Camp renewed but Manchester City & Madrid will be true test of Martino's Barcelona

The Spanish champions produced their most complete display of the season to thrash Rayo Vallecano 6-0 ahead of far tougher examinations
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

It was quite a performance. When Barcelona last played Rayo Vallecano, the Catalans conceded possession to a rival team for the first time in 317 games amid questions over their Tiki Taka philosophy. On Saturday, however, Gerardo Martino's men were simply sublime.

The Blaugrana passing philosophy looked very much intact in the Camp Nou clash. Lionel Messi scored two superb strikes, with Pedro, Alexis Sanchez, Adriano and Neymar all on target, the latter with a remarkable run and shot from distance to mark his comeback from injury in style. And assisting from midfeld, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas pulled the strings in what was the Catalans' most complete display of the season.

"We have to congratulate the whole  team," Adriano said afterwards. "We played a really good game - both in defence and attack."

Meanwhile, Martino added: "When these players enjoy themselves, they play better. It's the best message we could send to ourselves: playing this way, our chances [of success] increase and if you are going to choose a way to play, that's the way to play."

Just how much can truly be learned from a 6-0 win at home to one of the worst sides in La Liga, however, is unclear. Barca were superb, stunning, brilliant; breathtaking at times. But Rayo were and are pretty poor to say the least. The Madrid side sit second bottom and have now conceded 58 times in their 24 games, meaning theirs is the worst defensive record in the division. Indeed, the capital club even lost 5-0 at Malaga earlier this season - and Bernd Schuster's side are currently 16th in the Primera Division, just above the relegation zone.

Man. City (a) Feb 18
Man. City (h)
Mar 12
Madrid (a)
Mar 22
Madrid (-) Apr 19
Villarreal (a) Apr 27
Atletico (h) May 18 Liga
So Martino will be extremely encouraged by the result, the nature of the performance and the fabulous form of many of his players. Tougher tests await, however, and only those will determine exactly how good this team really are.

First up is Manchester City on Tuesday in the Champions League.

"We're in the best possible shape for meeting Manchester City - especially physically," Martino said. And Adriano added: "This win is a boost for our morale ahead of Tuesday's [first-leg] game."

No doubt. But Manuel Pellegrini's side statistically boast Europe's finest attack and, unlike Barca, have had the benefit of facing rivals of real quality on a consistent basis this term. And while not all of those fixtures have brought favourable results for the Premier League side, City have beaten Arsenal 6-3, Manchester United 4-1 and thrashed Tottenham twice: 6-0 at home and 5-1 away.

Spurs have had their troubles in 2013-14, but the North London side remain in contention for a place in the top four. And they are no Rayo Vallecano. Indeed, Iago Falque, who is on loan from Tottenham and considered one of Rayo's better players, was nowhere near the first team at White Hart Lane.

Time will tell, but City are unlikely to allow Barca the time and space enjoyed and exploited by the Catalans on Saturday night at a buoyant Camp Nou. Nor will Real Madrid in the two big Clasico clashes in March and April.

Barca beat Madrid in the sides' first Clasico of the season, at Camp Nou in October, but neither team impressed particularly in that match and Carlo Ancelotti's men were still very much finding their feet in those first few months under the Italian coach.

In the meantime, Barca have been unable to beat Atletico in the teams' three meetings so far this term - with all of those ending in draws.

So as brilliant as the performance was on Saturday, the true tests await. After the tie against City, Barca's next big game comes at Madrid in La Liga in late March, with a Clasico Copa del Rey final also in store in April at Mestalla and a possible title-decider at home to Atletico on the last day of the season.

Those games will tell us much about what this team are truly made of. A 6-0 win at home to Rayo Vallecano, however brilliant, does not.

Follow Ben Hayward on