RAYO 1-5 BARCELONA
Messi shows no mercy as Rayo ride 'into the jaws of Death'
Leo Messi hit a hat trick as Barça extended their winning streak to 35 games with a 5-1 win over Rayo in Vallecas
Whenever Barça and Paco Jémez's Rayo Vallecano get together for their annual battle, whether at Camp Nou or, like tonight, in Vallecas, you can imagine Alfred Lord Tennyson scribbling down notes in the stands for his follow-up to The Charge of the Light Brigade, that fateful, suicidal charge which the British Cavalry launched at the Battle of Balaclava.
Rayo don't do anything by half measure; they're a team of extremes - they either win in rampant fashion or suffer the biggest tumble in the history of football. The term 'happy medium' simply doesn't apply to them. Tonight, just like the headstrong Lord Cardigan, Paco Jémez led his troops into a bloodbath in which he lost men in every wave of attack. It's a noble approach and deserves to be applauded; the only snag is when your cavalry is up against heavy artillery - or in tonight's case, Leo Messi. The Argentine found the net three times this evening as Barça romped to a 5-1 win, which keeps them on course for the league title. It also send out a warning to their rivals - if you think you can outmuscle us, we'll push even harder.
Luis Enrique's team have gone 35 games without defeat. Before kick-off, there was no inkling that Rayo might be the team to bring their impressive unbeaten streak to an end; and there was even less suggestion that just like against Real Madrid, Rayo would end the game on nine players after Llorente then Iturra were given their marching orders.
All Barcelona needed was a minute's lapse in concentration from their hosts to all but sentence the game. Goalkeeper Juan Carlos raced off his line to trap a relatively tame centre from Sergi Roberto but was left stranded, allowing Rakitic to slot inside the near post on 22 minutes. While Rayo were still licking their wounds, they were caught exposed from a counter attack - Neymar appeared to be marginally offside when he received the ball, but played a blind pass straight to Messi to make it 2-0 within a minute of the first. The locals' were reduced to 10 men just before the interval when Llorente came in with his studs high on Rakitic - textbook red card.
There was an air of romanticism abot the start to the second half. Rayo, a man down, decided to press Barcelona high in the blaugrana half. It was a catastrophic mistake. Messi took just seven minutes to bring up Barça's third goal, tucking in a rebound after Luis Suárez's effort had come back off the post; but Paco's men weren't left completely down and out, Manucho nodded in a consolation goal on 56 minutes.
Juan Carlos parried Suárez's penalty which shouldn't have been given and Iturra joined Llorente in the team bath for clipping Busquets from behind. Messi rifled in number four and Arda Turan added a fifth with a diving header at the back post. Barça remain preserve their seven point lead at the top of the standings while Rayo slip down a place and hover just above the relegation places; but at least if they do go down, they'll go down fighting - Tennyson would have been proud..
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