
9 mins: A long ball is sent from right to left, crossfield and into the area, for Neymar to run on to. Juan Carlos runs out, catches the ball, realises his momentum will take him out of his area and throws it off the pitch. He’s certainly out of his area by the time he lets go, but the referee is still in charitable mood.
8 mins: Messi’s first dribble of the night sees his shirt being pulled and then his shorts being pulled. He copes with all of that, twinkle-toes his way across the area, but can’t find either a pass or a shot.
6 mins: Bébé wrestles the ball away from Rakitic, who is generously given a free kick, in a dangerous area.
4 mins: Shot! And the first chance of the day falls to Rayo, Embarba racing onto the ball on the edge of the area and slamming a left-footed shot goalwards, which Bravo beats away.
2 min: Early nutmeg from Neymar, out on the left wing, but he falls over in doing it.
1 min: We’re off! The home side get the game under way, ping the ball around for a while and then accidentally knock it out for a throw-in.
“I suppose what with Barça’s title more or less in the bag, the only thing left to amuse Luis Enrique is moving Sergi Roberto around the various stations on the pitch,” writes Charles Antaki. “Look out for the last day, when he puts Roberto in goal for the first half, and uses him in the second half as team doctor.” I remember seeing Watford start their utility man Steve Palmer in goal one day, so he could boast of having started in every on-field position at least once during the season (they immediately hoofed the ball out of play from the kick-off, and he swapped shirts with the goalkeeper, who had started at No4).
Out come the players! Accompanied by some very fine flag-waving at the one tiny end that the Estadio de Vallecas currently boasts.
So these guys seem to get along.
A Rayo Vallecano-Barcelona highlight from yesteryear:
Rayo Vallecano: Juan Carlos; Tito, Llorente, Crespo, Quini; Iturra, Trashoras; Embarba, Piti, Bebé; Manucho.
Barcelona: Bravo; S. Roberto, Piqué, Masche, Mathieu; Busquets; Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar.
Alternatively you may admire these pretty team graphics:
So here we go, Spain’s best possession-hogging football team against Spain’s second-best possession-hogging football team. Rayo Vallecano are so comfortable on the ball, they went to Camp Nou earlier this season and had 56.6% of possession. Sure, they still lost 5-2, but still. And only Barcelona and Real Madrid have had more shots this season than Rayo, who have attempted to score on 264 occasions.
So there’s some promise there. But then, they’ve only actually scored with 36 of those shots, or 13.6%, and are 16th in the table. Also, the last 10 games between the teams have finished with a cumulative scoreline of 45-4, with a 6-1, a 6-0 and a 7-0 along the way. This is less promising.
Plus there’s the fact that Barcelona haven’t lost in 34 games, meaning they would overtake Real Madrid’s 1988-89 run and vault into the all-time Spanish record books if they avoid defeat here. “They’re going to have to lose one day and we’ll try to make sure that day is Thursday,” trilled Rayo midfielder Roberto Trashorras. “If we are brave I’m sure we can take a point off Barça,” says former Manchester United ace (he played 16 Premier League minutes in 2008) Manucho. “Any lapse in concentration can prove costly,” countered Barcelona’s Luis Enrique. “You can never be relaxed against Rayo. It will be an uncomfortable game.”
Well, we’ll see about that. And also whether Enrique rests any or indeed all of his much-vaunted attacking trio, with a visit to eighth-placed Eibar to come on Sunday. “Resting the three forwards will depend on what I see fit,” he said. “What I do is always for the benefit of the team, without committing risks.”
In statistical quirk news, all of Vallecano’s last three games, four of their last five, five of their last six and seven of their 11 matches in this calendar year have finished 2-2, which strikes me as an astonishing outbreak of a very particular and not enormously common scoreline. This, incidentally, after not drawing 2-2 ever at all in the entire calendar year of 2015. Between 31 August 2014 and 3 January this year they played 64 matches without ever drawing 2-2. There have been seven 2-2 draws in their last 60 days, as many as Rayo fans had seen in the 1,736 days before that.
Simon will be here shortly. In the meantime, why not have a read of Sid Lowe’s blog on last weekend’s action, and what Real Madrid might learn from Atlético?
The first time they met, Antoine Griezmann left Zinedine Zidane standing in his pants; the second time, he left Zidane’s players even more exposed, stripped bare before the Bernabéu. Not just them, in fact: coach, players, president, club, the lot. It is a little over a decade since young Antoine, a hopeful kid at Real Sociedad, asked Zidane for his shorts after a game at Anoeta, the pair retiring to the tunnel so they could be handed over. Ten years on, Antoine, the top scorer at Atlético Madrid and responsible for more than a third of their goals, turned superbly, dashed across the turf, exchanged passes with Filipe Luís and curled in the goal that inflicted on Zidane the coach his first defeat in charge of Real Madrid.
The way it arrived was a portrait of his talent and Real’s failings, players ambling aimlessly as Griezmann ran, the entire stadium watching the pass to Filipe Luís open up as if in slow motion, while the finish and its consequences revealed their nakedness. Suddenly, it was all out there, uncovered: the errors, the divisions, the flimsiness of the facade. Blame was apportioned, fingers pointed. At the end, Real’s anthem was put on as quickly as it could be and as loudly too, barely a second between the final whistle and the deafening first bar, but the complaints could still be heard and so could chants for the president, Florentino Pérez, to resign – 10 years to the day since the last time he walked out.