FC Barcelona were far from their best but managed to make the most of their opportunities in a 3-1 La Liga victory over Rayo Vallecano.
Gerard Pique, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez scored a goal apiece for the home side, who stormed back in this Matchday 27 contest after falling behind mid-way through the first half at Camp Nou here on Saturday, reports Efe news.
Ernesto Valverde shook up his starting line-up with an eye on his team’s second-leg.
Rayo manager Michel, meanwhile, made no secret of his defence-minded approach, placing five men in his squad’s back line in an attempt to stymie Barca’s lethal attack.
The strategy was effective early on, as the Catalans struggled to find space and failed to mount any offense either from the wings or with Messi and Philippe Coutinho in the middle of the field.
The hosts eventually started making their presence felt in Rayo’s area, although a header by Messi and shots by Suarez and Coutinho failed to open the scoring.
Instead it was Rayo’s Raul de Tomas who landed the first blow in the 25th minute when he capped off a rapid counter-attack by curving a long-range, right-footed blast past keeper Marc-Andreter Stegen.
Barca immediately stepped up their pressure in search of the equaliser and got their reward in the 39th minute on a dead-ball opportunity, with Messi sending a cross in from the right side and Pique breaking free from the wa ll of defenders to head it home.
The goal by the Spanish defender, whose strong play was a major factor in two recent wins over Real Madrid, marked a turning point in Saturday’s contest.
After the break, Barcelona kept pressing forward and won a penalty when Jordi Amat tripped up Nelson Semedo in the area.
Messi, who was playing his 443rd La Liga game, second-most all-time appearances among Barcelona players after Xavi Hernandez (505), converted his attempt from the penalty spot in the 51st minute to record his 26th goal of the La Liga season.
Barca then stretched their lead to 3-1 in the 82nd minute when Suarez scored off a pass from Rakitic, who had come on as a late substitute.