Barcelona missed the chance to go 14 points ahead at the top of La Liga when goals from Alvaro Garcia and Fran Garcia gave Rayo Vallecano a 2-1 win over the below-par leaders.
Real Madrid’s 4-2 defeat at Girona on Tuesday gave Barça a chance to go even further at the top, but Xavi’s men got off to a slow start and soon found themselves behind Alvaro Garcia’s low shot.
Barca’s woes were exacerbated when Fran Garcia scored to finish after the break, and although Robert Lewandowski halved the deficit late on, the visitors were unable to find an equaliser.
Boasting an 11-point lead over Real Madrid, Barca still look set to win their first league title since 2019, but the Catalan giants have dropped points in three of their last four matches after another flat performance.
Rayo’s first big chance came in the 17th minute, Sergio Camello coming through after Pedri was taken into possession, but Marc-André ter Stegen denied the goal in a one-on-one draw.
Ter Stegen failed to save Barça two minutes later, Alvaro Garcia drilling into the bottom right corner after being found by Camello on the left side of the box.
Stole Dimitrievski maintained Rayo’s lead by stifling Lewandowski’s effort, and the home side bolted again on the stroke of half-time, as a VAR review confirmed an on-field decision to disallow the striker’s left foot for offside.
Barça found themselves 2-0 down seven minutes after the restart as Fran Garcia – who is expected to rejoin former club Real Madrid at the end of the season – ran calmly under Ter Stegen.
Lewandowski ensured a nervous finish when he volleyed into the top right corner after Franck Kessie’s shot was deflected into his path, but the Rayo held on to claim an upset victory.
What does it mean? Blaugrana stumbling towards the finish line
Barcelona’s first LaLiga title triumph of the post-Lionel Messi era has never been in doubt since last month’s Clasico victory over Real Madrid, but Xavi’s side are stumbling, rather than cruising, to the crown national.
The leaders have now taken just five points from their last 12 in La Liga, managing just one win in their last five matches in all competitions (D2 L2).
Iraola leaves his mark
With Rayo retaining an away chance at European qualification in a memorable campaign, boss Andoni Iraola has won many admirers, particularly by being linked with Premier League strugglers Leeds United earlier this season.
Wednesday’s victory made Iraola the first manager in Rayo history to avoid defeat in his first four league games against Barca (W3 D1), a record that will only increase interest in his services.
Barça midfielders are not inspired
The prospect of Gavi, Pedri and Frenkie de Jong forming a midfield trio looked exciting to Barça fans, but all three were disappointed by a disjointed performance.
Failing to create a single chance between them, the Blaugrana trio all found themselves replaced in the 80th minute: De Jong missed a decisive interception in preparation for Rayo’s second goal.
Barcelona host Real Betis at Camp Nou in La Liga on Saturday, while Rayo travel to Elche on the same day.