Barcelona will be hoping to make the perfect start to their La Liga 2022/23 campaign as they prepare to host Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou Spotify on Saturday night.
The Spanish heavyweights finished second last season, 13 points behind arch-rivals and champions Real Madrid. Witnessing Los Blancos winning the Champions League would also have hurt the Catalan club’s sentiments and they are well on the course of recovering former glory after a spectacular transfer window.
Meanwhile, Rayo Vallecano were certainly immensely impressive on their return to the Spanish top flight as they slew several giants, including Barcelona, to finish 13th in the league last season.
Last season was marked with disappointment and despair for fans of FC Barcelona as they failed to win any trophies and not only were they relegated from the Champions League to the Europa League mid-season, they also had to witness an embarrassing exit at the hands of eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt.
This season, however, will provide an entirely different perspective given the number of high-profile signings they have done this summer to address issues in the squad. Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie arrived on free transfers following the expiry of their contracts with Chelsea and AC Milan respectively. Arguably the best striker in the world Robert Lewandowski was signed from Bayern Munich while former Leeds United winger Raphinha adds depth and quality to the frontline. Barcelona also managed to beat intense interest from Chelsea to shore up their backline with the addition of Jules Kounde from Sevilla.
It is understood that the signing of Marcos Alonso, to provide competition to Jordi Alba, is yet to be announced. Meanwhile, Barcelona are also firmly interested in Bernardo Silva provided the circumstances of the signing are right and that would make it an even more extraordinary summer transfer window for a club seemingly struggling with finances.
A lot has been said in the media and the club is vilified on a daily basis given the manner in which they have raised funds. However, putting all that noise aside, Barcelona certainly have the talent and depth to be competing and challenging for titles across all fronts this seasons.
It comes as a breath of fresh air for Barcelona fans who have seen their side struggling and failing to win the league title in any of the last three season, finishing second, third, and second respectively since last lifting the La Liga trophy in 2018-19. The fact that they also finished 13 points behind Real Madrid last season despite a strong second-half campaign, which also saw them beating their arch-rivals 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu, only exacerbated the desperation for the side.
The first half of the 2021-22 campaign was chaotic and turbulent following the departure of Lionel Messi and Barcelona struggling to sign and register players. All of it resulted in Ronald Koeman’s departure which had been written on the wall a long time ago. However, enough damage had been done which saw Barcelona being eliminated from the group stages of the Champions League and playing in the Europa League for the first time since 203.
The arrival of the legendary Xavi Hernandez did well to lift the mood and optimism of the supporters and there have been strong signs of progression under the World Cup-winning midfielder. It’s fair to say that the supporters are feeling extremely confident heading into the new season given their strong showing in the pre-season as well as a strong summer transfer window.
They have been full of goals during the pre-season and were unbeaten during their tour of the United States of America where they also defeated Real Madrid in a friendly Clasico in Las Vegas. Barcelona were also excellent during their previous match, the Joan Gamper friendly contest against Mexican side Pumas which saw the home side strutting to a comfortable 6-0 win at the Camp Nou.
Rayo Vallecano, on the other hand, will be tasked with making life difficult for Barcelona. They will be particularly high on confidence about the prospect of doing so given that they had defeated Barcelona twice in the league last season. The first of those matches proved to be the final nail in the coffin of former manager Ronald Koeman while the second one arrived at the Camp Nou.
Los Franjirrojos advanced through the 2020-21 Segunda Division playoffs to secure a return to the top flight of Spanish football last season where they made an instant impression. They finished 12th in the standings following the 2021-22 La Liga season, boasting a record of 11 victories, nine draws and 18 losses. Rayo ended the campaign with 42 points, four more than Granada in 18th place.
The club from Vallecas in Madrid have also had plenty of strong results during the pre-season where they lost just one of their six matches. The highlight of the pre-season preparations was certainly the goalless draw against Manchester United at the Old Trafford on July 31. They also drew 0-0 with Real Valladolid in their last friendly match of the summer on August 5.
Former goalkeeper turned manager Andoni Iraola’s team have been able to bring in five new players to the club this summer. Unai Lopez, Salvi Sanchez, and Diego Lopez arrived on free transfers while Sergio Camello and Florian Lejeune have joined in loan from Atletico Madrid and Alaves respectively.
Rayo Vallecano will certainly be the underdogs when they take to the Camp Nou pitch this weekend. But having done the double over Barcelona in the league last season, they will certainly be fancying their chances. The match ended 1-0 in favour of Rayo Vallecano the last time these two squared off against each other at the Camp Nou in April.
BAR vs RVM, La Liga 2022/23
Date: 14th August, 2022
Time: 12:30 AM IST
Venue: Camp Nou Spotify, Barcelona
Barcelona pre-season form:
Rayo Vallecano pre-season form:
Barcelona wins: 20
Rayo Vallecano wins: 5
Barcelona Team News:
Barcelona do certainly like to leave it close to the wire, but at the time of writing, they have successfully managed to register all of their new signings with the exception of Jules Kounde. Franck Kessie, Andreas Christensen, Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha as well as the renewals of Ousmane Dembele and Sergi Roberto have all been ratified by La Liga after Barcelona activated the fourth lever by selling a percentage of Barca Studios for 100 million euros yesterday.
Kounde was the last signing to be completed and isn’t 100% match fit yet. Therefore, taking advantage of that fact, Barcelona have got most of their signings registered and they will be ready to take the field against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday night. Kounde will, in all likelihood, be registered next week once the Catalan club activate a few more departures.
Ousmane Dembele, Robert Lewandowski, and Raphinha are the favourites to start in the frontline for Barcelona. The trio has managed to strike a strong chemistry with Dembele and Raphinha interchanging flanks almost at will. Star signing Lewandowski finally opened his scoring account with a goal against Pumas in the Gamper Trophy and his understanding with midfield stalwart Pedri already looks apparent.
Ferran Torres, who was signed from Manchester City last season but spent the summer injured with a foot problem, has also received the green light from the medical camp and the Catalan side are in excellent shape in terms of fitness.
Ronald Araujo could start at right-back against Rayo if Christensen, who missed the Gamper match with a spinal cervical problem is paired alongside Eric Garcia at the centre of defence. Frenkie de Jong, whose future remains in a constant state of turmoil, will probably start on the bench with Sergio Busquets and Gavi accompanying Pedri in midfield.
Rayo Vallecano Team News:
As far as Rayo Vallecano are concerned, new signings Unai Lopez, Salvi Sanchez, Diego Lopez, Carmello and Lejeune are all pushing to make their official debuts for the club at the Camp Nou this weekend.
Head coach Iraola will probably stick with the same starting XI that impressed for much of last season. Veteran striker Radamel Falcao is expected to lead the line. Meanwhile, Isi Palazon, Oscar Trejo and Alvaro Garcia should also occupy positions in the frontline while Stole Dimitrievski is expected to keep his place in the XI ahead of new arrival Diego Lopez.
Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Araujo, Christensen, E Garcia, Alba; Gavi, Busquets, Pedri; Dembele, Lewandowski, Raphinha
Rayo Vallecano possible starting lineup:
Dimitrievski; Balliu, Suarez, Catena, F Garcia; U Lopez, Ciss; Palazon, Trejo, A Garcia; Falcao
Rayo Vallecano are certainly a side who like to keep control of the ball and string together multiple passes while building towards goal. They managed to do that successfully for long spells of last season. Despite their recent successes against Barcelona, they will be the underdogs going into this fixture given the strong summer they have had and that they have successfully managed to register most of their signings.
Robert Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele, and Raphinha in the frontline with Pedri and Gavi assisting from midfield is as lethal as it gets and the Rayo defenders need to be on their toes on Saturday.