Barca manager Gerardo Martino took the opportunity to rest some of his usual starters with Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta replaced by Martin Montoya, Alex Song and Cesc Fabregas respectively.
A lumpy—and in places threadbare—Vallecas pitch was perhaps a ploy by the home ground staff to disrupt Barca’s passing game, but it didn’t work, as the Blaugrana juggernaut overcame a spirited Rayo side by 4-0.
Victor Valdes showed his worth almost immediately in a frenetic opening few minutes. Alberto Perea really should’ve scored with a free header, but Barca’s No. 1 was equal to it. Almost immediately, Lionel Messi worked some magic to round Ruben Martinez, but covering right-back Tito ensured more was not made of the opportunity.
Still inside the first 10, Neymar had a great chance to open his La Liga account, but Tito was once again in the right place at the right time.
La Liga Highlights: Pedro goal vs Rayo Vallecano (0-1) - Barcelona’s Pedro has struggled with injury early o... http://t.co/5PxGzpR9k9— Barcelona News (@barcanewsonly) September 21, 2013
Barca began to dominate with four corners by the first quarter-hour, and Messi’s majesty on 18, as he danced past three players to set up Neymar, was a joy to behold. As he set up the Brazilian, you could almost sense the youngster’s hesitancy as he slotted the ball wide of the upright.
Rayo’s robust approach ensured that Barca’s long-ball game was employed heavily in the opening exchanges, and Montoya’s overhit back pass under little pressure almost gave the home side the lead. He will certainly need to show more composure in the position to dislodge Dani Alves.
The midfield trio of Johan Mojica, Roberto Trashorras and Saul Niguez was particularly industrious throughout the first period and at the heart of everything good that we saw from the home side.
Just past the half-hour mark, we saw the best of Messi once more. His clever play opened up space for Pedro to comfortably slot home, and the two combined again just a minute later when the latter should really have chipped into an empty net.
Rayo came back into the game once more, and Jonathan Viera’s crisp curling shot saw another first-class save from Valdes. Bizarrely from the keeper’s punch clearance, Adriano inexplicably gave away a penalty, but Valdes was the hero of the hour again, with his second penalty save in succession from Trashorras.
A clutch of fouls as we approached half-time highlighted the competitive nature of the fixture, and a 1-0 scoreline in favour of the away side was a fair reflection of the first 45 minutes.
Tito was replaced at the break by Nacho, a strange decision by Rayo manager Paco Jemez unless the player had an injury. Rayo took the game to Barca from the whistle again, but some fine work from Fabregas down the left side saw Pedro slide in for his and Barca’s second on 46.
That spurred Jemez into immediate action, and Adrian Embarba was sent on to replace the ineffective Perea. The pattern of the game shifted noticeably thereafter, and Rayo's positioning became ever more wayward.
Raul Baena’s low shot from distance on 56 minutes was never going to trouble Valdes, and despite Trashorras’ best efforts, Barca were equal to any forward movement from the hosts.
Joaquin Larrivey replaced the disappointin Viera on 57 in a last throw of the dice by Jemez. The manager can't really be unhappy with the work rate and intensity from his players. Possession stats of 55 percent, per WhoScored.com, are more than acceptable, but the gulf in class was readily apparent.
After 315 games with more possession than the opponent (since May 2008), Barcelona had today less possession than Rayo [via @pedritonumeros]— barcastuff (@barcastuff) September 21, 2013
Neymar must’ve thought he had extended Barca’s lead just after the hour mark, a mistake from Alejandro Galvez gifting the Brazilian another fine opportunity. The width of the upright stopped the youngster from adding his name to the scoresheet, but it wasn’t too long before he was involved again.
A delicious move ended with Pedro’s hat-trick goal from another Neymar assist—his third of the season. Game over.
It was Pedro’s last meaningful contribution, as he was subbed for Andres Iniesta, and as Rayo’s defence continued at sixes and sevens, Ruben palmed a Messi shot wide to save another certain goal.
We didn’t have to wait long to find the ball in the onion bag again. A ridiculously tired ball from Galvez went straight to Xavi, who fed Fabregas for the simplest of finishes on 78. It afforded Martino the opportunity to bring on Cristian Tello for Neymar for the final 10 minutes.
Jonathan dos Santos also got much needed minutes as Xavi was rested, and in truth, the closing few minutes were nothing more than a training game, Trashorras’ crisp short the only work of note for the home side.
Key Player Grades
1. Victor Valdes A+
How do the Blaugrana even set about replacing someone as pivotal as Valdes? Barca’s No. 1 was simply magnificent when called upon.
An astonishing stop from Baena’s header, the penalty save and another point-blank stop at the death, typified the keeper’s concentration levels. Equal to every cross and shot, Valdes was simply magnificent.
2. Pedro Rodriguez A+
On fire. Saturday night we saw the Pedro Rodriguez that routinely turns up for the Spanish national team, and on this form, he has to be a shoo-in to keep his position for the next game against Real Sociedad.
3. Tito B+
Two early goal-saving contributions capped an an all-action first-half display from Rayo’s right-back. Neymar certainly didn’t have things all his own way, and that had much to do with Tito’s defensive cover. The Brazilian had noticeably more influence in the second period.
Full Player Grades
|Jonathan dos Santos||CM||C|
Barca will look to make it a "Super six" wins in a row on Tuesday, when they entertain a Real Sociedad side that has had a disappointing start to this campaign.
Rayo need a break from shipping so many goals, and they just might be playing Sevilla at the right time to restore some much-needed confidence. The Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan plays host on Wednesday.