Four-goal Neymar saves chaotic Barcelona from Rayo Vallecano
Barcelona defeated Rayo Vallecano 5-2 at the Camp Nou in matchday eight of La Liga after the hosts created 14 goal-scoring chances and attempted 13 shots, nine of them on target. An inspired Neymar scored a remarkable four goals for the Blaugrana, with Luis Suarez adding the fifth late in the second half.
With the irreplaceable Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta still unavailable with injuries, Luis Enrique trusted Sandro Rodriguez as a right-winger and included in-form La Masia graduate Sergi Roberto in midfield. While the dip in quality without Barcelona's two superstars was always going to be unavoidable, the inclusion of both youngsters should have been enough to overcome Rayo's challenge -- at least in theory.
After wasting a couple of clear chances early on, the Catalans found themselves chasing the game after Javi Guerra punished their lack of defensive intensity in the 14th minute. Fortunately, Rayo boss Paco Jemez's insistence on chasing a second goal rather than parking the bus ended up playing in the Blaugrana's favour, as their forwards had plenty of spaces to exploit whenever on possession.
Inevitably, the hosts ended up imposing their superiority thanks to Neymar's memorable individual performance. However, Enrique should not overlook the fact that, while neutrals would have certainly enjoyed a thrilling spectacle and the target of adding another three points was ultimately achieved, Barca actually played one of the most chaotic, undisciplined games in recent club history -- as proved by the fact they allowed the visitors to create an alarming 22 goal-scoring opportunities.
Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Claudio Bravo, 6 -- For the eighth consecutive game, Barcelona failed to keep a clean sheet. But it must be said that the Chilean was not necessarily to blame for either of Rayo's goals. In fact, the No. 13 actually made a couple of impressive saves, which stopped the visitors from coming back into the game early after the halftime break.
DF Dani Alves, 4 -- Did not contribute much at either end of pitch. Virtually ineffective pushing forward and caught out defensively more often than not, the Brazilian had a night to forget. Had he been quicker at pressing ex-Manchester United forward Bebe in the 14th minute, Rayo would have not scored the opening goal of the game.
DF Jeremy Mathieu, 4 -- While his fitness seems to have improved slightly after Enrique's stern words during the international break, Mathieu's overall lack of intensity was disappointing once again. Plus his passing accuracy remains an area the Frenchman should focus on as a matter of urgency.
DF Gerard Pique, 4 -- An uncomfortable evening, to say the least. The No. 3's defending was shockingly careless on several instances and, if los Vallecanos didn't score more than twice, it was only as a result of their own poor finishing. To put it bluntly, the vulnerability of Pique's defensive partnership with Mathieu was little short of embarrassing.
DF Jordi Alba, 4 -- In what is certainly a rarity given his usually high standards, the Catalan generally struggled to stop Lass Bangoura from constantly zooming past him, a sign that the left-back's fitness is still far from ideal.
MF Sergio Busquets, 5 -- Failed to impose his usual calm style of football and got lost in the chaotic nature of the game. Despite that, ensured the ball moved forward and was able to break Rayo's lines of pressure with relative ease. Clearly exhausted after the international break, ended up being substituted.
MF Sergi Roberto, 7 -- His confidence on the ball and combination play was key to help to hosts break los Vallecanos' defence. Without a doubt, the most incisive Blaugrana midfielder on the park. Provided a couple of inch-perfect through passes to be proud of and could have even scored with a powerful long-range strike shortly before the halftime break.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 5 -- Similar to Busquets, struggled to keep enough possession to dictate the game in the usual commanding manner and became increasingly ineffective as a result. Should have opened the scoreline when facing Tono Rodriguez one-on-one early on, but his shot was deflected by the inspired Rayo goalkeeper.
FW Sandro Ramirez, 6 -- As has been the case of late, the La Masia graduate failed to convert any of the clear chances his teammates created for him. While his effort and perseverance were admirable, the youngster's inability to find the net is already raising a few eyebrows at the Camp Nou, and understandably so.
FW Neymar, 10 -- Responded to the added responsibility on his shoulders from Messi's absence with an electric display of purposeful, vertical football. Bizarrely, his marker allowed the No. 11 far more time and space than he is used to getting and, as it couldn't be any different, the Brazilian zoomed forward time and time again. Los Vallecanos simply had no answer to his pace, skill and inspired finishing, which resulted in a memorable four-goal performance.
FW Luis Suarez, 6 -- Fell in los Vallecanos' offside trap time and time again, which made him increasingly frustrated as the first half went by. Redeemed himself after the break after his powerful shot in the 69th minute, which Tono saved in the first instance, enabled Neymar to give Barca their third goal and deserved breathing space. Not happy with that, the No. 9 went on to gift his Brazilian teammate with a golden assist shortly after. As it couldn't be any different, Neymar returned the favour with an inch-perfect cross that the Uruguayan star confidently sent to the back of the net.
FW Munir El Haddadi, 6 -- Replaced Sandro after just 55 minutes. Created a couple of chances from the right flank but, overall, did not get as involved as is expected from someone who is truly serious about establishing himself as a long-term Barca winger.
MF Gerard Gumbau, NR -- On for Busquets in the 75th minute, slotting relatively well at the heart of midfield in the dying minutes.
DF Douglas Pereira, NR -- Substituted Alves with 13 minutes to go, returning to action after yet another spell on the sidelines due to injury. His impact was minimal, however, as the game was already decided at that point.