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Second division Rayo Vallecano proved a very tough opponent to break down in Wednesday’s Copa de Rey tie. Barça may have dominated but the opening goal just didn’t want to come, and were made to pay when the home side ended up scoring first.
But the blaugrana quickly cancelled that goal out and went on to seal qualification with some solid, attacking football that ultimately was just too hot for a very stubborn Rayo side to handle.
Strong starting XI
Ronald Koeman had admitted pregame that with the two Madrid clubs already out of the way, the Copa del Rey is the easiest route to silverware right now. So although there were some rotations (Ter Stegen, Jordi Alba, Pedri and Dembélé among the players that didn't start) it was a strong side he put out, with the likes of Frenkie De Jong starting and Leo Messi returning from suspension to set a new club record for appearances in this competition.
Denied by the woodwork
Just how the Dutchman’s side were not leading by the break is a miracle. Rayo keeper Dimitrievski was tested time and again, Barça had no luck with what seemed a fairly solid claim for a penalty on Trincao, and the woodwork was struck twice – first by De Jong and second when a Riqui Puig strike was deflected onto the post off a defender.
Rayo, who it is only fair to note are severely hit by injuries and Covid positives, were very, very fortunate indeed to get through the first 45 minutes unscathed.
Barça were creating chances, and good ones. Messi was getting more active, from a free kick becoming the third player to find the woodwork. Still no goal and then the home side somehow managed to take the lead.
Álvaro made the run and Fran García only had to tap it in. Totally against the run of play Barça were a goal down.
Koeman reacted immediately by sending on Alba, Pedri and Dembélé and within moments Barça were back level. Through ball from De Jong, assist from Griezmann and Messi just had to stroke it home. Barça had never deserved to be behind – justice had been done.
And the winner is…
Extra time was looming, but Barça wanted to get the job done quicker than that. They pushed, pushed and pushed and with ten minutes to go, found the net again.
Again, when the goal came, they made it look easy. Delightful pass from Messi to pick out Jordi Alba, and the latter set things up on a plate for De Jong. The setback of leaking a goal well and truly behind them, there was only one course this game was going to take for Barça now...
Rayo had been reasonably happy to speculate until this point, but now they needed a goal. They battled hard for it, and did cause a concern or two, but Barça largely had things under control and can now wait for Friday to see who they’ll be meeting next.
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