It didn't matter that Tito Vilanova's side has been lackluster on defense this season, or that most of their defensive starters are injured--with Messi and Cesc running the show, it's all offense in Barcelona.
This Barcelona side has learned their lesson. They lost the Liga last year in games like today's--when they had every excuse in the world to drop some points: FIFA virus, early-season exhaustion beginning to set in, and problems with performance away from Cataluña. You name it, they had it today. But this Barça would not let it slip. Not for a second. With Lionel Messi leading the way, and a reanimated Cesc conducting from midfield, Barcelona dominated Rayo Vallecano--a feisty side that's tough to soundly demolish--in Vallecas (a tough stadium for any side) 0-5 today, piling pressure onto Real Madrid.
They started off the game well enough, refusing to let Rayo touch the ball--as is their wont--and maneuvering themselves slyly up the field. Cesc, Messi, Villa, Xavi--they all showed up at different times. In the 20th minute, David Villa struck, opening the door for Barça to take control. But Rayo would resist until early in the second half, when Leo Messi silenced Vallecas minutes after the starting whistle.
After the 0-2, the game became much easier for the blaugrana: they had previously been dominating possession, but Rayo had done a good job of riding out the worst of it, constructing a strong defensive wall and waiting for their opportunity to tie the game. After the 0-2, Rayo began to sense that the game was really slipping away, and began to open up, allowing Cesc and company to start doing some real damage.
Barça, as we have come to know, are a team that lives and breathes space: when they have it, they do crazy things with it; when it's not there they get a little hamstrung. And today was no different: as soon as Rayo began to try to make their move out of a defensive posture, Barça found the seems. Finally, in the 78th minute, Xavi found a snaking diagonal ball to make it 0-3.
It was like turning on a faucet: suddenly all the goals came quickly. Two minutes later, it was Cesc celebrating next to the somber Rayo goal (Rayo coach Paco Jémez was ejected minutes earlier for arguing). Minutes later, Messi doubled his tally, and gave his side a manita, a five-goal win that has a particular significance in Spain because they decided to name it (think "hand"...five fingers).
Ultimately, Barça won a game that could have been tough in a flashy style that mainly manifested itself in the last ten minutes. Rayo seemed determined to make their lives a bit harder, and almost managed to complicate things. But, as has been the case this season, the Catalans had no problem in the end.
Which is just the way Tito and company want it--and is just what they forgot to do last year.