With Copa del Rey being the only realistic target this season, Barcelona travelled to Madrid with Rayo Vallecano staying in their way for a place in the quarterfinals of the competition.
Rayo vs Barcelona – the line-up
Ronald Koeman relied on a very strong line-up with Riqui Puig and Trincao getting their long-awaited game time as both were included in the starting line-up. Neto fitting in for Ter Stegen, trying to give some rest for the German before approaching that final stretch of the season.
Firpo came on for Alba and Mingueza stayed on the right side of the defence. Dest and Sergi Roberto still struggling for fitness meant Araujo and Lenglet partnered in the middle of the defence. Both Riqui Puig and Trincao had their chance to start a competitive game and show why they deserve a place in the team.
A pretty strong line-up that suggests Ronald Koeman wants to win a trophy with Barcelona this season.
However, not making the right decisions in the final third was the difference between a goalless draw in the first half and being ahead by at least two goals.
2 v 4 for Barcelona in that situation with Trincao on the ball; Messi, Griezmann, and Puig arriving in the box. Usually, those situations should finish with a goal but Puig shot was blocked and it hit the post.
A positive sign was the number of runs late in the box from De Jong. On this occasion he is offside but the idea is there. Messi finds him with a perfect ball, just inches off. The second goal is very similar.
The second goal is a very well-known play from Messi to Alba but this time the Spaniard chose to pass it back to De Jong instead. Once again looking extremely easy when executed perfectly. It seemed almost like it has three phases – Messi -> Alba -> De Jong and everything from the pass of Messi happens at a different speed. On this occasion, the run from De Jong is well-timed, and he is in a position to just tap-in the cross.
It gets very difficult to defend when teams “move through the gears” in and around the box like that because the tempo changes for a split second and it can happen at any time during the match.
Messi ruins an absolutely wonderful pass from Pedri that otherwise should be put in the back of the net. Instead, we watched Messi trying to dribble past the goalkeeper, and two more defenders inside the six-yard box.
The defending ineptitude of some of the players in this Barcelona squad is staggering. Starting XI players are consistently going unpunished for underperforming. To be considered a top club you need leadership on and off the pitch and the defensive unit is simply not good enough and that was displayed in this game as well. Shaky, not very consistent, not exceptional when under pressure and the opening goal is purely Lenglet mistake, making him look foolish.
Rayo did not let Barcelona control the ball comfortably at any point and constantly tried to press high-up the field. A very physical but positive approach from the Madrid side never allowed Barcelona to build momentum or control the ball for long periods of time.
The chances especially in the first half were wasted and the opposition always seemed dangerous. Given the fact that Barcelona were denied by the goal posts on a couple of occasions, the game was not convincing in terms of performance, but the team got through to the quarterfinals, nevertheless.