Senior service: Rayo Vallecano’s Colombian forward Radamel Falcao on Wednesday
Radamel Falcao’s remarkable return to La Liga took its most dramatic twist yet on Wednesday as the 35-year-old fired Rayo Vallecano to a surprise 1-0 victory over Barcelona in La Liga.
Memphis Depay missed a penalty in the second half at a bouncing Vallecas as Barca’s miserable start to the season under Ronald Koeman took another turn for the worse.
Falcao continues to roll back the years at Rayo, this his fourth goal in six games for his new club and surely the sweetest, coming against Barca, whom he last scored against in 2013.
After losing the Clasico at home to Real Madrid on Sunday, Barcelona now sit ninth in La Liga, six points off the top and, most concerningly for the board, the gap growing between them and the top four.
Barca president Joan Laporta was squeezed in amongst the home crowd and cannot have been impressed by another limp display that hardly suggested this team’s form is about to improve.
Rayo stay above Barca, and only two points off fourth, maintaining their perfect record at home this term with a fifth win out of five.
Falcao joined on a free transfer in the summer and after shirts with his name on the back sold out, he has so far lived up to the hype.
Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have better goals per game ratios in La Liga than Falcao, who replaced Sergio Aguero at Atletico Madrid in 2011 after the Argentinian left for Manchester City and now faced him again.
The last time Aguero and Falcao were on the same pitch together they scored two goals each in a 5-3 win for Manchester City against Monaco, but this was Falcao’s night.
At 35 years and 220 days, he is the oldest player to score four or more goals in his first six games for the same club in La Liga this century.
Aguero was making his first start for Barca on the back of his first goal for the club against Madrid and he was sent through early on by Nico Gonzalez, only to topple over without enough contact for a penalty.
Falcao went closest for Rayo too in the 19th minute as a deflected shot from the edge of the area dipped just wide of the post but the Colombian was more precise for the opener.
Sergio Busquets was at fault for the goal, robbed of the ball in midfield and giving Oscar Trejo the opportunity to free Falcao, who looked to have let the moment pass, only to twist past Gerard Pique and finish into the far corner.
Barcelona had been sloppy, with Philippe Coutinho and Depay particularly wasteful in possession, but they should have levelled when Depay’s cross found Sergino Dest six yards out but he ballooned over.
Dest missed a similar chance in the Clasico on Sunday.
Rayo came under pressure in the second half. Nico fired wide and then Aguero blasted just past the post. Coutinho skewed a close-range finish after some quick footwork from Busquets.
With 20 minutes to go, it looked like Barca finally had the breakthrough as Depay had the back of his leg clipped by Oscar Valentin.
Depay put the ball under his arm, despite interest from Aguero, but Marko Dmitrovic dived the right way and pushed away the shot.
Barca squandered more chances late on.
Aguero missed after being allowed to stroll through when the Rayo defence thought the flag had gone up.
Luuk de Jong miscued an an attempted lob and Gavi mishit a simple finish in injury-time.