Lionel Messi, as always, was at the forefront of La Liga leaders Barcelona’s 3-1 come-from-behind triumph against struggling Rayo Vallecano.
To mark the Argentina legend’s 443rd top-flight run-out, the second most in Barca’s history, he produced an assist for centre-back Gerard Pique’s headed leveller to Real Madrid loanee Raul de Tomas’ superb solo strike and then converted a penalty to make it 2-1. Uruguay hit man Luis Suarez would only make Saturday’s result safe late on, via a tap-in.
But behind Messi’s brilliance, stood the ubiquitous Arturo Vidal. The Chile battler was everywhere at Camp Nou.
Here’s his performance in focus:
Total passes: 95
Pass accuracy: 95.8%
Barca’s commanding seven-point advantage in the La Liga title race remained intact, despite a scare against second-bottom Rayo.
De Tomas darted half the length of the pitch for the visitors, stood up Portuguese right-back Nelson Semedo and accurately found the bottom corner in the 24th minute. Barca, however, kept pressing and Messi swung in a set-piece that Pique rose highest to meet just before the break.
By 51 minutes, the game was turned around when Semedo was scythed down. Messi did the business from 12 yards, also moving him onto 26 strikes in 25 La Liga fixtures this term.
A ninth home win of the season was then secured on 82 minutes when Croatia substitute Ivan Rakitic teed up Suarez from close range.
Complete performance: When Barca’s technical staff analyse the data from this contest, then Vidal is sure to come off well.
For Ernesto Valverde’s men, the 31-year-old; made the most tackles (eight), joint-most interceptions (three), most fouls (three), had the best pass accuracy of anyone who made more than 40 passes (95.8 per cent from 95 passes) and had the most touches (116).
With figures like these, you couldn’t wish for a much better foil to the measured Sergio Busquets and lively Arthur in the engine room.
The final pass: For all the positives mined from Vidal’s marauding display, one negative can be highlighted.
After he had won the ball to spark a first-half counter-attack, a – slightly – misplaced pass on the edge of the penalty box killed critical momentum.
At Barca, being a destroyer and nuisance isn’t nearly enough. Predecessor Paulinho – renowned more for his attacking box-to-box abilities, admittedly – scored nine times in 49 outings, but was soon discarded as his game was not expansive enough.
Vidal showed at Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus and Bayern Munich that he possesses more depth. The key is to consistently exhibit it.
23rd min CHANCE: Vidal breaks clear, but his pass is placed just behind Messi. The great man manages to, somehow, place the ball into Coutinho’s path, though an anaemic effort follows.
The summer sale of Paulinho and acquisition of Vidal was meant to place Barca in a better position to challenge on all fronts.
On the evidence to date, this appears a sharp move.
Vidal does not offer the Brazil midfielder’s goal threat, but in nearly all other areas is superior. Aligned with a warrior spirit, he lowers the odds of a remontada to rival last term’s Champions League collapse at Roma from reoccurring.
Barcelona came from a goal down to defeat struggling Rayo Vallecano 3-1 and restore their seven-point lead at the top of La Liga on Saturday.
On-loan Real Madrid striker Raul De Tomas opened the scoring for Rayo, who have now lost six successive league games, but Gerard Pique equalised before half-time and the hosts scored twice more in the second half through a Lionel Messi penalty and Luis Suarez.
Barca came into the match on the back of league and cup wins over Real Madrid and with coach Ernesto Valverde warning they needed to focus on this encounter ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Lyon.
“Coming back in matches? Well it’s good because we eventually win but I’m not happy because we concede first,” said the Blaugrana chief.
Gerard Pique offered support to Philippe Coutinho after another tough match for the midfielder against Rayo Vallecano.
The former Liverpool playmaker was whistled at by fans for his performance during Barcelona‘s 3-1 victory at the Camp Nou, which ended when he was substituted with 10 minutes to go.
Coutinho has scored eight goals for the Catalans this season but only three since October and has looked short on confidence.
Pique, who scored Barca’s first goal, believes Coutinho’s fee in advance of £100million means he is being more harshly judged, saying on marca.com: “Philippe is having a good season. Obviously his cost was very high so that means there are more expectations of his performance level. It is what it is.
“We have to accept the reaction of the fans because they are our followers but from the inside, we have to give him our support. We need him at his best for the end of the season and I’m sure he will be.”
Pique’s goal cancelled out a surprise opener from on-loan Real Madrid player Raul de Tomas. A Lionel Messi penalty early in the second half put Barca ahead, with Luis Suarez making sure of the points.
The victory saw Barca restore their seven-point lead over Atletico Madrid, who are themselves eight clear of Real but Pique has not yet written off their great rivals despite the crisis engulfing the Bernabeu.
“We can’t discard anyone until they are mathematically out of it,” he said. “The other teams can hurt you. It’s good that we have the gap with Atletico.”