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The Rayo Report: Reus Deportiu 0-2 Rayo Vallecano - Exemplary Embarba and a Daring Deportiu (16th October, 2017)

Edit: in the pictures below I have mixed up former Llagostera player Tito with current Llagostera player Pitu. Apologies for that.

Mixing up two (admittedly very similar) players is a first for this blog. Hopefully it will be the last too.

Reus Deportiu vs Rayo Vallecano. Starting lineups.


Míchel and Aritz López Garai both made major changes to their squad from their previous games - a 1-0 win against Almería and a 1-1 draw at Huesca respectively. This was understandable, given that for Rayo and Reus this was their third game in eight and nine days respectively.

Rayo's defense was completely reshuffled. Right to left, Baiano, Emiliano Velázquez, José Antonio Dorado and Sergio Akieme became Baiano, Antonio Amaya, Abdoulaye Ba and Álex Moreno - that's three changes. Moreover, in midfield, Francisco Cerro replaced Unai López for his first start in a Rayo shirt, or indeed in Spanish football. There was also a fifth change that Míchel was forced to make after the starting eleven was announced, just minutes before kick-off, but we will get to that.

As for Reus Deportiu, Pablo Íñiguez was replaced by Jesús Olmo in the left center back position. The reshuffle was everywhere else - in midfield Tito and Juan Domínguez replaced Álex Carbonell and Borja Fernández. On the wings Fran Carbià and David Querol replaced Ricardo Vaz and Juan Cámara. Up front, Máyor replaced Edgar Hernández.

First half set ups

Míchel had to deal with making a last minute change in the starting lineup - Trejo was off for Aguirre. This profoundly changed the way Rayo played - Embarba dropped into the number 10 role that Trejo usually occupies, but Diego Aguirre played as a right forward, constantly pressing Jesús Olmo and keeping Álex Menéndez's runs in check. Moreover, with Raúl de Tomás doing the same with Pichu Atienza, it meant that Embarba was free to make mazy runs through the center of the park. Tito, a pass-master but hardly a defensive stalwart, really struggled when Reus were not in possession. And that was Rayo's first goal in the 12th minute - Embarba dribbling past several players as Diego Aguirre and Raúl de Tomás almost comically acted as decoys against the two center backs.

It could have been two - a 34th minute yellow was produced after Atienza's challenge on Embarba from just outside the box. The resulting free kick beat the goalkeeper and hit the crossbar.

Speaking of midfielders, Santi Comesaña and Francisco Cerro were essentially man marking Juan Domínguez and Luís Gustavo respectively. This meant that Reus' full backs were crucial, and indeed every dangerous Reus chance created came from a cross or a set piece situation on the wings. Álex Moreno and Baiano worked very hard to make sure neither full back got forward, which meant that Álex Menéndez on the left and Jorge Miramón made several crosses from deep.

This was strange to watch - Tito dropping into the defense during possession meant that Reus were able to easily play out the back and bring the ball forward, but as soon as they entered Rayo's half they were restricted to crossing the ball into the box. It speaks volumes of Rayo's midfielders who worked tirelessly - especially Santi, who sometimes even stopped right-back Jorge Miramón. Luís Gustavo sometimes dropped deep to try and create something from midfield, but to no avail.

In attack, David Querol was easily Reus' most dangerous player. Indeed, he was able to easily evade Moreno, and his match up against Moreno and Abdoulaye Ba, as well as Máyor's against Antonio Amaya, was interesting to watch.

Antonio Amaya and Abdoulaye Ba were actually quite poor, and were lucky that Reus scuffed several one-on-one chances. In the 17th minute, two dangerous crosses were whipped into the box and Máyor won the aerial battle both times against Amaya - the first, from David Querol, causing a point blank save from Alberto, the other beating the Rayo goalkeeper and hitting the post (though Máyor was called out for being offside). And Abdoulaye Ba was lucky - a cross from Álex Menéndez should have found Querol, but he was pushed by Ba in the box . Luckily, no foul was given.

There were other chances too - in the 42nd minute, a cross from the left side reached Querol who evaded Moreno but couldn't get power on the header from point blank. And the exact same thing happened a minute later - a Rory Delap-esque throw in from Álex Menéndez bounced into the box unchallenged and Querol once again had a chance from from point blank - but his shot was too weak. Nevertheless, Álex Menéndez's throw-ins were threatening all evening, and the Rayo defense always looked nervous when clearing the ball.

Unfortunately, this game was already over though. Máyor had to be taken off after Abdoulaye Ba cynically fouled him. Dejan Lekić came on in the 39th minute and, despite being better in the air that Máyor, is not as agile or quick, and posed no threat to Amaya thereafter.

Second half


Reus Deportiu vs Rayo Vallecano. 45th minute.


At the beginning of the second half, Fran Carbià, a natural winger who Baiano could easily deal with, was taken off for the more attack minded Edgar Hernández who played more centrally. He worked extremely hard going forward and also tracked Baiano's runs far into the Reus half. However, the game was over - there was simply no connection between the midfield and the attack anymore, and Reus' front three were being easily dealt with. Querol did try dropping deep, and even tried making diagonal runs towards the left to distract Abdoulaye Ba but the effect was minimal.

And Reus' lack of pace became abundantly clear in the 57th minute, when Santi Comesaña won the the ball from Lekić, and passed it to the open Diego Aguirre, who made no mistakes one-on-one. 2-0.

The tensions had already started to grow - Luís Gustavo was booked in the 50th minute for stepping on Fran's ankle. And Olma was booked in the 59th minute for a clumsy challenge on Aguirre - he had to be taken off five minutes later, with Manucho coming on and occupying the left striker position - Raúl de Tomás shifted to the right.

On the subject of the young Spaniard striker, this series has been critical of Raúl de Tomás, but if there was one moment that would both justify and subdue those criticisms, it would be what happened in the 52nd minute. With the ball at his feet, he skillfully left three defensive players trailing in the space of two touches, creating a one-on-one chance out of absolutely nothing - and then scuffed the shot.

Anyways, with Manucho on, Reus made their final change, with Borja Fernández coming on for Luís Gustavo in the 66th minute. This change actually changed the game, as Borja was not afraid to dribble through the lines and create chances out of nothing. Reus' only credible chance of the second half came just eight minutes later - Borja broke through the Rayo midfield and played a brilliant pass to Tito, who laid the ball off for Juan Domínguez - his shot went just over the bar.

Reus Deportiu vs Rayo Vallecano. 66th minute.


Man marking max!

Míchel's midfield man-marking maneuvers were misery enough. But two changes, in the 77th and 85th minutes, took that to the extreme.

Bringing on Chori for Raúl de Tomás in the 77th minute, and shifting Manucho to the right, meant that Chori could drag Atienza forward and let Manucho physically deal with Olmo, a 5'9" central defender. And the second change, bringing on Velázquez for Cerro in the 85th minute, meant that each Rayo player was man marking one Reus player. Fran Beltrán went up against Borja Fernández and easily won that battle.

Reus never got the ball past the half way line.

Reus Deportiu vs Rayo Vallecano. 85th minute.

One could argue that maybe those changes may have been out of fear. Raúl de Tomás was taken off five minutes after he was booked for deliberately diverting an Embarba cross into the goal using his hands. And Cerro was taken off nine minutes after being booked for a two-legged scissor challenge from behind on Querol. And Cerro really should have been sent off. But Míchel hasn't shown any evidence of taking off booked players simply because they are booked, and it doesn't seem likely given that he was working with a man-marking system to begin with.

Conclusion

Credit where credit is due - I will always admire teams that are brave and go for goal. And this could have been a very different game had Reus taken their chances, or had Abdoulaye Ba and Cerro not got off so easily. But Reus are lacking something special - a player who can shuttle between the midfield and attack, or an attacking player who can create chances out of nothing. Or maybe both.

As for Rayo, they weren't technically brilliant, but they worked extremely hard and deserved the three points at the end. Defensive nervousness aside, this Rayo side is finally inspiring confidence after a season that fans would love to forget.

May it long continue.

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