Rayo Vallecano stunned La Liga leaders Barcelona, winning 2-1 with goals from Alvaro Garcia and Fran Garcia to stall Barca’s march to the title.
Rayo’s pressing caused Barcelona problems all night and led to the first goal as Gavi was dispossessed in a vulnerable area. Sergio Camello unselfishly passed to Alvaro Garcia and his low, well-hit shot was too good for the goalkeeper.
La Liga’s leading scorer Robert Lewandowski had Barca’s best chance of the first half but his dink did not clear Stole Dimitrievski, while a later Lewandowski goal was disallowed for offside.
Fran Garcia doubled the lead shortly after the break when his reward for winning a 50-50 with Frenkie de Jong was a clean run at goal and the soon-to-be Real Madrid player cooly found the bottom corner.
Barcelona did pull a goal back in the closing stages when a blocked shot fell into Lewandowski’s path and the Pole instinctively lashed past Dimitrievski, but they never came close to finding an equaliser.
After champions Madrid lost at Girona on Tuesday their hopes of defending the title are virtually over, despite Barcelona following suit with a deserved defeat in the capital.
Xavi’s side have won just one of their last four league matches — a narrow triumph over Atletico Madrid on Sunday as they limp towards the finish line and a first title since 2019.
Barcelona’s coach urged his players to be wary of Rayo’s threat before the game, but they did not heed his warning. The Catalans have not beaten the Madrid club in their last four league meetings.
“They played a great game, they deserved to win, we weren’t good enough,” Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo told Movistar.
“In this ground they are very intense, we made two mistakes and they scored their goals.”
Xavi was without suspended captain Sergio Busquets but handed Pedri his first start since he was injured in February.
Frenkie de Jong started as the lone defensive midfielder and endured a torrid night, although the same was true for most of his team-mates too.
Sergio Camello might have put Rayo in front early on after a Pedri mistake, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen made a good save to deny the on-loan Atletico forward.
Another big win for Iraola and Rayo
The second half of the season has been strange for Rayo. After an excellent start to the campaign had them competing for the European places, a run of just one win in 10 games has left them in no man’s land in the standings.
However, when the big teams come to Vallecas, they come alive. They got the better of Barca at home last season and beat Madrid 3-2 earlier in the current campaign. The wins are nearly always accompanied by exciting, front-foot football.
Iraola’s work at Rayo, taking them back into the top flight and overperforming once there, has naturally seen him lined with other jobs. He has already turned down the chance to move to the Premier League, but more offers will continue to arrive on the back of performances like this.
Below-par Barça ruffled by Rayo again
Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez warned his players how tough Wednesday’s trip to Vallecas would be. They lost there 1-0 last season, a result which cost Ronald Koeman his job, and have struggled home and away against Rayo since they returned to LaLiga in 2021.
Rayo have now picked up 10 points from 12 against Barca over the last two seasons. Robert Lewandowski’s late goal was the first time Barca have scored against them in four meetings, too.
It’s not just the results, either. Rayo have been worthy winners. Andoni Iraola’s side were better than Barca from the off. They were more intense and better with the ball. Marc-Andre ter Stegen had already saved from Sergio Camello when Alvaro opened the scoring in the 19th minute with a smart finish.
Stole Dimitrievski denied Lewandowski at the other end and the Polish striker then had a goal ruled out for a marginal offside, but Barca forays forward were otherwise rare. Fran Garcia, on loan from Real Madrid, deservedly added the second as Rayo became just the second team to score twice against Barca in LaLiga this season.
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