The Rayo Report: Rayo 1-0 Almería - A prime performance against a plucky but poor team (13th October, 2017)
|Rayo Vallecano vs Almería. Starting lineups.|
Míchel went with a largely unchanged lineup from the one that won 4-1 against Valladolid, with Sergio Akieme getting a run in ahead of Álex Moreno. Luis Miguel Ramis made several changes from their 3-0 loss against Huesca - Joaquín Moreno was replaced by Jorge Morcillo at centre-back, Rubén Alcaraz was replaced by Pervis Estupiñán, Fidel was replaced by Nauzet Alemán and Juan Muñoz was replaced by Pablo Caballero.
Interestingly, the first three players that were replaced were also the three substitutions Almería made in this game.
Rayo had the edge in the first half but couldn't find their finishing boots - Morcillo's red card before half-time meant that, even though it was 0-0, the game was over.
Rayo and Almería set ups
Rayo stuck to their typical lopsided 4-3-3, with Unai López on the left and Óscar Trejo playing his diagonal role.
What was interesting was Almería changing from their usual, traditional 4-3-3 to a lopsided 4-3-3 as well, with Pervis Estupiñán acting to stop Baiano's runs going forward. This was largely effective, but in response Santi Comesaña would drop deeper in possession, allowing Baiano to play almost as a winger. Moreover, it allowed Santi to draw fouls - such as Pozo's foul in the 43rd minute which drew a yellow. Finally, it allowed Rayo to maintain possession while also having a creative outlet from right back, with Santi making some impressive passes from deep.
Verza was the deepest midfielder, spraying passes forward but never dropping into the defence. Mandi played on the right in front of Verza, dropping to become a double pivot in defence but generally charging forward to break up play. Unfortunately, this meant that Verza was up against Trejo. Summing up that lopsided battle was Verza's foul on Trejo in the 21st minute, conceding a free kick in a dangerous position. Embarba's shot hit the defensive wall, including the hands of two Almería players.
Pozo wasn't really a left winger - he made sure to cut in deep and make mazy runs towards the centre of the park, but his lack of end product summed up Almería's night. Nauzet hugged the touchline on the right, but he had an uneventful game. In the 33rd minute, Nauzet slipped while trying to control a pass, which really summed up his night - he was so uninvolved, that when it came to replacing someone to take Morcillo's place in the second half there really was only one answer.
Up front, Pablo Caballero's height kept both central defenders busy. Pablo made sure to press Emiliano Velázquez towards the beginning but ended up going up against Dorado for most of the night. Both players had excellent games, with Dorado attacking stray passes and Velázquez mopping up any trouble behind him - once again, it was a quietly excellent night for the Uruguayan and was the very reason Almería had few clear cut chances all game.
In defence, Nano and Fran Rodríguez played on the left and right respectively. Nano pushed high up the pitch often in the beginning, later timing his runs more carefully as Embarba tore, or rather was allowed to tear, Almería's left side apart. In the 9th minute Embarba's cross to Raúl de Tomás went unchallenged - his shot going inches wide. In the 16th minute, Baiano crossed in the box, Owono failed to clear and the ball hit Raúl de Tomás before going out of play - Raúl was understandably caught by surprise. Just a minute later, Embarba was allowed to cut inside on his left foot and shoot from inside the box - his shot hit the post.
As for Fran Rodríguez, he was highly cautious going forward. He wasn't called on to do much defensively but when he was he was poor. Sergio Akieme was able to dribble past him quiet easily - in the 37th minute, Akieme dribbled past the entire right side and his subsequent cross was nervously cleared by the defence.
Towards the end of the half, Almería started to pile on the pressure, and the game reached a tipping point in the 45th minute. Pervis Estupiñán dribbled past Baiano and played the ball into Pablo Caballero. He ran through, and his cross was quite apprehensively cleared by the defence. The ball was immediately played long to Trejo, who was brought down by Morcillo.
All hopes of Almería being able to score were over - their whole attacking model of midfielders running forward simple could not continue.
Second half changes
|Rayo Vallecano vs Almería. Second half after substitutions|
The second half was characterised by many, many changes.
At half time, Joaquín Moreno came in for Nauzet to fill in as the fourth defender, as Owona moved to the left centre back position. It also meant that Pozo moved to the right wing, leaving Almería in a hybrid 4-4-1/4-3-2 formation.
This still left Baiano fending off against Pervis Estupiñán - summed up when in the 51st minute Baiano successfully dribbled past him down the right but was then just as quickly outpaced by the Ecuadorean youngster. However, the loss of a midfielder meant that Almería lost control, and Rayo recycled possession effectively. It was only a matter of time before the goal came, and it did in the 53rd minute, when Embarba took a corner, and Santi Comesaña pounced on René Hinojo's initial hesitation in going for the ball.
To counteract for this loss, and immediately after Santi was taken off for Manucho to become a left sided striker in the 56th minute, Luis Ramis took off Pervis Estupiñán and brought on Rubén Alcaraz in the 58th minute to dominate the midfield, and Mandi moved to the left. However, this meant that Baiano was "let free", and there was a crystallising moment in the 75th minute, when Baiano, within two touches, dribbled past Nano and Mandi and nutmegged the latter and got fouled, earning a free kick in a dangerous position just outside the box. As a knock-on effect, it meant that Nano had even more trouble defending against Embarba - his yellow in the 62nd minute summed up a frustrating night.
|Rayo Vallecano vs Real Valladolid. 58th minute.|
Moreover, the risk Luis Ramis took to strengthen the midfield didn't pay dividends in midfield either as Unai worked even harder to become the second midfielder while defending. Moreover, Manucho and Raúl de Tomás pressed the back line and forced Almería to be more hurried in possession - which meant Almería didn't create many clear-cut chances. Which wasn't helped by Chori's introduction for Raúl de Tomás in the 65th minute, which meant Rayo kept possession better in the attacking third of the pitch.
The final change was a going-for-broke one, with left-winger Fidel coming in for right-back Fran Rodríguez in the 82nd minute to switch to a 3-3-3. However, just two minutes later, Pozo received a second yellow for a nasty foul on Embarba, which dashed all slim hopes of a comeback. Aguirre for Unai in the 88th minute was a straight swap.
|Rayo Vallecano vs Real Valladolid. 82nd minute.|
Almería were very brave in going for goal even when nine men down, but they were poor. Their defending, and their discipline, let them down. Rayo really should have done better here - doing everything but putting the ball in the net.
It will be interesting to see what the future of Raúl de Tomás beholds. A hardworking player who loves to drop deep and can pass the ball well: it begs the question - is he really a striker? Does he have a future as a striker?
I may eat my words, but nevertheless time will tell.