Barcelona travel to the Vallecas in Madrid on Saturday night to face Rayo Vallecano (9pm BST).
Barcelona will be hoping to maintain their near-perfect record in La Liga competition, with the only dropped points coming in the home draw to Real Madrid.
Barcelona’s game against Deportivo last weekend started in a fashion that you’d expect from the Catalans. They were 2-0 up inside the first eight-minutes and looked to be steamrolling ahead.
For the first 20-minutes, with the score 3-0 to Barcelona, the game was shaping up to be one of those high-scoring humiliations so regularly dished out during the days of Pep Guardiola. But Tito Vilanova’s side were once again exposed through their lack of defensive solidity.
Javier Mascherano, in particular, has not had the best few weeks. It was his tackle in the penalty area – a seemingly reckless challenge – that gave Depor a lifeline, while Jordi Alba added the home side’s fourth goal of the game with a well-taken own goal.
The weakness in defence has led many to wonder whether Tito Vilanova’s aim is simply to abandon any hope of clean sheets and tidy defensive work. The team are scoring goals, but it seems as though the instructions are to score more than the opposition.
Barcelona are no longer playing the type of football we used to see so often under Guardiola. The movement and passing certainly doesn’t seem as quick.
However, it’s very important to highlight just how well Cesc Fabregas played against Deportivo. The former Arsenal captain had his best game for Barcelona since last year, assisting in three of the goals – two of which were of the highest quality – and seemingly running the midfield.
Fabregas’ problem was that he wasn’t sure how to fully adapt to the new role and system at Barcelona. But he was clearly instructed to take up a creative role a little further up the pitch and managed to dictate the game in the final third.
The most recent game against Celtic at the Nou Camp was so typical of what we’re seeing from Barcelona this season. It was another fight back from a losing position and the capture of all three points. Notably, these goals are coming so late in the day that it’s starting to look like something other than just luck.
The game against Sevilla saw two very late goals from Fabregas and David Villa, while the team really hammered away on Celtic’s door looking for a winner. It saw a whole host of offensive strategies, from the usual crisp passing through the defence to long balls flighted in for tap-ins. It’s still a very creative Barcelona side, but they’re looking to use different aspects of their attacking arsenal.
Again, Barcelona’s stretched defence will be tested this weekend. Javier Mascherano will be suspended following his second yellow card against Deportivo. Alex Song is still not looking totally up to the challenge of marshalling the defensive line, but Marc Bartra, who played against Celtic, will surely be given another game at Rayo.
Bartra’s performance was that of a natural defender who appeared to add something neither Mascherano or Song can. It also prompted many to question why Vilanova had waited so long before opting to use the La Masia graduate.
Lionel Messi, on the other hand, continues to amaze. The forward netted another hat trick last weekend, rounding out his total for the year to 71 – four goals shy of Gerd Muller’s total inside a year. With plenty of room left for Messi in the calendar year, he’s certainly on course to surpass the German.
I noted last week that Deportivo were unlikely to put up much of a fight against Barcelona, and the first 20-minutes certainly proved that. However, the fight back should all count towards the nature of Barcelona’s slightly altering style of play and teams not being so fearful to attack them.
Rayo Vallecano went down 3-2 away to Espanyol in Barcelona, giving further evidence of how surprising this La Liga season is shaping up to be. The week prior, they beat Deportivo 2-1 and really gave it a good go against Real Madrid earlier in the season.
Rayo appear to have abandoned their three-man defensive formation following the 6-1 thrashing at Valladolid. They’re currently with one win and a loss since that game, scoring in both. They might be the smallest Madrid-based club playing in the top-flight of Spanish football, but they do have a number of players who can cause Barcelona problems.
Brazilian forward Leo Baptistao scored both of Rayo’s goals last week and is proving to be one of the youngsters to watch this season. He’s a tricky forward and carries the ball very well. Without a settled backline for Barcelona, Leo should be able to have a noticeable impact on the game.
Rayo Vallecano v Barcelona Betting Tips Advice
Barcelona remain without their noted defensive players, with Gerard Pique likely to return to the line up in the near future. With the manner in which Barcelona are picking up the points, there’s no need to rush the player back.
- Lionel Messi is in great scoring form in the league with five in his last two. Back him to score two or more goals @ 13/10 with Bet365.