Barcelona 3-1 Rayo Vallecano: 6 Things We Learned
Barcelona welcomed Rayo Vallecano to Camp Nou and won the game by a convincing 3-1 scoreline.
In reality, els Blaugrana could have had eight on another night, and the scoring was eventually opened by David Villa as Lionel Messi broke free and slid him in.
Messi then struck twice to make it safe, before Raul Tamudo pulled one back within one minute of coming on.
What did we learn from the game?
Lionel Messi Makes It 18 in a Row
Lionel Messi's 39th-minute strike ensured he continued an unbelievable hot streak in front of goal.
He has now scored in 18 straight La Liga games—smashing records left, right and centre—and simultaneously brought his tally to four against Rayo Vallecano this season.
Considering the amount of times he slipped over, this was starting to look like mission impossible—but eventually, the Argentine's golden touch shone through.
Still Clicking Offensively Without Xavi
There have been concerns voiced over the past few weeks about Barcelona's ability without Xavi.
He was in and out of the side during els Blaugrana's rut in form and never looked fully fit. He was passed as OK to play for the demolition of Milan, but then promptly sat out Sunday night's game.
Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets dominated the game with ease, with the former, in particular, playing with a confidence we haven't seen for a while.
But Can They Manage Games Defensively Without Him?
As wonderful as Barcelona look going forward, the defence is still a massive concern.
The Catalan club have kept just six La Liga clean sheets this season, and it's interesting to note that Xavi played in all of those games bar the most recent—the 2-0 shutout against rock-bottom Deportivo La Coruna.
The midfield maestro manages games like an on-field general and can slow the pace of the game down to a minimum if he so chooses. At 3-0, all els Blaugrana needed to do was see it out, but instead, they conceded and looked genuinely vulnerable late in the second half.
Rayo Stick to Their Guns
It's fair to say Rayo Vallecano—despite being a serviceable side in general—didn't expect anything out of this game.
The 5-0 loss earlier in the season, combined with Barca's rampant destruction of Milan earlier this week, was probably enough to suck the belief out of the Franjirrojos players and to rub salt in the wounds—their star man Leo Baptistao was suspended for this encounter.
There didn't seem to be a particular game plan to deal with Barca, and no player looked overawed. Rayo played their own way, created a chance for Raul Tamudo to score and came pretty close to another.
The result? A respectable 3-1.
David Villa Is Back
David Villa has had so many fitness concerns in the last year-and-a-half that some actually forgot he was an attacking option for Barcelona.
His recovery has been slow, frustrating and filled with controversies (including the suggestion of a January transfer), but he's back in the side and performing at an elite level.
He was pivotal as a No. 9 against Milan in detracting attention from Lionel Messi, and against Rayo Vallecano, his linkup play with the Argentine was borderline telepathic.
They were on the same wavelength all game long, and the Vallecanos felt his full wrath.
The False-Nine Still Works
In the wake of the 2-0 defeat to Milan, then the subsequent 4-0 victory in the second leg, many asked the question: Should Barcelona abandon the false-nine tactic?
The use of David Villa as a No. 9 was enough of a distraction to occupy Milan's centre-backs, and there was speculation that Lionel Messi would go back to playing as a No. 10.
In reality, Barca have merely pocketed two successful strategies, as Messi returned to a false-nine role against Rayo Vallecano and really should have had a hat-trick.
The performance Villa put in from the edge was also jaw-dropping.