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A lively Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas greeted the League leaders on Saturday night. Barça, unchanged from their El Clásico starting XI, eased their way into the game as Rayo began with an urgency which only increased the fervour in the stands.
With 10 minutes played, and the hosts well upfield, a simple ball over the top found Jordi Alba in acres of space. The left-back was given time to play in Luis Suárez and the Uruguayan made no mistake for the opener. It allowed the Blaugranes to settle and their control of the game ensured that Rayo wouldn’t get their first shot away until 20 minutes were on the clock.
Consistency in possession was a feature of the visitors play as they were given the freedom of Vallecas to play their own game, occasionally being knocked out of their stride because of a congested midfield. With 30 played Rayo had a chance to equalise, but Pozo only succeeded in putting his shot the wrong side of the post. Just five minutes later, however, the same player curled a shot from the edge of the area agonisingly past the outstretched arms of Marc-André ter Stegen.
A stunning first-time shot from Suárez after a one-two with Rafinha deserved a goal just before half-time, but Rayo were saved by the upright with their goalkeeper well beaten.
Almost as soon as the referee’s whistle blew for the second half, the game became more open with both teams attacking at will. Rafinha managed to beat the offside trap though placed his shot wide, and immediately at the other end Raúl de Tomás was denied by a world class save from ter Stegen in a one-on-one.
On 57, Rayo substitute, Alvaro took advantage of a ricochet off of the post to stroke the home side into the lead. A period of pressure from the hosts followed, prompting Ernesto Valverde to bring on Munir and Arturo Vidal a few minutes after the hour mark. An exciting period of play saw half chances for either side, but as the clock ticked into the final quarter hour, the status quo remained.
As Rayo tired, a lovely ball in behind from Munir found Suárez whose shot was on target but was well saved. Barça went all out for an equaliser with the Uruguayan again on target before Ousmane Dembélé’s first-time half volley from Gerard Piqué’s knock-down found the corner of the net on 87.
Suárez would eventually get the reward that his hard work deserved in the final minute. Sergi Roberto’s lofted ball to the back post was steered in by the unmarked striker, giving Barça all three points.
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