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Andres Iniesta Imperious as Record-Breaking Barcelona Move Step Closer to Title

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 30:  Andres Iniesta of Barcelona in action during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou on January 30, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
Jason PettigroveContributor IJanuary 3, 2017

Barcelona's captain fantastic Andres Iniesta rightly took centre stage in the Spanish capital on Thursday night.

The Estadio de Vallecas has been the kindest of grounds to the Blaugrana in the recent past and within 23 minutes, the outcome of this one wasn't in doubt either.

An inexplicable error from Rayo Vallecano goalkeeper Juan Carlos allowed Ivan Rakitic to dispatch his shot into an empty net, and Lionel Messi's customary goal against this opposition less than a minute later ended the match as a contest.

It means that the Catalans can now proudly claim a record that has stood for 27 years and set a new Spanish mark of 35 games unbeaten in all competitions. That the record has been taken from fierce rivals Real Madrid will probably give the club even more satisfaction.

Throughout that record-breaking runand again against Rayoone player stood head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch.

Iniesta's tender caress and manipulation of the ball is virtually unsurpassed in the modern era. Ditto his match intelligence.

Whether he appears to be imprisoned by defenders in the tightest of situations, or in opening up passing lanes that mere footballing mortals haven't appreciated are there, the 31-year-old always appears to have the solution.

Rayo's style of play will always curry favour with this particular visitor. Despite only having scored four goals against Barca in the last 14 years, Rayo head coach Paco Jemez refuses to approach the fixture with caution.

Against a team that scored the 300th goal of Luis Enrique's fledgling reign during this fixture, one has to question the validity of such a game plan, especially when you consider that the hosts are flirting with the prospect of relegation.

A red card for Diego Llorente late in the first half and another for Manuel Iturra in the second period hardly helped Rayo's cause, but that is to take the shine away from the devastatingly effective way that Iniesta and Barca went about their business.

The chance for a defensive substitution to limit the damage on 55 minutes was passed up by the manager in favour of bringing on attacking midfielder Joni Montiel. Against this vintage Barcelona side, that's plain stupidity.

In any event, to witness the grandeur that El Ilusionista continues to bring to the party, is to visualise football in its purest form. Simple, poetic genius. As if Xavi has lovingly handed down the metronomic baton.

He gets the ball, he gives the ball.

(L-R) Xavi Hernandez of FC Barcelona, Andres Iniesta of FC Barcelona with Champions League trophy during the UEFA Champions League  final match between Barcelona and Juventus on June 6, 2015 at the Olympic stadium in Berlin, Germany.(Photo by VI Images vi
VI-Images/Getty Images

Messi will take the plaudits again for his goalscoring exploits, and despite noticeably tiring midway through the second half, Neymar and Luis Suarez will likely be lauded for their contributions.

But it's Iniesta along with Sergio Busquets that makes this team tick. That allows the "MSN" to be able to enjoy such freedom of expression. That often renders the opposition as mere bystanders.

The exemplar in all that he does, Iniesta is a worthy captain indeed. For a player that has been so important in the history of club and country, he continues to drive himself and his team to ever-greater heights.

A conscious decision to improve and the desire to see it through. Continued application at the highest level every single time.

An inkling into his psyche can be found from an interview he gave to Barcelona's official site before the Rayo game. Iniesta said:

We are in an excellent position in all competitions but we know that the most difficult challenges lie ahead.

We have a significant cushion, but it is not definitive. Both Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid are very dangerous opponents and, if we fail, they will be there to take advantage.

No let up. Only the best Barcelona is good enough.

The shame of this, of course, is thatlike his contemporary XaviIniesta won't be around for ever. Indeed, by the end of this season he will be 32 and conservative estimates might put his career at this level at two-three years at the most.

Let's enjoy him while we can.

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