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On Thursday night in Madrid, Barça put five goals past Rayo Vallecano for the second time this season and in doing so set an all-time record run for games unbeaten (35) and consolidated what is already a handsome lead in La Liga.
Like so many previous encounters between these two teams, it began with both of them trying to play the same kind of aesthetically pleasing possession-based football. But also like on other occasions, the superior quality of their players always made Barça look the more dangerous of the two. It only seemed a matter of time before that superiority would be turned into goals.
Two goals and one red card
But in contrast to the graceful football on show, the first of those goals was a scrappy one. When the game was 22 minutes old and moments after producing a fine save to deny Leo Messi, Juan Carlos allowed a Sergi Roberto cross to drop out of his hands. The ball fell at the feet of Ivan Rakitic, and the Croatian made sure that the Rayo keeper paid for his error.
The frustration rattled the until-then composed home side, and just two minutes later Messi pounced on some sloppy passing in midfield. Following a one-two with Neymar Jr, the Argentinian found himself alone with only Juan Carlos to beat and coolly slotted the ball between keeper and post.
As the first half was drawing to a close, Rayo’s chances of avoiding an eleventh consecutive defeat to Barça took a further knock. Diego Llorente’s slide tackle ended with his studs clattering into Rakitic’s knee and the referee’s response was to produce a red card. Barça would be starting the second half two goals to the good and playing against ten men.
Drama and goals
Eight minutes after the restart and Barça made it three. A rapid counter-attack from a Rayo corner ended with Luis Suárez hitting the post. But Messi was waiting for the rebound and that was Barça’s 300th goal since Luis Enrique took over as manager.
By now, Rayo knew they were fighting a lost cause, but they did manage to nick one back when Angolan striker Manucho nodded home a Bebé assist. Unlike Barça’s last four visits to Vallecas, this time the home side had at least managed to get on the scoresheet.
The 67th minute had a bit of everything. Suárez hit the post, and all Sergio Busquets had to do was tap home the rebound. How could he have missed that? The linesman spotted why. Rayo’s Iturra had been tugging on the Barça player’s shirt. The second home player was ordered off, but Suárez failed to beat Juan Carlos from the penalty spot.
Another Messi hat trick
That chance went begging, but it was only a matter of minutes before Barça did make it four. Leo Messi stormed through on the Rayo goal and produced a quality finish to complete his hat-trick and claim his 20th goal of 2016.
And there was still time for one more. Mathieu supplied the cross and Arda Turan was at hand to head home his first goal for Barcelona.
The red cards made the job easier, but this is a game that Barça never really looked like losing and the three points restore their majestic eight-point lead at the top of the Liga table. If only Thursdays were always such fun!
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