Neymar Jr scored four against Rayo at the Camp Nou earlier this season / MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB

There’s plenty to talk about in the build-up to Thursday’s game at Vallecas (9.00pm CET) between two sides that are enjoying fine form but at opposite ends of the table.

Record streaks

Barça are looking to set a brand new record in Spanish football by going an amazing 35 games without defeat. And they’re doing it at the home of the team against which it all started. In a 5-2 win against Rayo last October, Neymar Jr scored four goals and Luis Suárez nabbed the fifth.

But Rayo are chasing a milestone of their own. If they can avoid defeat, they will have set a club record of eight games unbeaten in the first division.

Two each?

For both runs to continue, the game will have to be drawn. And don’t be too surprised if it ends 2-2. Rayo’s last three games (against Sporting, Sevilla and Betis) have all ended with that score. In fact, six of their last nine league outings have been 2-2 draws!

Rayo confident

The pre-match comments from the Rayo camp suggest that the home players genuinely believe that they can pull off a surprise. Captain Roberto Trashorras (who is ranked second in the league for passes with 1,786 and spent four years at Barça B) said this week that “they’re going to have to lose one day and we’ll try to make sure that day is Thursday.”

Right back Quini adds that “if we play like we have done in recent games, we can cause enough danger to beat them,” while Angolan striker Manucho, who scored two great goals in four minutes against Betis at the weekend, says that “if we are brave I’m sure we can take a point off Barça because we never give up.”

Paco Jémez and Luis Enrique at Vallecas last season / MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB

Taking control

The 105m x 65m pitch at Vallecas is the smallest field in the league, and it’s generally said that Barça’s tactics are better suited to larger playing surfaces. Rayo manager Paco Jémez also likes his team to dictate games. Their possession percentage is second only to Barça in La Liga, and at the Camp Nou earlier this season they actually had more of the ball than the Catalans did (56.6%). And they’re turning that possession into chances, for their tally of 264 goal attempts is topped only by Barça and Real Madrid.

But although such factors seem to be mentioned every time Barça make the trip to Rayo, the last four visits have resulted in four wins and a combined total of eighteen goals scored and none conceded.

So how much do these things really matter? As Luis Enrique himself said on Wednesday: “I have zero concern about losing possession against Rayo. Against any other team I would be concerned, but not Rayo.”

Inside view

For a better idea of the similarities between the two team’s styles, there is nobody better to ask than Alberto Perea, the Barça B right winger who spent two seasons at Vallecas under Jémez. “Rayo play different to other teams” he told fcbarcelona.com. “There are clearly similarities to Barça’s style, but Barça have the best players in the world, and it shows.”

“I played against Barça at Vallecas and they put four past us! But if Rayo are focused and don’t make mistakes then they can make things very difficult. That said, I still think Barça will win.”

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