Barcelona fell to just their third defeat in La Liga this season on Wednesday, slumping to a shock 2-1 loss away at Rayo Vallecano.
Having seen Real Madrid thumped 4-2 by Girona 24 hours earlier, Barcelona had the chance to extend their imposing lead atop the standings to 14 points but, despite dominating on the stats sheet, were second best against a Rayo side who are now responsible for just under 20% of the goals Barcelona have conceded in the league this season.
Xavi went for a strong Barcelona lineup, with the omission of the suspended Sergio Busquets his only change from the recent 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid, but they were comprehensively outplayed for large parts of the game.
Sergio Camello forced a smart save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen midway through the first half but he could do nothing to stop Alvaro Garcia from opening the scoring two minutes later. Camello turned creator this time, playing in his winger for a fizzing strike into the back of the net.
Barcelona tried to respond quickly as Roberto Lewandowski’s effort was smartly denied by Stole Dimitrievski, but Rayo soon regained their composure and took control of the game once again, although they had to hold their breath when the Pole found the back of the net late in the first 45 as the offside flag and subsequent VAR check came to their rescue.
A high-tempo start to the second half brought chances for both sides but it was Rayo who made theirs count. Having watched Alvaro net earlier, namesake Fran Garcia doubled the hosts’ advantage eight minutes after the restart when he beat Ronald Araujo and drilled beyond Ter Stegen.
Rayo’s relentless press did not slow down and continued to cause plenty of problems for Barcelona, whose usual fluidity in the final third was denied by a solid defensive block as well.
Barcelona did eventually beat the Rayo wall with seven minutes to go as Lewandowski flashed his poacher’s instinct to volley a deflection beyond Dimitrievski.
That goal seemed to restore Barcelona’s confidence and both Lewandowski and Raphinha came close to finding late equalisers, but the damage had already been done as Rayo battled to a hard-earned three points.
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GK: Stole Dimitrievski (7); RB: Ivan Balliu (7); CB: Florian Lejeune (7); CB: Alejandro Catena (7); LB: Fran Garcia (8); DM: Oscar Valentin (6); DM: Unai Lopez (6); RM: Isi Palazon (7); AM: Oscar Trejo (7); LM: Alvaro Garcia (8); ST: Sergio Camello (8)
Substitutes: Pathe Ciss (6), Salvi Sanchez (6), Pep Chavarria (6), Raul de Tomas (N/A), Abdul Mumin (N/A)
GK: Marc-Andre ter Stegen (5); RB: Jules Kounde (6); CB: Ronald Araujo (5); CB: Marcos Alonso (6); LB: Alejandro Balde (5); DM: Frenkie de Jong (6); CM: Pedri (5); CM: Gavi (5); RW: Raphinha (6); ST: Robert Lewandowski (8); LW: Ferran Torres (6)
Substitutes: Ansu Fati (6), Jordi Alba (6), Franck Kessie (5), Pablo Torre (6), Eric Garcia (5)