Barça will try to keep the winning streak going. But beware of the Rayo Vallecano, especially those 5 players...
On Thursday, Barça will face Rayo Vallecano away from home, in the Vallecas Stadium. Largely favourite of the game, the Blaugranas will still have to defeat a team that hasn't lost in over a month (5 draws, 2 wins since the 17/1) and for which motivation won't be a problem. First of all, the Madrid-based team is struggling to avoid relegation, and despite their relatively good recent results, Paco Jémez's men are only two points away from the relegation zone and Sporting Gijón, who are 18th with 24 points. Used to fighting until the very end to save their spot in the top-flight division, Rayo Vallecano intend to play an offensive football and score many goals, especially thanks to an offensive force particularly efficient (2.1 goals per game in the last 7 games). Here are 5 players to watch for Luis Enrique and Barça:
Diego Llorente - 22 years old - Centre-back
Although Real Madrid are not doing great this season, and might even be kicked out of a direct Champion's League qualification spot by Villarreal, they still produce very good young players. Diego Llorente is a perfect example. Aged 22, this central defender hasn't really had his chance to shine in Real Madrid's first team, only playing three games in 3 years, and being called up 12 times in the first team squad. With the competition of Raphaël Varane, Pepe and Sergio Ramos, it sure was not easy for him to get a starting position. That's what he had coming to Rayo Vallecano, where he plays as the main centre-back, alongside Dorado or Zé Castro. One of the youngest of the squad, he is the defence's boss. Despite his good effort, he cannot prevent his team from being the worst defence in La Liga (53 goals conceded in 26 games). This is mainly due to the club's style of play, very offensive. On Thursday, he will have to guard Messi, Suárez and Neymar. A huge test for him.
Roberto Trashorras - 35 years old - Midfielder
Rayo's captain and soul just turned 35 (on February the 28th). He is still an undisputed starting midfielder for Paco Jémez and also played 24 games in La Liga this season. Arrived in the club in the summer of 2011 in the Madrid-based club, he is used to struggles at the bottom of the table, or at the top of the Second division, having played previously for Numancia, Las Palmas and Celta Vigo. He also played 25 minutes for Barça in 2001. 22 minutes in a La Liga defeat to Deportivo (2-1) and 3 minutes in a Champion's League playoff game against Wisla Krakow (3-4 win). In the latter, he had replaced... Luis Enrique, Barça's current manager. Respected by the Blaugrana institution, Trashorras, who also went to Real Madrid in the second team, will try to set his teammates to score. He's had 6 assists so far this season.
Jozabed - 24 years old - Midfielder
Not from Real Madrid nor Barça, Jozabed was formed in the Sevilla academy. About to celebrate his 25th birthday, on March the 8th, he's having a blast this season with Rayo. For his second season in Madrid, Jozabed has already scored 9 goals and delivered 3 assists, some good figures for an attacking midfielder like him. Of those 9 goals, he's scored 5 in 2016, which shows how much he's improved since the start of the season and how much of a danger he can be when playing at his best. There is still room for improvement, but surely he'll be one to follow in Thursday's game, provided he plays because it wasn't the case for the last game of Rayo against Betis.
Manucho - 32 years old - Striker
One of the team's most experienced players, Manucho is one option of choice for Paco Jérez as Miku will be missing for 2 or 3 weeks. After touring around Europe, between Manchester United, Hull City or Turkey with Bursaspor, the Angolan striker settled in Madrid, in Rayo Vallecano, after belonging to Real Valladolid, where he was sent on loan, year after year, during 5 years (between 2009 and 2014). He could be crucial in the game against Barça on Thursday as he scored in the last two games of the club, once against Sevilla (2-2 draw) and twice at Betis (draw 2-2) after the team was 2-0 down to save a point.
Javi Guerra - 33 years old - Striker
Other experienced player up front in Rayo Vallecano's squad, Javi Guerra has just arrived in the Madrid-based club last summer. He too played in Real Valladolid, alongside Manucho. The only unknown for Guerra before the big game against Barça is whether or not he will be able to start and if not, how long he will be able to play, as he has just recovered from a knee injury. His 9 goals this season are a testimony of his attacking abilities and his experience in the top-filght of Spanish football. However, he hasn't scored in La Liga since December the 13th and a goal against Malaga (2-1 loss). If he finds back his sensations and feels good on the pitch, he will be another offensive threat for Barça's defence.