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It looks like they will be able to register their new signings, but even without them the Blaugrana will prove too strong for Rayo Vallecano.
Pick made on 08/08/2022 at 07:30 PM EST
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A year ago this week, Barcelona stood and watched as Lionel Messi was unveiled as a Paris Saint-Germain player. This was not supposed to happen. The assumption from both parties was that Messi would end his career at the Camp Nou as a one-club man. But the balance sheets have no room for romanticism. The cold, hard truth was that Barcelona were in such a financial mess that they could not afford to keep their greatest ever player for even one more season.
Fast forward 12 months and you might expect Barcelona to be embarking on a new recruitment strategy after years of throwing money at high-profile players, many of whom did not go on to become regular starters. In fact, Barcelona have doubled down. As well as picking up Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie as free agents, they have paid out €153m to sign Robert Lewandowski, Jules Kounde and Raphinha. Marcos Alonso is on his way and Bernardo Silva might be too. Ousmane Dembele, out of contract on June 30, has been retained on a lucrative new deal.
How is this possible when Barcelona are in debt to the tune of €1.3 billion? Well, the club has essentially siphoned off future revenue streams in order to pay for a squad rebuild today. It is an astonishing gamble. And it might one day come back to haunt a team which could have gone about this in a very different way instead, focusing on young players from its world-class academy and taking a longer term view.
At the time of writing, none of Barcelona’s summer signings can be registered for the new season until the club meets La Liga’s salary limit. The expectation is that the Blaugrana will sort everything out in the coming days, but this is an extraordinary way to run such a historic soccer club.
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Rayo Vallecano exceeded expectations last season. Having won promotion back to the top flight via the play-offs in 2020/21, avoiding relegation from La Liga was the objective – and they achieved it without too much difficulty at all. In fact, a 12th-place finish was ultimately a little disappointing: Rayo had been mixing it in the Champions League qualification spots in the first half of the campaign, before tailing off after Christmas.
There might be some concern around the Campo de Futbol de Vallecas that Rayo’s difficult end to last season will bleed into the 2022/23 campaign. From New Year’s Day onwards, no team in the division collected as few points as Rayo, who amassed only 12 from a possible 60. They also scored the fewest goals in that period, finding the back of the net just 13 times in total. The club was right to keep faith with the manager Andoni Iraola, but a poor start to the season could see a change in the dugout.
Rayo are not flush with cash and each of their three permanent recruits – goalkeeper Diego Lopez, winger Salvi Sanchez and central midfielder Unai Lopez – arrived on free transfers. They have also brought in Sergio Camello and Florian Lejeune on loan and, crucially, have not lost any of their regular first-teamers from last term. Rayo should have enough about them to avoid the drop once more.
Given the lengths to which they have gone to assemble their current squad, a failure to win at least one of the La Liga title or Champions League would make this a disappointing campaign for Barcelona. Real Madrid, their main rivals for the first prize, have embraced continuity and stability in stark contrast to the approach favored by the club from Catalonia.
After a difficult first half of 2021/22, Barcelona showed signs of progress under the leadership of Xavi. There was plenty for supporters to be excited about even before the likes of Raphinha, Kounde and Lewandowski rocked up. Gavi, Pedri and Ansu Fati are three of the most exciting young players in world soccer right now. Ronald Araujo, still only 23 years of age, has the makings of a top-class central defender (although he could be used at right-back this year).
It will be interesting to see the XI that Xavi picks this weekend, presuming all of the new signings can be registered in time. A front three of Dembele, Lewandowski and Raphinha looks likely, and Rayo would have their hands full in trying to keep that trio under wraps.
And given they averaged just over a goal per game last season, Iraola’s charges may struggle to cause problems for the Barcelona backline. Go for a home win to nil on Saturday.
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|Teams||Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano|
|Location||Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain|
|Time||Saturday, 13 August 2022, 15.00 PM EST|
|How to watch||ESPN+, fuboTV|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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