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The Rayo Report: Rayo Vallecano 1-0 Barcelona B - Beating Barcelona B by battling back (20th November, 2017)

Rayo Vallecano vs Barcelona B. Initial lineups.

Míchel made two changes to the side that lost 3-2 at Zaragoza - Raúl de Tomás was replaced by Diego Aguirre in attack, and Abdoulaye Ba was replaced by José Antonio Dorado in defense. Gerard López also made a couple of changes to the side that lost 2-0 against Huesca - Jorge Cuenca was replaced by José Antonio Martínez in defense, Vitinho Carvalho was replaced by Ferrán Sarsanedas in midfield and Marc Cardona was replaced by Abel Ruiz in attack.

Barcelona B more or less dominated possession in their own half but struggled to create chances in the final third. In contrast, Rayo Vallecano were quick in their play during transitions, switching the ball from one end of the field to another with deadly one-touch passing. However, Rayo struggled to get past a resilient Barcelona B defense.

If there is a TL;DR for this game, it is this: in the end, Rayo brought on a striker, and within two minutes Barcelona B's defense let out a little bit of space, and Rayo scored.

Initial team setups

Rayo changed from their usual 4-3-1-2 - with Aguirre coming on the left for Raúl de Tomás, it allowed Rayo to play with proper wingers in a 4-3-3 with Aguirre and Embarba hugging the touchlines. However, this meant that Rayo's chances were restricted to crosses and shots from outside the box, partly because of Barcelona B's quick full backs. Sergi Palencia and Marc Cucurella mostly kept Aguirre and Embarba at bay, either by cutting out service to the wingers or by preventing them from dribbling with the ball. Sergi Palencia struggled more against Aguirre's pace, and got a 63rd minute yellow after Aguirre knocked the ball ahead of Palencia and the Barcelona B captain physically pulled him back.

That is not to say, however, that Rayo's crosses weren't dangerous. In the 38th minute Embarba's cross found Óscar Trejo, who had evaded David Costas, but his miscontrol of the ball prevented him from taking advantage of a one-on-one opportunity. And in that very minute, just a few seconds later, a Baiano cross found the head of Santi Comesaña but his header went over the bar.

Speaking of Santi Comesaña, he was Rayo's unsung hero this time, as he is on many occasions. He made many runs forward and sometimes almost played as Rayo's right handed striker - which was exactly what he was doing when meeting Baiano's delivery. Nevertheless, he didn't shrug his defensive duties as usual and was unmistakably Rayo's third midfielder. In fact, when Emiliano Velázquez was injured in the 76th minute, for the five minutes that followed before Emiliano's substitution for Abdoulaye Ba it was Santi who dropped into the center back position.

Óscar Trejo played as a false nine this game, dropping deep to receive the ball but pressing high up on David Costas, and sometimes even Sergi Palencia, when not in possession. His defensive prowess, or lack thereof, was quite visible - he cynically fouled David Costas from behind in the 21st minute, and mistimed his challenge on Palencia in the 32nd. His fouls kept accumulating and it was quite surprising that his yellow card came in the 85th minute. Moreover, to compensate for his dropping deep, Diego Aguirre often also played a more central role in attack - incredibly hard work for someone else but not for an athlete like him. This was exemplified in the 58th minute, when Trejo was dribbling the ball inside the box and had space simply because Aguirre was up front.

Barcelona B did keep more possession this game, but partly because it was possession without much purpose. Nevertheless, they were able to effectively bring the ball out of the back due to Ferrán Sarsanedas, who sat at the base of the midfield and distributed the ball effectively, even effortlessly playing cross-field passes. And it wasn't like Barcelona B couldn't bring the ball into the attacking third - Iñigo Ruiz was the Santi Comesaña for the Blaugranes, dropping deep as a double pivot in defense yet making runs forward and collecting the ball in front of the Rayo defense. However, the inability of José Arnaiz and Abel Ruiz to evade their markers, as well as Iñigo Ruiz's sometimes poor decision making and passing, not only prevented Barcelona B from creating chances but mostly summed up their night.

Iñigo Ruiz also conceded a 48th minute free kick just outside the box for a foul on Unai López - someone who for me always divided opinion defensively but is unquestionably creative and competent going forward. And it was nice to see him keep and recycle possession effectively, as well has have shots from outside that box - on many occasions he was able to cut in and have a shot on goal, and came very close in the 80th minute.

Barcelona B did have two chances going forward in the first half - both came from balls over the top, and both involved José Arnaiz exploiting space between Baiano and Emiliano Velázquez. The first one was in the 18th minute, when José Arnaiz chased a long ball and Alberto García came out of the box to (just about) clear the ball. And the second one was in the 51st minute, when Barcelona B mounted a rare counter-attack, the ball reached Abel Ruiz on the left wing, who held up the ball laid the ball off for the on-rushing José Arnaiz, whose first time shot one-on-one went through Alberto's legs and creeped inches past the far post.

Changes, and Rayo's goal


Rayo Vallecano vs Barcelona B. 59th minute.


In the 59th minute, Gerard López replaced Oriol Busquets for Choco Lozano, with Iñigo Ruiz moving to the left hand side and Carles Aleñá, who was playing in a free role as a right winger/false 9, playing deeper as a midfielder. Moreover, Marc Cucurella played a more central role, picking up the ball and making diagonal runs towards the center as well as still marking Embarba. This helped Barcelona B stretch the Rayo defense, but did not result in any clear cut chances - in the 71st minute Sergi Palencia crossed to Choco Lozano from deep, but Lozano was almost outside the box and his header was easily saved.

However, seeing the space behind the Barcelona B left-back, in the 66th minute Lass came on for the under-performing Embarba, and immediately Rayo were on the front foot. In the 67th minute Santi Comesaña's shot from a central area just outside the box trickled inches wide. Nevertheless, Barcelona B's defense remained resilient, and Lass didn't have anyone to provide to.

Rayo Vallecano vs Barcelona B. 66th minute. (Fali came on in the 70th minute)


However, after the 72nd minute substitution of Aguirre for Javi Guerra, suddenly Rayo had plenty of space. Javi Guerra kept David Costas occupied, and in the 74th minute Lass found space behind Marc Cucurella, and passed the ball inside for Óscar Trejo, who evaded Fali (who came on for Ferrán Sarsanedas in the 70th minute) and scored.

Rayo Vallecano vs Barcelona B. 72nd minute. (Jesús Alfaro came on in the 77th minute, Ba came on in the 81st)


Conclusion

Gerard López's substitutions were intriguing. His 59th minute substitution made sense, but his 70th minute substitution of Fali for Ferrán Sarsanedas took out the one player who could distribute the ball effectively. The 77th substitution of Abel Ruiz for Jesús Alfaro was substituting a striker playing on the wing for a winger - but perhaps it made more sense to make that change along with the 59th minute change to a 4-3-3 system.

Míchel's three substitutions were on point and, for once, the criticism that he is late with his substitutions does not apply. But more importantly, Rayo looked far better when they were playing with Javi Guerra. And so it begs the question - what kind of system works for this Rayo? The answer is still uncertain.

Nevetheless, Rayo deserve credit for this victory - they outrun and outfought Barcelona B and deserved the win.

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