With all of the news and drama that has come out of Camp Nou in the past week, it’s easy to forget that Barcelona still has a season to complete. That continues this Sunday, as Pep Guardiola and his men travel to Madrid for a match with Rayo Vallecano.
In a span of one week, Barcelona has lost to its bitter rival, Real Madrid—all but conceding the La Liga crown—been knocked out of the UEFA Champions League at the hands of Chelsea and revealed that they will be playing under a new manager come next season.
One hell of a week, to say the least.
The Blaugrana will need to put the whirlwind events of the past seven days behind them if they hope to finish off the campaign—and Guardiola's reign—on a positive note.
Meanwhile, Rayo Vallecano come into the match with little to play for. The Madrid-based club sits 15th in the league table, nine points above the relegation zone and eight points adrift of the final European place.
It is hard to see Jose Ramon Sandoval and his men making a drastic jump in either direction with only four matches remaining on the calendar. That will be just fine for a club back in the top flight of Spanish football following a year in the second division.
Here is everything you need to know about the match.
Where: Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas, Madrid, Spain
When: Sunday, April 29, 3:30 p.m. ET
Watch: Gol TV
Why Each Team Needs to Win
Barcelona will be looking to rebound in a big way after seeing their winless streak extend to three games for the first time since 2009.
Under Guardiola, fans of the Catalan giants have been accustomed to consistent winning, and watching their beloved team do so in style.
The players will undoubtedly be looking to get things back on track this Sunday, meaning Rayo could be in for a long evening.
On the flip side, the home side will be looking to avenge an emphatic 4-0 loss in the reverse fixture earlier in the campaign, when two goals from Chilean star Alexis Sanchez made the difference at Camp Nou.
In addition, Rayo will head into the match knowing that a victory will secure their place in La Liga for the 2012-13 season. Despite holding a nine-point cushion above the relegation zone, the players will be eager to confirm their status for the upcoming season as quickly as possible, instead of leaving it to the final few matches of the year.
Expect a High-Scoring Affair
This match is sure to bring some goals for the viewing public, and not just because Barcelona are involved.
It seems unnecessary to say that a game involving Messi and company will see plenty of the goalkeeper picking the ball out of his net. But with Rayo being the opponent, the possibility for goals certainly increases.
Barcelona’s scoring exploits have been well documented, with the club having notched a ridiculous 97 goals so far in the campaign. Rayo are no pushover in the attacking third themselves, as their 50 league goals is good enough for fourth in La Liga this year (level with Malaga).
However, the club has struggled mightily in defense, conceding 60 goals through 34 matches. That is by far the highest total amongst clubs who are not in the relegation zone—only Sporting Gijon (64) has conceded more, while Real Zaragoza’s defense has also been breached 60 times.
Victor Valdes has been beaten five times in the previous three matches himself, meaning goals could flow at both ends on Sunday.
Subs to Watch
As with every match, one of the key elements that can make the difference between three points and a disappointing result is the manager's use of substitutions.
Despite not having the deepest squad, Guardiola still has an abundance of talent on his bench that he can turn to if he so desires.
With the title essentially out of reach for the Catalan club, don’t be surprised if Guardiola decides to give some of the younger members of the squad more playing time in the final four matches of the season.
The likes of Isaac Cuenca, Cristian Tello and Thiago Alcantara have all shown glimpses of stardom throughout the season, and they could be relied upon by the outgoing manager as the season comes to an end.
In order for the younger players to see the pitch, some of the established names on the squad will be relegated to the bench, meaning they could get a run later in the match as a substitute.
Whether it be midfield maestro Xavi, silky-smooth playmaker Andres Iniesta or speedy winger Alexis Sanchez, you can bet one of them will most likely not be in the starting lineup.
As for the hosts, the impact substitute all year long has been striker Raul Tamudo. The 34-year-old has netted eight goals on the campaign, many of which have been scored after his introduction as a sub.
With his career reaching the latter stages, the former Espanyol captain—who is still revered as an icon at his old club—can no longer put in the full 90 minutes as he once could. But his class is unquestionable, and Tamudo often displays that quality when introduced from the bench.
Prediction: 4-2, Barcelona
Look for Barca to bring home the three points in an exciting affair.