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The Rayo Report: Lorca 0-0 Rayo Vallecano - Wasteful finishing & familiar woes (3rd September, 2017)

Lorca vs Rayo Vallecano. Starting Lineups.

Once again, Míchel went with the same lineup from the week before, when they drew with Numancia 2-2. Curro Torres made two changes from the squad that lost 2-0 at Huesca. Dani Ojeda was replaced on the wing by Nando, on loan from Alavés. And striker Manel Martínez was replaced by Miguel Merentiel, on loan from Peñarol.

Míchel's tactics remained largely the same. The tweaks he tried to instill to fix the flaws that were apparent in the last two weeks were somewhat undone by poor individual performances. Curro Torres' team is getting a reputation for being able to absorb pressure effectively - and they were largely on top throughout the game - but looked extremely vulnerable while in possession and when heavily pressed.

The game was interesting tactically for the midfield battle and how each team tried to outdo the other.

The battle in midfield, and how each tea...you get it.

As you could imagine seeing the picture above, the midfield battle was fiercely fought. Rayo's midfield was the familiar one - captain Trashorras in the deep-lying, regista role, Unai slightly in front of him and Santi playing in the attacking third. And Lorca were nearly the same - captain Cristian Bustos played in defensive midfield but as a destroyer, Tropi played slightly in front of him and Eugeni dictated play in the final third.

At the start of the came, both Unai and Santi played extremely high up the pitch when Rayo had possession or a goal kick, in order to drag Tropi and Eugeni back. And Rayo generally pressed very high up. However, this left Rayo's defense severely isolated, and meant that Amaya and Dorado both only had Trashorras as a passing option. In response, Lorca sometimes had their front five players pressing them, and really should have scored - but that meant that the failed strategy to drag Lorca's midfield back actually succeeded - albeit infrequently - in leaving the Lorca midfield too forward. This became apparent in the 17th minute, when Rayo took a goal kick, and Rayo harmlessly passed the ball around. Three passes later, six of Lorca's players were in the Rayo half and the ball was not.

But the midfield generally settled - it was simply Unai against Eugeni and Santi against Tropi. Unai and Tropi are very similar players - short, good passers, but terrible defensively.

Eugeni and Santi both had a field day - Eugeni had way too much space and time, and Trashorras made both great interceptions and appalling tackles. His yellow card in the 69th minute was for a tackle on Manel Martínez, and it was entirely deserved. Tropi was slightly better - his positioning was much better defensively - but he still came out second best against Santi, who like Eugeni popped up in spaces in front of the defense but his finishing was appalling.

Cristian Bustos was an interesting case - he was aggressive and tenacious, and the 75th minute summed up his game - a ball was being played long and out of absolutely nowhere Bustos ran across and headed the ball out. But he ended up covering for the left center back - in this case Holgersson in the first half and José Carlos, on loan from Betis, in the second.

Speaking of Trashorras, his night was unusually mixed. When he had the ball he was excellent - his long balls from deep towards the left wing were particularly noteworthy and created Rayo's best chances. But it was clear that he was doing too much and he looked very tired.

That, combined with the fact that Rayo's defense being isolated was a problem throughout the first half, meant that Lorca were generally on top. In the 21st minute, Trashorras was dispossessed by Eugeni, whose through ball to Nando was poor. In the 19th minute, when Manel Martínez won the ball from deep and dribbled towards Rayo's goal, Trashorras didn't even attempt a tackle - just half-heartedly stuck a leg out and allowed Manel to keep running with the ball. Unusually enough, it was Unai who tracked back and intercepted the ball from Manel. It got so bad that in the 41st minute, Amaya literally started shouting and throwing his hands in the air, visibly frustrated with no one to pass to.

The only times Trashorras was even allowed time and space on the ball was when Unai dropped deeper - and while it was clear that Unai was told to do so by the coach (and by Amaya, who really didn't like what he saw), it was also clear that it looked very forced and laboured.

It's funny how just one minute of football can change everything. In the 47th minute, Unai lost the ball, made a poor tackle, and got a yellow card. Then, Dorado passed the ball straight to Eugeni, whose shot hit the post. In that very moment, Míchel turned to the bench and Fran emerged, ready to warm up and come on for Unai.

Lorca's half-time substitutes

Lorca's defensive display showed both promise and concern. Embarba's poor game was simply because he came across a formidable opponent in Pomares. And Fran Cruz was excellent in the air and on the ball in the first half. But Gurdiel at right-back was time and time again exposed by Diego Aguirre and Moreno, and Holgersson was both marking Trejo when the Rayo striker had dropped deep, and unprepared when Trejo made runs into the box.

Both Gurdiel and Holgersson were subbed off at half time, replaced by Juan Pina and José Carlos respectively. The former largely did well against Aguirre, who was subbed off for Lass towards the end. The latter, however, was woefully out of position time and time again, and got a yellow card for a cynical challenge on Embarba.

At the other end, Rayo's defense again had a poor performer. And, very surprisingly, it was Galán's turn today - Nando on the left wing was very adept at getting past him and taking him on one-on-one. Sito on the right did very well to run into the space left by Moreno, but Dorado, largely, did well to reduce his impact to making crosses and shooting from distance. This left Amaya defending against Merentiel, who was playing as a false 9. He made many runs from deep but either couldn't find the service he needed or was dealt with expertly by Amaya - he did combine well with Eugeni at times though.

The liberation by Fran - a very different second half

The liberation by Fran - the process by which he comes on to the pitch and gives his teammates less defensive work to do - might become a well known cliche by the end of the season, but the difference really was astonishing this time. That, combined with Javi Guerra coming on for Santi in the 60th minute, gave Rayo the upper hand going forward.

Lorca vs Rayo Vallecano. After substitutions. (60th minute)

It meant that Eugeni had a torrid game afterwards - dropping deep to get the ball but not really being able to do anything with it. And Javi Guerra gave José Carlos a hard time. But it also meant that Trashorras always had time and space on the ball. It meant that during goal kicks, Rayo had Fran as a passing option - and someone who could shuttle between midfield and attack.

You see all that space between Trashorras and Trejo? That was all the space Fran covered, and he was positionally sound, defensively excellent, freakishly combative and even dribbled well with the ball going forward - he had a point to prove and he did it loud and clear.

Later on, Lass, who came on for Aguirre later and regularly switched wings with Embarba, was Rayo's best player and created plenty of chances. In the same minute he came on, he managed to dribble past Pomares and cross the ball to Javi Guerra, who should have done better.

Lorca should have done better with the space they now had - Ojeda (who subbed in for the injured Sito) and Tropi were the only two players who had space. And the one time they combined was in the 86th minute, when Ojeda's one-two with Tropi left him in plenty of space - his shot just missed the target.

Conclusion

No one deserved to win this game - both teams were limited to shots from distance, and both should've done better with the limited chances they got. But no one deserved to lose either - both managers made largely successful changes very early on to shake things up, and both teams improved as a result.

Overall, Rayo's conclusions are the same from last game - it seems absurd that Fran isn't playing, although if there is a reason Míchel wants Unai López to play it might be for his distributive qualities. As for Lorca, it is clear that apart from their left-center back position they have an adept player at each position - and their squad depth in attack and midfield is quite frightening. They could be in trouble very quickly, however, if they lose even one or two defensive players to injury.

And while neither club won, one club did - and that's Valencia. Tropi, Eugeni and Sito are all on loan from the La Liga club. And today the latter two thrived.

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