BARCELONA — Barcelona warmed up for Wednesday’s Champions League game against Lyon with a 3-1 win over Rayo Vallecano in La Liga on Saturday.
Raul de Tomas gave the visitors a surprise first-half lead at Camp Nou but Gerard Pique levelled before the break. A Lionel Messi penalty and a goal from Luis Suarez wrapped up the win in the second period as Barca restored their seven-point lead at the top of the table over Atletico Madrid.
Rayo did well and were in the game right up until Suarez’s 82nd-minute goal, but Barcelona will be happy with how things went ahead of Lyon. There were no new injuries picked up and Ivan Rakitic and Ousmane Dembele were afforded some rest; both were brought on to good effect in the second half.
It was a win worth another three points in La Liga, too. Barca are now just 11 games away from their seventh title in the last 10 years.
It’s been a long while since Philippe Coutinho really looked the part in a Barca shirt. The Brazilian scored two in a 6-1 win over Sevilla in January but even that wasn’t an awe-inspiring performance. His confidence seems to be dropping with each passing week. Barca have a real €160 million problem on their hands at the moment.
Manager Rating out of 10
7 — Valverde may yet be criticised in hindsight for playing Messi and Suarez if Barca lose to Lyon and look tired, but he got things spot on against Rayo. He rested a couple of regulars, his substitutes made an impact and his side showed spirit to come back from a goal down.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 — Wasn’t overworked by Rayo and won’t feel too bad about conceding what was a stunning effort from De Tomas.
DF Nelson Semedo, 7 — Contributed at both ends, winning the penalty that Messi converted. Will probably drop out for Sergi Roberto on Wednesday, but is really fighting for his place in the team.
DF Gerard Pique, 8 — The Catalan defender’s been Barca’s best player in the past four weeks. He was good again against Rayo and rewarded with a goal, a well-taken header from Messi’s precise free kick.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 7 — A second 90 minutes in the bank after his return from injury. Looked assured, stepping forward to win the ball and playing it out from the back. Valverde has a tough call to make against Lyon: Umtiti or Clement Lenglet, the latter of whom missed this game through suspension?
DF Jordi Alba, 6 — A typical Alba performance, he bustled up and down the left flank for 90 minutes but didn’t have as much joy in attack due to the fact Rayo shut down his space well.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 — Has strung together some good performances recently. Looked good in a midfield three in the first half and in a two in a 4-2-3-1 formation after the break.
MF Arturo Vidal, 6 — This wasn’t a game that required his hustle but he did well on the ball, his passes creating a couple of Barca openings.
MF Arthur Melo, 6 — Barely had a chance to make his mark on the game before being replaced by Dembele. Wasn’t a slight on him that he was taken off, but Barca needed more pace.
FW Lionel Messi, 8 — A goal and an assist on his 800th appearance for club and country. Came close to adding to his tally with a couple of free-kicks, too, but one was headed off the line and another whistled just over.
FW Luis Suarez, 8 — One of his best performances in the last month was capped with a deserved goal. Ran at the Rayo defence, created chances for his teammates and was heavily involved in the build-up to his own goal, linking with Dembele and Rakitic before rolling home.
FW Philippe Coutinho, 5 — Another performance lacking in verve and confidence. It’s become clear in recent weeks that he doesn’t have a place in Barca’s best side and this display will have done little to change that.
FW Ousmane Dembele, 7 — Brought on at the break, he injected the pace into Barca’s performance that was lacking in the first half.
MF Ivan Rakitic, N/R — Made an instant impact once he came on for the final 10 minutes, playing a brilliant one-two with Suarez to set up the third goal.
FW Malcom, N/R — Given a five-minute cameo at the end of the game.