Rayo 2-3 Barcelona match report: LaLiga 2018-19
Luis Suárez and substitute Ousmane Dembélé secured a 3-2 victory in the final five minutes after Rayo had taken the game to the Liga leaders after the break.
For 30 minutes, it appeared it would be business as usual in Vallecas. For 30 minutes, Barcelona stroked the ball from side to side, thwarted the occasional Rayo incursion and looked immensely comfortable with a 1-0 lead delivered from the unerring left boot of Luis Suárez. For 30 minutes, Barcelona were Barcelona.
And then the wind changed direction. Rayo, so often on the receiving end of five, six or seven of the best when the claret and blue shirts roll into town, elected to try something different. Rayo decided to torment their tormentor; the home side, 18 places below the league leaders, suddenly started playing like them.
The warning shot came on 30 minutes, a shot across Marc-André Ter Stegen’s bow that José Pozo only had to steer inside the post. The midfielder, a late addition to the starting line-up, was just testing his own sights though. Five minutes later he unleashed a missile from 25 yards that beat the Barça keeper, smashed into the foot of the post and into the back of the net.
Barça, suddenly, were floundering in deep water. Every Rayo attack produced panic in the visitors’ back line and only Suárez - sublime in recent weeks and a cut above his teammates all evening - eased the pressure with a curling effort that smacked a post.
The whistle was timely for Barça; a chance to regroup and for Ernesto Valverde to work some magic with his chalkboard. But it was Míchel, Rayo’s youthful coach in his first season in Primera, who waved a wand. His side came out after the break and far from adopting a protective stance over their precious strike, immediately went looking for another. Raúl de Tomás, who fired Rayo into the top-flight last season, found himself one-on-one with Ter Stegen, who produced a wonderful stop with his foot to deny the on-loan Madrid striker.
Rayo succumb to Barça jinx
It was a stay of execution, De Tomás proving instrumental as Rayo took the lead moments later. His header beat Ter Stegen but not the upright and the rub of the green went the home side’s way, the ball falling to Álvaro García, who had been on the pitch for 35 seconds, to crack into a gaping net.
Rayo could have sat back on that, played the waiting game, but it simply served as a shot of confidence and Álvaro was involved again as an Adri Embarba cross fell to him in the area but Jordi Alba was there to rescue his side.
The home side continued to push for a third with Álvaro and Pozo taking turns to skin the fading Sergi Roberto on the right while Barça’s attack hooked increasingly desperate balls in the vague direction of Suárez at the other end. It seemed as though Rayo would be next on the score sheet, Luis Advíncula spurning a couple of gilt-edged chances, when Ousmane Dembélé threw a left boot at a knock-down from Gerard Piqué. In terms of technique, it was a perfect hit. In terms of luck, it was a double six, passing through the legs of two defenders before rippling the bottom corner. Rayo keeper Alberto barely had time to see it, much less react.
If fate appeared to thumb its nose at Rayo then, Suárez’s trademark celebration four minutes later was insult to injury. Completely unmarked at the far post - the otherwise excellent Embarba picking that very moment for a daydream - the Uruguayan slid in to poke in a Roberto cross past the dive of Alberto. It was more than Barça deserved and the cruellest blow for Rayo, who have rarely been that close to matching the reigning champions, let alone beating them. With the football gods seemingly favouring the storied above the bold, it may be some time before the Estadio de Vallecas witnesses such a close encounter again.
In the meantime, those that were present will tell their kids about the night when Rayo came so agonisingly close to turning the page on one of Spanish football’s most one-sided fixtures.