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The Rayo Report: Rayo Vallecano 0-3 Osasuna - A Rattled Rayo against an Organized Osasuna (11th September, 2017)

Rayo Vallecano vs Osasuna. Starting lineups.
Rayo and Osasuna were both coming off midweek Copa del Rey games - Osasuna went on to need extra-time to defeat Albacete.

Míchel made just one change from the previous league game - a goalless draw at Lorca - with Unai López coming off for Fran Beltrán.

Diego Martínez is still figuring out his Osasuna side. He has made changes from game to game, fine-tuning his preferred eleven - and he seems to have struck gold this week! Compared to the 1-1 draw against Huesca, Fran Mérida was replaced by Lucas Torró, Oier came into central defense for Unai García, and Coris was replaced by Mateu.

Rayo started this game brightly in the first five minutes, but were quickly undone by themselves - their poor passing and defensive play came back to hurt them.

The Diego Martínez 4-4-2

It was fascinating once again to see a Diego Martínez side in action - predictably hardworking, positionally excellent and incredibly dangerous on the counter. Few errors, forced or otherwise, meant that Osasuna never looked in danger of going behind.

The defensive back four never broke throughout the game - Clerc and Lillo stayed back the whole time, and defended admirably against Rayo's wingers. Aridane didn't exactly stand out - his positioning wasn't always perfect, and Embarba and Trejo were able to dribble past him, but on the whole he did well. Oier did extremely well to coordinate the defense, and didn't really face any serious Rayo threat.

Lucas Torró and Arzura worked incredibly hard in midfield, with Lucas higher up, distributing the ball amazingly well and forcing Santi to drop deep and work harder than usual. Arzura was absolutely stunning, mopping up any danger in the center of midfield and forcing Rayo to use the wings - and without being nasty. His yellow for a challenge on Trashorras was for the slightest of contacts. Lucas, however, was suspect defensively, and got a yellow early on (26th minute) for pulling at Trejo's shirt.

Roberto Torres, while not the quickest, helped create chances from the wing. Mateo was almost too good this game, tearing Rayo's right side apart and creating plenty of chances. Both wingers worked incredibly hard - pushing forward in attack and yet tucking in in defense.

The two strikers worked incredibly well, and Diego deserves massive credit for how well he has got the two new signings to coordinate so early on in the season. During open play when Osasuna had possession, Quique did well to hold up the ball while David Rodríguez played a dual role - carrying the ball from deep and making runs in the space between Dorado and Amaya.

It wasn't just what they did with the ball, it's what they did to win it too. Diego got his strikers to contest headers during goal kicks, despite both strikers being short. During "far" goal kicks, Quique would run into the channel between Dorado and Moreno to contest for the ball. And during "near" goal kicks, David Rodríguez would contest the header, and Quique would run towards Rayo's goal for the second ball.

Off the ball, both pressed the center-backs, and won the ball in dangerous areas of the pitch.

Diego's side both pressed Rayo high up the pitch, and dropped deep when Rayo had the ball. It was no surprise that Osasuna's players started cramping up towards the end. The game plan to nick a goal and defend for the rest of the night worked perfectly. Aridane headed in a goal from a corner in the 27th minute, and Osasuna could restrained themselves from taking risks for most of the game.

Rayo - poor personal performances

It was clear what Míchel was trying to do here - give Embarba the freedom to cut inside and dictate the play. This was the 4-2-3-1 that succeeded last season, and it would have worked perfectly but for one fatal flaw - Trejo is not a number nine.

And so it was left to Santi to both be Rayo's third midfielder while defending, as well as make runs as a number nine while Trejo had the ball. He even covered for Embarba at times during his mazy runs, and Lillo got a yellow card in the 81st minute for a foul on Santi, who was combining with Moreno. This was incredibly hard work, and he was one of Rayo's better players on the night.

Trashorras and Fran were actually quite good today. Trashorras was truly a club captain - directing how and where the players should pass, and even defending the team against Osasuna's time-wasting antics. Fran was defensively excellent as usual, and was even unusually unselfish today on the ball.

On the right side, Lass Bangoura had a poor night. He did get past players, and created some half chances and even some dangerous crosses. But he never got past Clerc one-on-one, and was unsurprisingly subbed off. As for on the left, Álex Moreno helped give Rayo options going forward, and actually did better than expected defensively. He was the sole reason Rayo even had a shot at this game in the first

Speaking of defensive duties, Ernesto Galán, Antonio Amaya and Dorado all had howlers - sloppy passing, late tackles, and poor positioning. Dorado was booked for a horrible challenge on David, and nearly broke his ankle. Amaya was pressed and lost the ball way too often. And Mateu ran around both Amaya and Ernesto Galán too easily - especially in the 35th minute, when he ran past Lass, Ernesto, and Amaya with all three hopelessly running back.

Apart from a few long shots, Rayo never really got past a sturdy and stubborn Osasuna defense all night. Out of Rayo's 17 shots, eight were blocked and seven were off target - just two were on target.

Rayo's substitutions


Rayo Vallecano vs Osasuna. Second half after substitutions.

When things clearly weren't working, on came two players in the 57th minute. Lass and Ernesto were replaced by Chori and Emiliano Velázquez, which meant Moreno and Embarba became wingers. Rayo switched to a 3-5-2-0, with two number 10s trying to dribble past the entire Osasuna team. This was surprising - the whole problem in the first place was there was no striker to distract Osasuna's defenders and push them back - but in fairness Javi Guerra is still not fully fit.

Other than a few moments of individual brilliance, this predictably didn't work. Santi was still working unnecessarily hard, and Chori ended up dropping deep anyways to pick up the ball and give Trashorras and Fran a passing option. Chori's dangerous 75th minute free kick, and 76th minute shot on target from a Trejo pass, were the two only highlights.

Things went downhill from there. Antonio Amaya lost the ball to Fran Mérida in the 79th minute, which could have been game over for Rayo. And then there was the 85th minute...

A tale of two substitutions


Rayo Vallecano vs Osasuna. 85th minute.

In the 85th minute, Míchel switched to two at the back, replacing Dorado for Guerra. At the same time, Diego Martínez took off Lucas Torró, who was on a yellow, for Xisco, and had Fran Mérida drop deep.

For Rayo, it was too little, too late.

The game was over. Not a few seconds later, Quique held the ball up and played it to Xisco, who was marginally offside. Two minutes later, Quique ran into the right channel and crossed the ball to Xisco. Antonio Amaya, who was ball watching and didn't even look at where Xisco was, saw the ex-Newcastle man slot the ball home with his first touch of the game. And the last kick of the game was a long ball by Aridane, which went past the entire Rayo defense and found Xisco's run. 3-0.

What was fitting was that the three players who were running back in vain were Velázquez, Trashorras and Santi. Amaya was nowhere to be seen.

Conclusion

Diego Martínez's side were excellent. Dangerous in attack, effective in defense, and tireless all round. This was their first win of the season, and if Osasuna can play like they played tonight throughout the season, they are genuine favorites to go back to La Liga at the first time of asking.

The criticism of Míchel sometimes being late with substitutions doesn't really apply here. It's easy to blame him for the fact that the substitutions themselves were strange - but Míchel had his hands tied. Bringing a number nine sooner makes sense, until you realize there is no fit number 9. Starting Amaya and Dorado sounds silly until you realize that Emiliano needs easing in, and Abdoulaye was in Porto for personal reasons. The one substitution that really puzzled me was Javi Guerra for Dorado. Santi was literally panting, and really needed some rest - plus, two at the back was a suicidal move.

But that criticism definitely doesn't apply to Diego Martínez. He was quick to switch things around early on. As early as the 18th minute, he asked Roberto Torres and Mateo to start switching wings, just to make Osasuna even more unpredictable.

Rayo have plenty of work to do.

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