La Liga Review: FC Barcelona 3, Rayo Vallecano 1. Welcome to Care-a-lot!By: Ade C. | March 18th, 2013
Those of us who were fearing a drop in form after Tuesday’s big effort and with an international break within sight were right; even with rotations, Barça had more trouble with Rayo yesterday than they did with Milan midweek. But, trouble or not, they got the three points and treated us to a very special episode of the Care Bears.
Roura decided to play Pinto, Adriano, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba, Busquets, Iniesta, Cesc, Villa, Messi and Alexis, which is a pretty strong starting XI, considering the midweek match and also the more recent injuries: Xavi, who has a thigh injury but will still travel with the Spain NT, and Puyol, who had a knee arthroscopy on Friday evening and will be out for several weeks, maybe even a couple of months.
Rayo came out roaring, perhaps because this week they were being sponsored by Iron Man 3. Barça came out yawning and wondering why anyone would want to play on a wet Sunday evening, wouldn’t they be better of in their sofas, with a blanket and some popcorn?
It took Barça three minutes to get out of their own half, and then they immediately proceeded to lose the ball. It took them seven minutes to build a proper chance, and then Leo Messi, Goalscorer Extraordinaire, stood in front of an empty goal and missed. If someone created a construct out of the worst parts of Fernando Torres, Alexis, Bojan and Cesc, and the Football Gods allowed that unholy being to shuffle onto a football pitch, it would not have missed the chance that Villa set up for Messi. And yet, somehow, Messi did.
Messi then tried to redeem himself by hitting the crossbar with a free-kick.
It was not a pretty sight. Barça wasting chances is exactly the sort of thing you expect by now, but Barça losing possession, misplacing passes and not having control of the match is fortunately rarer.
Things didn’t improve when, twenty minutes in, Iniesta sent a too long pass and Adriano hurt himself trying to get to it, needing to be subbed out for Dani Alves. Our fragile fullback will be out between 4-6 weeks with a hamstring tear. Between him and Puyol, our defence has gone from ’sparse’ to ‘oh gods, we might as well register a couple of training dummies with UEFA’.
But just when we were all getting sad and crying into our beers (green or otherwise), the Care Bears arrived to put a smile on our faces.
A splendid build-up by Messi, a great finish by Villa… and look at that hug! That’s the hug of two Care Bears who will make sure that everything goes just fine. If you don’t feel better after seeing Villa cling to Messi like a koala to his favourite eucalyptus tree, you don’t have a soul or you are a jealous madridista/gooner/etc.
Things didn’t change radically after the goal, but they did improve a little, though Pinto still had to make more saves than Barça had chances at goal, and the Barça defence put on a great impression of a drunk puppy trying to catch its own tail.
Just before half-time, another spark of brilliance caught on, and Messi scored to a Villa assist, to mark his eighteenth (18th!) Liga match in a row scoring at least one goal. Care Bears to the rescue!
2-0 at half-time, which was a pretty good result considering most of the team were playing like hungover sloths.
Did things get better in the second half? Not exactly. Pinto still had to make an inordinate amount of saves, everyone was misplacing their passes, and Barça’s chances went out, up, or into the Magic Kingdom of the Clouds.
And then came Messi’s second goal and Villa’s second assist.
Notice how Barça are trying a new thing: in the absence of a working midfield, the goals came either from stupidly long passes or clumsy counters. I’m not advocating we forget tiki-taka entirely, but this system could be useful for those teams which are hard to crack with our usual style.
Three goals in at home, and it was time for rotation: Thiago came in for Iniesta, leading to Leo Messi becoming Barça captain in a Liga match for the first time. Sure, he’s been captain in friendlies before, and even a Copa match or two, but so has Bojan, so that didn’t mean anything.
And speaking of subs… old Barça nemesis Raúl Tamudo came in and, with his first touch of the ball, scored. So much for the clean sheet, though now Pinto understands VV’s habit of screaming to the uncaring Heavens much better.
It wasn’t Rayo’s only chance, but luckily they sent a lot of them just wide of Pinto’s left goalpost.
Song came in for Cesc with ten minutes to go, which didn’t actually affect the match at all, since the midfield was a mess anyway. Barça were back to their hungover selves for the final stretch, but Rayo couldn’t take advantage and the three points stayed at home, along with a frighteningly low 56% possession.
Not exactly an inspiring performance, but we’ll take the win.
Pinto: 9. His footwork and distribution still leaves a lot to be desired, but he made more great saves than could be reasonably be expected of the goalkeeper of a ‘big’ team.
Adriano: Needs to get rid of this unfortunate habit of getting injured every time someone sneezes in his general direction.
Dani Alves: 8. Modelling a head full of bleached blond hair, he was highly visible and not half bad, particularly trying to move the game forwards.
Piqué & Masche: 6,5. Eh. It’s hard to pinpoint who exactly is at fault, but goodness, the Barça defence leaks more than the Titanic these days.
Jordi Alba: 8. Props to the squirrel for his incessant activity down the left wing.
Busquets. 7,5. Not at his best, and he was surrounded by very unhelpful people.
Iniesta: 7,5. Flashes of brilliance here and there, but he couldn’t put order on the midfield like he should have.
Cesc: 6,5. He defended once and was mostly invisible for the rest of the match, which is the best thing he’s done lately.
Messi: 8,5. Two goals and one assist redeem his horrible early miss.
Villa: 9. OK, I’m biased, but one goal, two assists… see what happens when you actually play a player in his proper position?
Alexis: 8,5. He had a bad miss, but he worked hard, tried to help out defensively, and generally had a good game.
Since the match was such a mess and the midfield was the football equivalent of the Bog of Eternal Stench, neither Thiago nor Song did well (or badly) enough to deserve a rating.
Now, gather your positive thoughts, your prayers, and your human sacrifices! Our fragile players will be away with their national teams for days filled with possibilities of injury and horror!
Some Related Barcelona Posts:
- Match preview: FC Barcelona v Rayo Vallecano: Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves
- La Liga Review: FC Barcelona 3, Celta de Vigo 1… Ghostbusters!
- Match preview: Rayo Vallecano vs FC Barcelona: No Defenders, Ever
- La Liga Review: FC Barcelona 2, Sevilla 1 – Change Is Possible!