Rayo Vallecano crashed into the Camp Nou, literally crashing a party that had been raging since the wizards of Catalonia performed a giant slaying act of David and Goliath proportions by slaying Goliath, albeit with four rocks. Two of them flung from Messi’s sling. The groundsman at the Camp Nou must have gotten a bit carried away at the party and forgot to turn off the water sprinklers, leaving the pitch a bit soggy and slippery too. Even the Iron Men of Madrid couldn’t find the right studs to cope with the pitch. For the first time since the Guinness Book of Records was conjured, the Camp Nou turf was not perfect. But no one really noticed. And no one really cared for that matter.
Rayo Vallecano have a cosy relationship with Disney and have had the pleasure of sporting superhero monikers on their jerseys. If I were still a toddler, I would have begged, borrowed or stolen an Iron Man jersey. And my career as a cule would have been stillborn.
Last season, Rayo Vallecano sported the moniker “The Avengers” on their jerseys when they played against Barcelona. And they even had the young mascots don attires of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Incredible Hulk. But vengeance was not on the menu today. The Iron Men were beaten and dispatched back to Madrid in a creaky heap, albeit one that could summon pride at their performance and the fact that they possibly played a hand in restoring the soberness to the Camp Nou groundsmen.
Rayo Vallecano had a coherent game plan. They also have a very decent squad. It is not by luck that they can sneer at the teams whose fans will likely lose their minds at the impending relegation scrap. Rayo set themselves up to play on the counter attack. And they had their fair share of opportunities. It took them a mere 8 minutes to demand a penalty from the match referee.
Barcelona lined up in their usual 4-3-3 with Fabregas drafted into the same side as Villa and Alexis. With Iniesta back to playing regularly in the midfield, it seems the Barcelona technical bench has given up on the Iniesta-winger experimentation and it could be a while before we see Iniesta in the front three. In the absence of Xavi, this seemed a prime chance for Fabregas to prove his mettle in a midfield slot without the encumbrance of having to directly support Messi in attack.
The game’s first chance fell to Messi a mere 5 minutes into the match. But he made a hash of a cross from Villa with only the keeper to beat as he seemed to lose his footing on the turf. Messi was to lose his footing several times in the first half, bringing a few attacks to an anticlimax. Messi found the crossbar two minutes later with a great free kick a few yards from the penalty box. Rayo’s players were quick to close down Barcelona and some of the misguided enthusiasm saw their excellent captain, Piti, land in the referee’s black book quite early in the match.
Adriano had to be substituted in the 23rd minute after tearing his hamstring while trying to reach for a long diagonal ball. The recently converted blonde, Dani Alves, replaced Adriano at right back.
A lot has been of the infamous Villa-Messi spat but if these two players ever quarrel, then it is because they demand the very best of each other. The Villa-Messi axis created and scored all three of Barcelona’s goals on Sunday. Villa found the net in the 24th minute off of a sumptuous assist from Messi. And Villa returned the favour to Messi not once, but twice. A few minutes to the end of the first half, Messi beat Ruben Andrade in the near post from a tight angle. This goal sees Messi extending his record La Liga scoring streak to 18 matches!
Rayo Vallecano played well, counterattacking at speed but they were mostly unable to find the final ball. When they did find the final ball, their finishing let them down. Barcelona went into the halftime break with a two goal lead.
Rayo started the second half in quite a lively manner and won a corner in the 55th minute. The corner was cleared and fell kindly to David Villa, who was the most advanced Barcelona player. Villa brushed off a challenge and held the ball well as Messi made a run toward the Vallecano goal. Villa released Messi who beat his man and finished with a neat chip over Ruben.
An hour into the match, Paco Jemez brought on Lass and Tamudo. Tamudo has a good record against Barcelona from his days at Espanyol and it took him just one touch of the ball to find the back of the Barcelona net. Tamudo’s introduction gave Vallecano a permanent penalty box presence and they created several chances as the game ebbed away. Roura was concerned enough to bring Song into the match to try and contain the wave of Rayo’s attack.
What would have been the moment of the match was not to be when Messi attempted an utterly ridiculous dink from a very tight angle only to see his effort nestle on the top of the net.
Rayo Vallecano president, Raul Prensa had hoped that the Iron Man jersey would give them luck in the match and that they would not need the Iron Man “to do something important”. In the end, the Iron Men left the Nou Camp having been enchanted by the magicians of Barcelona, leaving Prensa wondering which superhero moniker will work against Barcelona. That is a question that I suspect Carlo Ancelloti is grappling with at the moment.
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