Five talking points from Barcelona 0-1 Rayo Vallecano

Barcelona’s La Liga defeat to Rayo Vallecano on Sunday followed on from home losses to Eintracht Frankfurt and Cadiz to ensure the Catalans lost for a third straight game at the Camp Nou.

The famous old stadium has long been a fortress but there is no doubt at all that Barca are wobbling at home right now. In fact it’s the first time in the club’s entire history that the team have lost three games in a row at home in the same season.

A single goal from Alvaro Garcia was enough for Rayo to secure a smash and grab and pile more misery on Barca by completing an unlikely league double over the Catalans.

Xavi’s side were flying before the international break but have struggled since returning to action and still look as though they haven’t recovered mentally from the Eintracht Frankfurt loss.

Yet Barcelona need to get back on track quickly if they are to secure second place and still have three home games left to play. Real Mallorca are up next at the Camp Nou, while Celta Vigo and Villarreal will visit before the end of the campaign.

Barca’s poor run of form has presented Xavi with his first real challenge since taking over as manager. There is no doubt that the 42-year-old has done a superb job so far but he needs to find a way to recover his team’s form quickly to prevent the campaign fizzling out entirely.

Injuries have not helped Barca’s cause, with Gerard Pique and Pedri missed again on Sunday, but what will be more worrying to Xavi will be the lack of energy and inspiration from his players as well as seeing his team repeatedly give the ball away.

Xavi spoke honestly after the match about how he “made a mistake” in not being able to motivate his players for the match and told his team, “we have to match the desire of our rival.”

Barca’s performance was miles away from what Xavi will want from his players. The team gave away an early goal and then found themselves unable to break down a time-wasting Rayo side who had managed just nine points away from home all season before pitching up at the Camp Nou.

A frustrating night for Barcelona was summed up by the denial of a clear penalty late in the game when Gavi was pushed over by Alejandro Catena. For some reason referee Isidro Díaz de Mera didn’t think it was a foul and VAR didn’t even bother to check.

The push got clearer with every television replay which also confirmed that there was no offside in the build-up. Barca’s protests were understandably loud and even saw one of Xavi’s technical staff handed a red card.

Xavi only spoke briefly about the decision after the game, saying reporters should “ask the referee” why the decision hadn’t been given. We all know that in football decisions sometimes go against teams but it was simply baffling why this one wasn’t given.

Barcelona’s frustrations were also embodied by Frenkie de Jong who struggled to make much impact on the game, although he certainly wasn’t the only one who struggled, and was hooked after an hour at the Camp Nou.

The Dutchman looked understandably far from happy as he walked off the pitch and headed for the dressing room before later reappearing and taking his spot on the bench.

De Jong’s frustrations come at a time when speculation over his future continues to make headlines despite Xavi backing him before the match and Jordi Cruyff insisting after the game he won’t be sold.

The Dutchman has also made it clear repeatedly he doesn’t want to leave but that will not stop the rumor mill churning. De Jong is one of Barca’s most saleable assets which means, particularly given the club’s financial situation, his name will keep on cropping up.

Barcelona were scoring goals for fun earlier in the season during their hot streak, firing four past Real Madrid, Atletico, Valencia, and Napoli but have now drawn blanks against Cadiz and Rayo.

Xavi’s side have endured real problems breaking down teams who defend well despite the vast array of attacking options available. The loss of Pedri has robbed Barca of some creativity and it’s perhaps a little surprise Riqui Puig hasn’t been afforded a few more chances.

Ousmane Dembele has been able to feature regularly, starting 8 games in a row for the first time in his Barca career, but the Frenchman’s shooting has been wayward and he now has only one assist in his last six games.

Ferran Torres and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were also ineffective against Rayo, while Xavi ended up throwing pretty much all of his attackers on in a desperate bid to try and grab a goal or two.

Luuk de Jong, Adama Traore, and Memphis Depay all featured from the bench as Barca huffed and puffed but didn’t really create too many clear-cut chances and ended up with only five shots on goal all night.

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