Lionel Messi ruthless as Barcelona crush Rayo Vallecano
Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick and Barcelona barely broke a sweat as they put five past Rayo Vallecano in a 5-1 win in Madrid.
As is often the case against Paco Jemez's ambitious team, the Argentinean enjoyed himself, and he wasted little time in punishing the home side when they were reduced to 10, and then nine men. He also worked hard to create opportunities for both Neymar and Luis Suarez, though neither could ultimately capitalise.
The central striker's movement and touch were excellent but his shooting was wayward, while the Brazilian also came close to scoring but ultimately couldn't get a shot inside the bar. Other standout features from the Blaugrana included the attacking contributions from supporting full-backs Sergi Roberto and Jeremy Mathieu, and a tidy game from Sergio Busquets.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Claudio Bravo, 7 -- Stopped two Adri Embarba shots when Rayo pushed hard early on and was also useful with his long, raking passes out to Suarez which broke the home team's lines of pressing.
DF Sergio Roberto, 7 -- The right-back for the night was unlucky to see his one mistake punished with a goal when Bebe out-jumped him at the far post, but apart from that he was he was solid, and contributed to Messi's second with the initial cross towards Suarez.
DF Gerard Pique, 6 -- Wasn't given an easy first half with Rayo looking to attack down his side when possible, but he was largely assured both in the air and on the ground, and well positioned to snuff out any danger. The second half also produced a few of his trademark runs into the opposition third.
DF Javier Mascherano, 6 -- Coped well with the home team's pressure before half-time, but after the break a mistake in possession saw the ball end up in Barca's net at the other end. Produced some nice, testing passes behind the Rayo back four.
DF Jeremy Mathieu, 7 -- Should have done better to prevent the cross into the Barca box that led to Rayo's goal, but for the most part he gave Jemez's side little to work with on the left flank. Also made up for his mistake in an attacking capacity, getting forward well and eventually grabbing an assist with a cross to Arda Turan.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- The midfielder pushed higher up the pitch than usual, and in doing so played a key role in preventing the home team from building cleanly from the back. His effectiveness on the ball grew as Rayo's numbers were reduced, with a sharp pass releasing Messi for his hat-trick goal. The Catalan also won a penalty when he was first to react to Neymar's shot off the bar.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 5 -- The Croatian scored the opening goal by knocking Juan Carlos off balance then firing into an empty net, but apart from that, he was more noteworthy in his work out of possession. Made sure to let the referee knew just how clumsy Diego Llorente's challenge was, resulting in Rayo going down to 10 men just before half-time.
MF Andres Iniesta, 6 -- Showed off his hard working side by repeatedly robbing possession from Rayo, and was tidy when using it himself, contributing to the creation of Barcelona's fifth goal with a neat pass out to Mathieu.
FW Lionel Messi, 8 -- A ruthless performance from the No. 10, who bagged a hat-trick and created plenty of danger on top of it. His opener came through a precise exchange with Neymar in the area, his second was a smart follow-up to a Suarez shot, and the third saw the playmaker burst behind Rayo's stretched defence and then tuck a clinical shot away.
FW Luis Suarez, 7 -- The Uruguayan caused constant problems for Tito with his runs off the shoulder, and his link-up play was spotless as usual. The only thing that let him down was his finishing, with shots wide, off the post, and even a penalty saved.
FW Neymar, 7 -- Rayo's high line meant that with the right touch the Brazilian could be a big threat in Vallecas, and he was sharp on the night. A great run behind the home back four then a neat cut-back to Messi created Barca's second goal, while his free-kick that rattled the bar led to Busquets winning a penalty.
MF Arda Turan, 5 -- Replaced Rakitic for the last 25 minutes and picked up his traditional yellow card for a clumsy tackle, before heading in the final goal of the night with minutes left to play.
DF Aleix Vidal, NR -- Brought on for Sergi Roberto in the closing 17 minutes.
DF Thomas Vermaelen, NR -- On in the 77th minute to give Busquets some rest.
Lee Roden is a European football writer based in Barcelona. Follow him on Twitter @LeeRoden89.