It has been a tough week and a half for the football team from Barcelona. FC Barcelona lost La Liga, the Champions League and its coach within days of each other. In the first game against Rayo Vallecano during the aftermath of these events, it was unsure of how the team would respond to all of the disappointment. However, the team managed to put the off-pitch drama aside and focus solely on the game. The players provided a very satisfying result just when the club and fans truly needed it. It was a manita (and then some) to show that while the team may be undergoing changes, it is still capable of greatness.
Head coach Pep Guardiola fielded a watered-down lineup against the minnows Rayo. With the league and Champions League already lost, the important thing was to give bench players and Cop del Rey starters a chance to stretch their legs. In all, Pinto, Montoya, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Busquets, Keita, Thiago, Alexis, Pedro and Messi suited up for the first half.
The match began eerily similar to the past few games Barcelona played. Considering the outcome of those, the early outlook was not encouraging for the Catalans. Although a quick goal or rapid onslaught of attacks was not anywhere to be seen, the team still managed a breakthrough.
Messi was the man to instill hope back into the blaugrana faithful in the 16th minute. Alexis crossed the ball from the outside of the box to the right corner for Pedro. Pedro made the swift slide over to Messi on the other edge of the box. La Pulga easily tapped the ball into the back of the net to bring Barcelona into the lead.
Rayo was obviously frustrated by a goal it thought was offside. In the 21st minute, Roberto committed a foul just outside his own box in an attempt to halt another Barcelona attack. Unfortunately for Rayo, even yellow card offenses could not stop the visitors, as just five minutes later, Barcelona scored again.
This time it was Alexis with the goal after an assist from Messi. The Argentine danced around defenders and cheekily passed the ball on to Alexis who worked his way behind the defense. In the end, his goal was an easy chip into the net over a sliding Roberto. The defender hit the post and was eventually substituted off in the 29th minute in favor of Núñez. The 35th minute produced a yellow card for Tito.
Barcelona began to resemble the team that had been sorely missed over the last few weeks. Already two goals up with still much of the first half to play, a halftime lead seemed an easy feat. The prospects became even better in the 38th minute when Keita scored a rare goal. Messi again made the laser-like assist for the Malian to convert a one-touch goal.
The last action of the half occurred in extra time when Arribas earned a yellow card for dissent. Being three goals down with still an entire half to play, it is not hard to find reason behind his irritation.
It didn’t take long for the Catalans to kick start the second half with a goal. In the 47th minute, Alexis crossed the ball into the box. Messi’s first attempt ricocheted off the crossbar and fell to Pedro. Pedro managed to put his shot on target to increase Barcelona’s lead to 4-0. Shortly after the goal, Movilla came off for Diamanka.
In the 52nd minute, the recent goal scorer found his way into the referee’s book. His yellow card was for clumsily taking the ball from a Rayo player. Eight minutes later, Barcelona made its first substitution when Alves entered the pitch for Adriano.
The substitutions continued in the 65th minute. Rayo changed one Diego for another as Costa exited for Benito. The switch that everyone was really looking forward to, though, was made in the 73rd minute. After months of recuperation on the sidelines, Afellay received his first minutes after Busquets made way for him.
Barcelona achieved the elusive and beloved manita in the 77th minute. Alves crossed the ball to Thiago who connected for the free header that bounced into the net. Shortly after, Barcelona used its last substitution to trade Alexis off for Tello.
To stop at a manita was not enough for Barcelona, the team tallied another goal. Messi was again the assist man to Pedro who earned his brace with his strike that lit up the scoreboard with 6-0. Even that still did not satisfy the Catalans, as Pedro returned the assist favor to Messi in the 90th minute. La Pulga had a clinical finish to give Barcelona seven goals and embarrass a struggling Rayo even more.
The two minutes of added time could not produce a consolation goal for Rayo or one more for Barcelona. When the final whistle blew, Barcelona had won by seven goals to nil, its first big win in recent memory.
What can be taken away from this game is that Barcelona is not a different team. It is the same team that has won every trophy possible, that scored a manita against archrivals Real Madrid CF, that enjoyed a perfect season. Just because Guardiola is leaving and two of the most important trophies are out of reach this year, does not mean that an era is over. FC Barcelona proved that in this match. It is time to stop dwelling on the team’s current predicament and start looking toward the bright future full of amazing possibilities.
Image: Andres Kudacki [AP]