Coming to the Rayo game, the recipe of Barca for success this season has been evident. Put early pressure on the opposition, create dangerous chances, and hope you can score an early goal. That way, Xavi’s possession based tactical setup can take full control and strangle opposing clubs into submission. But that recipe hasn’t been cooked to perfection too often lately. Especially after the dreaded two week international break this past March.
Instead of using early goal scoring and possession to make things easier, Barca have done the opposite. They’ve given up too many early goals and have failed to find their groove in the early portions of matches. What follows after is a display of football no Barca fan wants to see. Sloppy passing, panicked decisions in the attack, it all becomes one big mess.
So to avoid that, Barca had to avoid going down early and take control of this match as soon as possible. But like we’ve seen recently, seemingly asking Barca to do just that almost feels like too much.
Because in the seventh minute of today’s match, Barca reverted back to their lowly selves.
Barca concedes early once again
During a spell of Rayo Vallacano possession, all things seemed quiet. That was the case, until Alvaro Garcia made a very smart run into the Barca penalty area.
The ball over the top to Garcia was exquisite, and Garcia’s control was great as well. However, the better part of Garcia’s moment — and the worst part for Barca — was his finish.
Garcia was in tight on goal and didn’t have a good shooting angle. So he opted to curl it towards the bottom right post, and to our surprise, the shot somehow found a way to sneak past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.
In hindsight, Ter Stegen should’ve been all over Garcia’s shot. It didn’t have an absurd amount of spin and action on it. It simply curled home past an unprepared Ter Stegen.
The initial actions from Barca’s defense in the build up wasn’t great either. Sergino Dest didn’t mark Garcia well enough when the winger made his run. But Eric Garcia’s backing of Dest wasn’t good either.
It just was a combination of bad things for Barca, and the end result was an early 0-1 deficit.
The good thing though, was that Barca didn’t fold after the goal. Sure, there were some uneventful moments of bland attacking play that would’ve lulled a neutral to sleep. But there were some notable events.
Gavi’s shot rings off the post
Gavi found just the right opportunity to score just before halftime. The teenager roped a good looking shot from around 18 yards out. But the teenager’s shot rung off the post and wandered off until the threat was over.
It was an event that capped off a frustrating first half for Gavi. As I’m sure he would’ve liked to convert on at least one of the golden chances he was given to score.
Halftime followed soon thereafter, with Barca still behind by a goal. However, with the action that occurred after the first goal of Rayo, it truly felt like Barca’s long awaited goal was on the verge of becoming a thing.
We just needed to witness the second half to truly confirm it or not.
Another clean slate awaited Barca in the second half. They were still down 0-1, but they had a full 45 minutes to work through their troubles and get their gears grinding.
But throughout the first 15-18 minutes of the second half, Barca couldn’t really get theirselves going. They dominated the possession aspect of the game, just like they did in the first half. But the high danger scoring chances weren’t falling into their laps.
Due to that, Xavi decided to rely on a few substitutes as time passed in the last half of the match. Nico Gonzalez came on for Frenkie De Jong, who was visibly upset after he was removed from Barca’s crucial game in hand.
Ferran Torres — who didn’t appear engaged throughout the time he was on the pitch — was subbed off after 60 minutes in favor of sudden castaway Memphis Depay. Eric Garcia was removed in favor of Adama Traore in the 71st minute to provide more attacking presence.
Also in the 71st minute, Luuk De Jong came on to replace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who didn’t have a great match either.
I mentioned these subs because most of them had a distinct impact on Barca’s comeback effort in the second half.
Before we talk about the subs’ impact, we have to discuss the Gavi penalty that should’ve been called.
Gavi’s penalty controversy
Gavi received a gorgeous lobbed pass over the top, and waited until the ball’s pace slowed to get a shot off. But he was shoved in the back and never got a chance to shoot.
Replay showed a clear penalty, but the referee wasn’t buying it and continued play. Word later on was that Gavi was offsides in the build up — a claim that was later shot down due to photographical proof — , so the potential penalty call wouldn’t have mattered.
But at that moment in time, it felt like Barca was robbed of a clear chance to deadlock the match.
Once the 89th minute controversy concluded, Barca had to go back to the drawing board. They had to find a goal to avoid a third straight defeat at the Camp Nou, a feat never before done in the club’s prestigious history.
That’s when the subs mentioned earlier began to make their impact.
The subs create chaos
Adama Traore kicked off the action way ahead in the 93rd minute, with perhaps the most dangerous scoring chance Barca had all night. After a failed cross, Traore fought to win the ball back and did so. After putting on a few moves, the Spaniard tried to convert an outside the boot shot to give Barca their first goal of the night.
But the shot was slapped away for a Barca corner kick.
Memphis Depay, another sub Xavi opted to use in hopes of scoring a goal, had a dangerous chance of his own. He found himself with an opportunity to shoot a shot at point blank range, 10 yards out to be exact.
But his shot was sent right at Rayo Vallecano’s keeper, therefore ending the threat Depay created for Barca.
After the 92nd minute, it wasn’t a sub who created yet another goal scoring chance. But it was Ousmane Dembele who found himself in the middle of it all.
Dembele provides last minute hopes
After Jordi Alba’s long shot was punched away, the rebound fell to Dembele’s feet. The Frenchman then used his blazing pace to open up a shoot angle, and then fired a shot near post. The shot bounced off Rayo Vallecano’s keeper, then off the post, then finally off a Rayo Vallecano defender before rolling out for another Barca goal kick.
That moment truly felt hopeless, as it seemed all the bounces simply weren’t falling in Barca’s favor. Something that was concerning, as losing this game would have consequences that would affect the current and future Barca.
Barca needed a goal vs Rayo, they desperately needed one in the worst possible way. Then, in the very closing minutes of extra time, it appeared Barca finally got the goal they needed to salvage at least one point out of this ordeal.
Memphis Depay fired a free kick, but it was misjudged by Vallecano keeper Stole Dimitrievski. The rebound fell to Dembele, who had an easy chance to fire the ball at the vacated Vallecano net and send everyone home at least a little bit satisfied.
Dembele opted for a right footed volley, and he connected well with it. The shot was heading towards the open net, a goal looked to be a foregone conclusion. But unfortunately for Barca, Dembele’s shot was cleared off the line, and the threat dissipated.
Then referee blew the whistle for full time. The result? 1-0 Rayo Vallecano, a gritty win for the visitors, and another embarrassing home defeat for Barca.
It was over, Barca had lost to Rayo. More questions were raised, but with little answers to provide. Barca dropped their game in hand, and will now be in a dogfight to finish in second place on the La Liga table.
I mean what else can you say?
The club’s home reputation, their home field advantage, it appears to be nothing but a mirage at this point. A development that the club never imagined witnessing, even during the recent down years and comical mismanagement by the previous Barca board.
The good thing for Barca is that the sky hasn’t fallen yet. They’re still in second place on the table, and they should be getting Ansu Fati back in limited capacity soon.
He can provide the scoring punch Barca has sorely lacked recently, albeit in a very, very limited way.
However, even with Fati returning soon, there’s no doubt about the fact that the team needs to get it together soon. Or they’ll be anxiously fighting to maintain their place on the table.
Barca’s next match
Barca’s next match is next Sunday against Mallorca.
See you all then!