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La Liga Preview: Rayo Vallecano - Barcelona
La Liga Preview: Rayo Vallecano - Barcelona

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La Liga Preview: Rayo Vallecano - Barcelona

Barcelona will be out to stretch its unbeaten La Liga run to 17 games when it travels to Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.

Gerardo Martino's men have had an excellent start to the season, picking up 12 points from their first four games while scoring 14 goals. The reigning league champion is tied atop the table with Atletico Madrid and makes the trip to face another side from the Spanish capital to whom it has not lost since 2002. 

The Catalan club won both outings between the two sides in emphatic fashion last season, dishing out a 5-0 thrashing at Rayo in October 2012, before easing to a 3-1 success at the Camp Nou in March. The club's visit to the Campo de futbol de Vallecas in 2011-12, meanwhile, resulted in a 7-0 success. 

Lionel Messi scored four goals in last season's encounters, and the Argentine talisman approaches this contest in fine form, having netted his 24th hat trick for Barcelona in a 4-0 win over Ajax in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Messi, who has also scored six goals in three league appearances this season, will once again be expected to play a prominent role in the Barca side, but Martino's men will be without Jordi Alba, who has a hamstring injury.

Carles Puyol (knee) is close to recovery, but this game is likely to come too soon for the Barcelona captain, while Ibrahim Afellay (thigh) is also out.

Rayo, meanwhile, has endured a dismal start to the campaign, tasting victory in just one of four matches thus far. That win came on the opening day of the season against newly promoted Elche, but since then Paco Jemez's men - who finished eighth last term - have collapsed, conceding 12 goals in their last three games.

Striker Lass Bangoura, sent off in the defeat to Levante, is still suspended for Rayo. Nery Castillo is a doubt while Iago Falque (groin) and Jose Carlos (knee ligament) are both long-term absentees.

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