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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Player ratings as Catalans held to goalless draw

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After a summer of fantasy signings, Barcelona were brought crashing back into reality with a frustrating 0-0 at home to a well-drilled Rayo Vallecano side on the first Saturday night of the new La Liga season.

Rayo, who beat Barcelona home and away last season, waited until the ball went into midfield or out wide, using the touchline as an extra player, to press their hosts. The remarkable composure of Sergio Busquets and Pedri, in particular, helped Barcelona intermittently play through the pressure but the hosts were stymied for large spells.

When Barcelona did escape their own half, the vast majority of their attacks were funnelled through the team’s wingers, Ousmane Dembele and Raphinha – two of the four starters that were only registered 24 hours before kick-off.

Dembele squandered Barcelona’s clearest opening in a sedate first half, scuffing a left-footed shot into Stole Dimitrievski’s gloves from close range.

The visitors only had one shot in the opening 45 minutes but Alvaro Garcia perhaps shouldn’t have taken it. Streaking clear of Barcelona’s backline in transition on the cusp of half-time, Garcia fired into Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s midriff while Sergio Camello pleaded for a square pass with the goal gaping.

Rayo’s commanding midfielder Pathe Ciss swamped Gavi in Barcelona’s half shortly after the interval, forcing a turnover which put Camello into the box. Andreas Christensen’s desperate – but well-timed – lunge prevented an effort from point-blank range.

As Rayo increasingly dropped into a resolutely compact block, padding the gaps in their back four with retreating wingers and both holding midfielders, Barcelona resorted to efforts from range.

In search of an opening day victory, Xavi sent Ansu Fati and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on to join Robert Lewandowski in a heavily front-loaded XI to end the match. Both Bundesliga alumni wasted openings, with Aubameyang forcing a goal-line clearance from Alejandro Catena in the final five minutes.

In stoppage time of an ignominious season opener for Barcelona, their captain Sergio Busquets received his second yellow card for a flailing arm into Radamel Falcao’s chin. Rayo almost immediately took advantage of their extra man, creating an overload from the subsequent set-piece as Salvi Sanchez forced Ter Stegen into a stellar save at the death.

GK: Marc-Andre ter Stegen – 7/10 – Smothered Garcia very well late in the first half and made a superb one-handed stop at the end of the second.

RB: Ronald Araujo – 4/10 – Unsettled by the jet-heeled Garcia constantly trying to run off his shoulder.

CB: Andreas Christensen – 5/10 – Confident carrying the ball out from the back, shovelling possession safely towards Busquets.

CB: Eric Garcia – 5/10 – Unspectacular but not overtly solid either.

LB: Jordi Alba – 5/10 – Outmuscled by Camello on occasion but was quick to scurry back into position.

CM: Gavi – 4/10 – Didn’t often get the better of Rayo’s impressive Ciss.

CM: Sergio Busquets – 3/10 – Orchestrating proceedings from the base of midfield, Busquets was needlessly lured into a niggling exchange with Falcao while his team were looking for

CM: Pedri – 6/10 – Willing to receive the ball under pressure, Pedri invariably wriggled out of the close attention he got.

RW: Raphinha – 5/10 – Holding a very wide position, trying to stretch Rayo’s narrow back four. The debutant repeatedly ran into a crowd of striped shirts.

ST: Robert Lewandowski – 5/10 – On the end of some rough treatment as he became well-acquainted with the Camp Nou turf.

LW: Ousmane Dembele – 5/10 – Swapping positions and passes with Raphinha regularly.

SUB: Ansu Fati (60′ for Raphinha) – 6/10 – Looks like the ball is magnetised to his boots because of the razor-sharp movement which creates space for himself.

SUB: Frenkie de Jong (60′ for Gavi) – 6/10 – Injected some much-needed urgency into midfield, bursting into the box.

SUB: Sergi Roberto (60′ for Christensen) – 5/10 – Allowed Araujo to shuffle centrally.

SUB: Franck Kessie (73′ for Pedri) – N/A

SUB: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (82′ for Alba) – N/A

Manager: Xavi Hernandez – 4/10 – Set his team up to evade the first wave of Rayo’s press but offered a simplistic solution to his side’s frustrations in the final third; throw on every forward available.

Player of the Match – Pathe Ciss (Rayo Vallecano)

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