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Lionel Messi Scores Penalty in Barcelona's 3-1 Win over Rayo Vallecano

Gianni Verschueren@ReverschPassFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2019

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring his side's second goal from a penalty spot during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, March 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Barcelona continued their strong form with a win over Rayo Vallecano in La Liga on Saturday, dispatching the relegation-threatened side 3-1 at home. Lionel Messi converted a penalty to secure the win.

The visitors took a shock lead in the first half through Real Madrid loanee Raul de Tomas, but Gerard Pique headed home a Messi free-kick before half-time to level the scores. Messi then converted a penalty after the break, and Luis Suarez sealed the win in the 82nd minute.

Barcelona haven't lost since January and have suffered just two defeats in La Liga this season.

   

Valverde Must Drop Coutinho, Semedo for Lyon Second Leg

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde surprised a lot of fans by not resting the bulk of his starters on Saturday, despite facing a team on a six-game losing streak.

His starting XI included Philippe Coutinho and Nelson Semedo. Sportswriter Samuel Marsden noted the latter came in for Ousmane Dembele :

Samuel Marsden @samuelmarsden

No rest for Messi or Suarez. Coutinho in for Dembele.

If Valverde felt this was Barcelona's strongest XI, he should rethink his plans for the Lyon contest. Both Coutinho and Semedo held the Blaugrana back throughout the first half, and neither did enough to warrant a spot in the team over Dembele or Sergi Roberto.

Coutinho missed a glorious chance after a great attack from the hosts, and De Tomas opened the scoring from the resulting counter-attack:

Goal @goal

Coutinho misses a great chance and then Rayo Vallecano score immediately after. #BarcaRayo https://t.co/fLbUHhOvZF

The Brazilian found himself out of position and a step late throughout the half, once again highlighting his poor fit in the squad. Coutinho is a fantastic footballer, but Dembele's pace and trickery work much better next to Messi.

Sportswriter Robbie Dunne feels his continued struggles are becoming a clear issue:

Robbie Dunne @robbiejdunne

Barça have a Coutinho problem.

Semedo has flashed his tremendous talent on several occasions, but inconsistency remains his biggest issue. The Portuguese full-back can be fantastic one week and a liability the next, and too often he was the latter on Saturday.

He was out of position for De Tomas' opener and didn't offer enough moving forward. Roberto, who started ahead of Semedo at right-back against Real Madrid in the Clasico in Barcelona's previous game, is a far more consistent attacking threat and makes fewer errors at the back.

Semedo did earn the Catalans the penalty that gave them the lead in the second half, but that shouldn't be enough for him to keep his spot. Against a more talented Lyon side, another defensive mistake could be costly.

Lyon and Barcelona played out a scoreless draw in the first leg in France, so a single away goal for the visitors could spell trouble. Valverde has to take that into account and opt for Dembele and Roberto on Wednesday.

   

What's Next?

Barcelona host Lyon in the return leg of their UEFA Champions League tie on Wednesday after a 0-0 draw in France. They will then visit Real Betis on the following Sunday. Rayo will also be in action on Sunday, as they visit Villarreal.

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