A Pedro hat-trick and a late strike by Cesc Fabregas extended Barcelona’s perfect start to the Liga season to five matches, courtesy of a 4-0 victory over Rayo Vallecano. On the face of it, after 5-0 and 7-0 victories there in the past two seasons, it was another comfortable victory for Barcelona at Vallecas, yet it was a much tougher evening in Madrid for the visitors than the scoreline suggests.
As against Ajax in midweek, Victor Valdes was forced to make several fine saves in addition to keeping out a penalty -- on this occasion from Roberto Trashorras. But again Barcelona proved they currently have the quality going forward to cope with their problems at the back. Pedro’s first, set-up by Lionel Messi on his 250th La Liga appearance, came just past the half-hour mark. In the second half Barcelona began to turn on the style. After two clinical moves down the left, Pedro had first Cesc Fabregas and then Neymar to thank for two simple finishes. And with 10 minutes to go, and with Rayo having switched off at the back, Fabregas added a fourth.
Having headed home for the funeral of his father following the 4-0 victory over Ajax, Gerardo Martino returned to Spain to take his place on the Barcelona bench. And he was boosted with Gerard Pique recovering from injury to start the match. Daniel Alves and Andres Iniesta began on the bench, with Alex Song and Martin Montoya coming into the side.
And it was Montoya who was involved in a moment of near calamity just after 20 minutes. The right back looked to play the ball simply back to his goalkeeper, but the pass was hit far too hard and Valdes was caught out before both he and Montoya breathed a heavy sigh of relief as the ball traveled just wide of the post.
Rayo, with a string of players unavailable, started in a manner that defied their run of three straight defeats coming into the contest. But the clinical edge was with Barcelona and in the 33rd minute they were in front. Messi, fresh from his hat-trick against Ajax, beat a defender on the edge of the box to open up space for him to feed a pass to Pedro in the right of the area and the forward placed a precise shot into the far corner past Ruben Martinez.
The scores really should have been back level at the break. For some inexplicable reason, Adriano jumped into the back of Trashorras as the ball dropped on the edge of the box to concede an undoubted and utterly unnecessary penalty. However, the midfielder struck the resulting spot-kick at a comfortable height and too close to Valdes and the Barcelona goalkeeper made the stop.
Rayo’s chance had gone and Barcelona ran riot after the break. Less than two minutes into the second half, Rayo lost possession inside their own half and within five seconds the ball was in the back of their net. Xavi found Fabregas in the vacant space down the left and the former Arsenal man sent a perfect ball across the six-yard box for Pedro to slot home.
It was a similar scenario that brought about the third goal in the 72nd minute. With a delightful interchange, Neymar came inside from the left and exchanged passes with Xavi to get in behind down the left before squaring it across goal to lay another goal on a plate for Pedro.
In between, Neymar came agonizingly close to his first La Liga goal with a shot against the inside of the post after some trademark dazzling footwork. Still, the scoreline was made, perhaps unfairly, emphatic when Xavi capitalized on a Rayo error to set up Fabregas to add a fourth late on.