Barcelona’s 4-0 win at the Bernabéu is starting to feel like a long time ago. That sparkling display, one that suggested Barça were developing into a side capable of big things, has given way to three straight defeats at the Camp Nou. An unprecedented home run. The first ended Barça’s Europa League hopes, and the other two, both against modest opposition in Cádiz and Rayo, have suddenly cast doubt on whether they’ll make the top four. A pattern has emerged in the three games: Barça try to play good stuff, but concede through defensive sloppiness and suffer from poor performances from key men; then, substitutions are made as the Blaugrana change to a more direct game plan and hang balls into the box - but after a long, long period of time added on, they’re beaten.
This time it was against Rayo, after a record-breaking 12 minutes of stoppage time. I’m not saying it wasn’t justified, but since Gerard Piqué's chumminess with RFEF president Luis Rubiales came to light, many feel they’ve been given cause for suspicion. In the Cádiz game, an Atlético Madrid-supporting pal of mine messaged me to say Rubiales was giving Piqué nine minutes. On Sunday, a Rayo fan I know said something similar. Many Barça supporters, on the other hand, came away from the match convinced the referee was a hindrance to their team, that he performed as if worried about what people might say and eager to show there’ll be no favours for the Catalans from the officials. Barça’s final games of the season are being tainted by the Piqué-Rubiales affair.
Barcelona could do with more like Gavi
Anyway, the fact is that Rayo’s victory takes them to 40 points and as good as ensures their top-flight survival. It was an honest, hard-working display from Los Franjirrojos, who grabbed the winner early on in a clinical move that took advantage of a wobbly Barça defence. The hosts still had plenty of time, but were again let down by poor performances from Frenkie de Jong and Ferran Torres. Their attack basically came down to Ousmane Dembélé, who tried with all his might to penetrate Rayo’s stubborn defence. In the engine room, meanwhile, Gavi was the driving force. The never-say-die spirit he shows really is something - but not all his team-mates follow suit. He’s good for either game plan: A, neat and tidy passing play; B, frenetic, route-one stuff. It’s just a shame that not everyone at Barça - or, you might even say, almost no-one at Barça - is at the same level.