Good evening and welcome to Sports Mole
's live commentary of the La Liga clash between Barcelona
and Rayo Vallecano
from Camp Nou. As it stands, Barca have a four-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid at the summit, while Rayo are 19th in the table having only collected 23 points from their 26 league fixtures this term. Stay tuned for live updates!
BARCA: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Vidal, Busquets, Arthur; Coutinho, L Suarez, Messi
RAYO: Dimitrievski; Advincula, Velazquez, Galvez, Amat, Moreno; A Garcia, Comesana, Imbula, Bebe; De Tomas
Barca have a huge Champions League game against Lyon next week, but head coach Ernesto Valverde has selected a strong XI tonight. Clement Lenglet is suspended, though, which sees Samuel Umtiti start alongside Gerard Pique
at the back. There is also a spot in the final third for Philippe Coutinho, with the Brazilian getting the nod alongside Lionel Messi
and Luis Suarez
As for Rayo, centre-back Abdoulaye Ba is suspended following his red card in their 2-0 home defeat to Girona last time out, while midfielder Gorka Elustondo will miss out through injury. On-loan Real Madrid forward is Raul de Tomas is Rayo's top scorer this season with 10 goals, and the Spaniard will lead the away side's line with support from former Manchester United attacker Bebe.
Here we go then; both sets of players are on the pitch and kickoff at Camp Nou is next!
KICKOFF: Barca kick things off in front of their own supporters...
... as expected, Barca have taken control of the early possession. Rayo, as expected, are in a 5-4-1 formation with Bebe and Garcia lining up in the wide positions. It could be a long night!
Barca's lead at the summit has been cut to four points with Atletico Madrid beating Leganes 1-0 earlier this afternoon. The title race is not done and dusted, but it would be a huge surprise if the gap was not back to seven points in around an hour and a half here.
It could be a historic campaign for Barca as they continue to challenge on three fronts. Indeed, they beat Real Madrid last weekend to move onto 60 points and that victory came three days after a 3-0 success away to Los Blancos, which saw the Catalan giants make yet another Copa del Rey final.
Another domestic double looks on as Valencia wait in the Copa del Rey final, but there is absolutely no question that the Champions League is the trophy Barca really want this term. Valverde's team will host Lyon next Wednesday in the second leg of their last-16 tie, which is level at 0-0 following the reverse game in France. They have a job to do tonight first, though.
Not an awful lot happening at the moment; to be honest, the atmosphere is not great as it is far from a full stadium. Still waiting for the first bit of excitement in this La Liga contest.
Barca win a free kick just outside the Rayo box as the away side's goalkeeper handles outside his area, but Messi sees his delivery clawed away before Galvez makes a smart block.
Barca are the huge favourites to triumph against Rayo for obvious reasons, but they have conceded 15 home league goals this season, dropping points in four of their 13 fixtures at Camp Nou, which will hand the visitors a little bit of hope. Still goalless with 14 minutes on the clock.
The Catalan giants have incredibly won all 11 of their previous top-flight fixtures, including a 5-2 home success when they last met at Camp Nou in October 2015. Rayo ran Barca extremely close in the reverse fixture earlier this season, with the capital outfit leading 2-1 into the final minutes before Dembele and Luis Suarez struck for the visitors. Barca are putting the pressure on now.
So far, so good for Rayo. Barca have dominated the play, but aside from that Messi free kick from a wide position, chances have been few and far between. Not the best tempo here.
Having suffered five straight defeats in La Liga, the last thing that Rayo needed at this stage of the campaign was a trip to the Spanish champions. Rayo's league form between December 23 and January 28 was excellent - winning four of their five matches and remaining unbeaten in the process. It was a run of results that moved them out of the relegation zone, but they have struggled in recent weeks.
Rayo spent five straight seasons in La Liga between 2011 and 2016 before dropping into the Segunda Division. They finished a disappointing 12th in the second tier at the end of the 2016-17 season, but secured a return to La Liga by winning the league last term. Still all square here.
Messi releases Semedo with a fine ball and the right-back manages to touch it into a dangerous position, but Galvez is on hand to make the clearance. Good defending!
Not many gave Rayo too much of a prayer at Camp Nou this weekend, but Los Vallecanos came close to triumphing in the reverse match earlier this season, with Barca needing two goals in the final three minutes to record a 3-2 success. The visitors have started well tonight.
SAVE! Decent save from the Rayo goalkeeper to keep out a header from Messi.
SAVE! Another save from the Rayo goalkeeper as he keeps out Coutinho's effort. It was a fine move from Barca, but the Brazilian's final effort was really disappointing!
GOAL! BARCELONA 0-1 RAYO VALLECANO (DE TOMAS)
Oh my word! That is some goal! Rayo take a shock lead at Camp Nou as De Tomas works some space outside the Barca box before curling a wonderful effort into the bottom corner!
Vidal is still limping following a challenge earlier in the match and it remains to be seen whether the midfielder will last too much longer. There is no point taking any risks here.
Little over 15 minutes of the first period remaining and Rayo - yes Rayo - lead at Camp Nou. Barca have been disappointing and the visitors have taken full advantage of that here.
All Barca in terms of possession, but they are not creating much at all. To be honest, there is absolutely no atmosphere inside the stadium which cannot help the hosts tonight.
Barca have a free kick in a dangerous area as Velazquez brings Luis Suarez to the deck...
CHANCE! ... huge chance for Pique as the centre-back meets Messi's free kick, but his effort is wide!
Messi finds Luis Suarez inside the Rayo box and the latter looks to return the favour, but the ball trickles along the box before being cleared for a corner, which is cleared by Galvez.
Alba is penalised for a push on Imbula and Rayo can ease some of the pressure, which has been building over the last few minutes. De Tomas's strike remains the difference here.
Not an awful lot happening at the moment. Will Valverde already be considering Dembele? Coutinho has really struggled this season and he is having another horror show here.
SHOT! Messi's strike from outside the Rayo box is high and wide of the target.
GOAL! BARCELONA 1-1 RAYO VALLECANO (PIQUE)
All square! Barca level the scores in the 39th minute as Pique heads a Messi free kick into the back of the net. Not too sure about the goalkeeper - he was nowhere near it!
Rayo's goalkeeper has had a bit of treatment, but he looks fine to continue here.
Rayo really need to get to half time without conceding a second, which would boost Barca following a largely poor first-half performance. All Barca at the moment here.
CHANCE! Messi dances into the Rayo box and looks to pull the trigger, but he is just crowded out at the vital moment. Galvez was the player who managed to clear at the final moment.
HALF TIME: BARCELONA 1-1 RAYO VALLECANO
So there we have it; the referee brings the first period to a close with the two teams level at 1-1. De Tomas sent Rayo ahead with a wonderful effort in the 24th minute, but Pique drew Barca level from a Messi free kick. All to play for ahead of the second 45 minutes of action here.
STATISTICS! Barca had 70% of the ball in the first period, managing four shots on target from seven attempts. Rayo, meanwhile, hit the target with just one of their two attempts, but it found the back of the net. No bookings to report - it has just not been that type of football match.
BENCH WATCH! Barca are not exactly short of quality on their bench, with Alena, Dembele, Rakitic and Malcom all capable of making a difference in the second period. Rayo, meanwhile, have options in the shape of Embarba, Trejo and Mario Suarez, who were all expected to start here.
KICKOFF: Rayo resume the action at Camp Nou...
... BARCELONA SUBS! Dembele replaces Arthur for the home side.
Bright start to the second period from the away side as Imbula breaks into a wide position before delivering a low cross towards De Tomas, but Ter Stegen makes the claim.
You do get the feeling that Rayo need to score the next goal to stand a chance of picking up a positive result. If Barca score a second soonish it could become a 4-1, 5-1 match quite easily.
PENALTY! Barca have a spot kick as Amat brings Semedo to the deck!
GOAL! BARCELONA 2-1 RAYO VALLECANO (MESSI, PEN)
Barca take the lead at Camp Nou as Messi slots his penalty into the bottom corner!
Rayo are really struggling at the moment as they continue to lose the ball. Dembele has just burst clear in a wide position before delivering a low cross, but Galvez made the clearance.
Rayo do have a lot of attacking talent on their bench and it might not be too long before their manager decides to make a change. Bebe, in particular, is struggling at the moment.
Semedo delivers a dangerous cross into the Rayo box, but Galvez again makes a smart clearance. Little over 30 minutes of football remaining at Camp Nou and the score remains 2-1.
SAVE! Decent save from the Rayo goalkeeper to keep out a strike from Messi.
Rayo are preparing to make a change as Pozo receives his instructions here.
Rayo just cannot get out of their own half at the moment as Barca pass and probe.
Coutinho has a strike blocked outside the box as Barca continue to dominate. Rayo just had the chance to break through De Tomas, but the striker lost his footing at the vital moment.
RAYO VALLECANO SUB! Pozo replaces Amat for the away side.
I would be surprised if we had seen the last of the goals tonight, particularly with Rayo starting to open up as they chase a leveller. Still more than 20 minutes of football to play here.
Alvaro drags a shot wide of the Barca post, but the flag had already been raised.
YELLOW CARD! Velazquez (Rayo Vallecano) is booked for a foul on Luis Suarez.
Barca have a free kick just outside the Rayo box here...
CLOSE! ... Messi's free kick is headed over his own crossbar by Moreno!
Rayo are still in this football match, but are struggling to even get in Barca's half of the field at the moment. At 2-1, though, the visitors will always be in it. Little under 20 to play here.
Luis Suarez beats the offside trap and looks to break into the Rayo box, but the striker does not have the pace and Galvez is on hand to make the clearance. Still 2-1 to the home side.
Luis Suarez does really well to break clear inside the Rayo box before delivering back to Coutinho, but Comesana is on hand to fire behind his own crossbar for a corner kick.
Rayo have a throw deep in Barca's half as Bebe's cross is touched by Alba.
Rakitic will soon enter the field and that might well be for Coutinho, who has again really, really struggled to make his mark. It just isn't happening for the Brazilian at the moment.
YELLOW CARD! Busquets (Barcelona) is booked for a poor challenge on Imbula.
RAYO VALLECANO SUB! Embarba replaces Garcia for the away side.
BARCELONA SUB! Rakitic replaces Coutinho for Barcelona.
GOAL! BARCELONA 3-1 RAYO VALLECANO (LUIS SUAREZ)
That is game, set and match! Luis Suarez finds the back of the net from close range following a clever pass from Rakitic inside the box. Rayo's challenge in this match is finished.
Rakitic continues to be involved in the final third and this time slides a pass into Messi, but Galvez is on hand to make a fine, last-ditch challenge. Still 3-1 to the home side here.
BARCELONA SUB! Malcolm replaces Busquets for the home side.
CLOSE! Messi's free kick from distance just misses the Rayo crossbar!
Barca search for more goals as they continue to pass and probe here.
YELLOW CARD! Imbula (Rayo Vallecano) is booked for a foul on Messi.
We are into the first of two additional minutes at the end of the match.
FULL TIME: BARCELONA 3-1 RAYO VALLECANO
So there we have it. The referee brings the second period to a close with Barca coming from behind to beat Rayo as they move seven points clear at the top of the table. Can Atletico Madrid stop them retaining the title? Time will tell! Thanks for joining our coverage once again!