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Barcelona vs. Rayo Vallecano, 7-0


Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Messi, Men of the Match


Keep in mind that this has been a horrible couple of weeks for the team. They'd lost three major games in a row, and on Friday their manager finally revealed that he's planning to leave at the end of this season because he's so burnt out. They might have been forgiven for turning in a less than stellar performance in Madrid today.

Nope.

Second goalkeeper Pinto started, no doubt to get into shape for the Copa del Rey final promised him at the end of May. His first few moves struck terror into the hearts of Barcelona fans everywhere, nearly resulting in a goal for Rayo. But happily he settled into the game, made some truly impressive saves, and astonished all of us by managing to keep a clean sheet.

Leo Messi is again neck and neck with Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo for the Golden Boot after bracketing today's win with two goals. The first Barcelona goal was intended to be an assist to Pedro from Alexis, but Pedro crossed the ball into the center instead of shooting so that Messi could drive it home. The second was technically an own goal by an unfortunate defender who injured himself hitting the goalpost in the process and had to be subbed out, but it seems to have been credited to Alexis, who was crossing it from left field. The third was by unmarked midfielder Keita after Messi's dazzling dribbling run around several defenders and perfectly timed pass. Next came an unexpected goal by Pedro, who has been sadly out of form when it comes to finishing for most of this season. Technically Alexis was attempting to assist Messi, but when his shot was saved, the rebound fell to Pedro, who slammed the ball home.  The fifth goal was a header by Thiago off an assist from Dani Alves; more about that in a minute. Messi then returned the earlier favor to Pedro, passing the ball to him so that he could score his second goal of the night. And in the last minute of the game, Pedro literally stole the ball from his own teammate Ibrahim Afellay, tripping him up in the process, so that he could pass it to Messi for a final goal.

Now, Rayo Vallecano's defense and goalkeeper are clearly nothing to write home about, which no doubt is one of the reasons why they're currently fighting against relegation to a lower league. But the teamwork on display tonight by Barcelona was still a remarkable reminder of how great they are capable of being. In injured Xavi and rested Iniesta's absences, Thiago, Messi, and Busquets did an excellent job of playmaking, with vibrant, attacking football rather than interminable pretty but ultimately impotent passing in the midfield. Junior player Martin Montoya had great communication with Pedro and promises to integrate very well with the first team. And of course the forward trio of Alexis, Messi, and Pedro accomplished exactly what we had been hoping for from them all season - effective mutual assistance and goals for everyone.

It may be too soon to tell, but I really think that having the pressure taken off has helped them, especially the players like Pedro who were having psychological and not physical problems with finishing (um, no double entendre intended). Now that the team has dropped out of both the Champions and Spanish Leagues, and they are no longer trying to persuade Pep to stay, they can just relax and do what they do best: have fun playing football.

Funniest moment of the match:
After Thiago scored with his header, he and Dani began dancing in celebration... only to be smacked upside the head by team captain Carles Puyol because such displays from the visiting team when up by 5 goals is something short of sportsmanlike. (Both players apologized afterwards on Twitter.)



Tears in my eyes moment:
When Ibi Afellay came onto the pitch as a substitute for Sergio Busquets after more than seven months recovering from a torn ACL. In his interviews afterwards, he said (speaking Spanish with a very credible accent) that he was happy to be playing again but sad that Pep was leaving since he was one of the best football managers in the world.

All in all, a performance to put smiles on the faces of football fans everywhere.


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