Barcelona have now lost three straight home games under Xavi, and their season is set to end in the same manner it began under Ronald Koeman — flat, ragged, uninspired, and average.
It was just the second time in the club’s history that they had been defeated three times in a row at home, and each loss seemed more insignificant.
At the conclusion of the game, 11 minutes were added, which became 13 minutes when a cigarette lighter was tossed into the field. However, as Gerard Pique said earlier in the season, “we might have played for three hours and not scored.”
They are still six points behind the Champions League positions, but following defeats at home to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League and Cadiz in La Liga, this was a loss to a squad who had only won two away games all season.
Gavi collided with the ground in midfield, and there were a few sparks from Ousmane Dembele but not much more.
In seven minutes, Rayo’s Alvaro Garcia scored on a diagonal move from the left flank to the center forward position. Isi Palazon recognized him, and despite the fact that Sergino Dest had followed him, he had enough time to control and shot past Marc Andre Ter Stegen.
Barcelona had lost to Rayo away earlier in the season, with a Radamel Falcao goal the difference and the last straw for the board, who terminated Koeman after the setback.
By the halfway point of the first half, the Camp Nou had begun to sneer at some of Barcelona’s more carefree play. Xavi was also irritated when he thought Gavi should have been given a penalty in a confrontation with Alejandro Catena and the coach was cautioned.
Rayo also assisted Barcelona’s comeback when Stole Dimitrievski fed Catena in the six-yard box and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang charged him down. Dimitrievski regained his footing but skied his clearance. When the ball fell to Frenkie de Jong, he played it to Dembele, who crossed for Aubameyang, who was unable to finish.
Barcelona came within inches of scoring again shortly before halftime, but Ferran Torres was offside when he hooked the ball into the far corner after Gavi’s shot hit the crossbar. Gavi and Dembele had ruffled at least a few Rayo feathers. On 45 minutes, Dembele charged toward their defense, resulting in a foul and a yellow card for Catena. He subsequently sent the free-kick over the crossbar.
With little progress in the second half Of the hour, Frenkie de Jong was replaced by Nico Rodriguez. Memphis Depay took over for Ferran Torres. De Jong handled it poorly, walking straight down the tunnel into the changing room without even glancing over at Xavi. If Erik ten Hag really desires a move for the Dutch midfielder, Manchester United may not have to work too hard to make it happen.
With 20 minutes remaining, Xavi made more radical substitutions, removing Aubameyang and Eric Garcia and replacing them with Luuk de Jong and Adama Traore, to rousing applause from the Camp Nou crowd. Ter Stegen almost soon lost control of his own line — things were going worse, not better.
Luuk de Jong’s first chance came from Gavi’s cross, but his acrobatic scissor kick made contact with Isi rather than the ball, drawing blood from the side of his head and leaving the Rayo winger with a cut above his ear. De Jong was arrested.
Late on, there were opportunities, but Dembele was offside when he struck the post. Catena cleared his attempt barely in front of the line from Barcelona’s last opportunity.
Earlier, replacement Pathe Ciss broke and struck the post, which might have made things much worse for Barcelona. Rayo had had enough, and they will now have a long week in Barcelona until they play again next Sunday.
After the game, Xavi maintained his team should have earned at least a point, but conceded they were punished for their sluggish start.
‘We deserved more,’ the Barça coach stated. ‘It’s true that we weren’t ourselves in the first half, but we improved in the second half.’
‘The ball wouldn’t go in.’ It’s a lot like the game against Cádiz. Other teams are fighting for their life, and we must match their determination.’
It was another game in which Barcelona got off to a bad start, losing after just seven minutes. ‘There are those games that get problematic because we don’t start as well as we should,’ Xavi said. ‘If you take the lead, you have complete control.’ We don’t lack personality; we simply need to start games better, which is unfortunate since we had a fantastic chance.’