|Rayo Vallecano vs Albacete. Starting lineups|
Míchel made one change, and it was in defense - Abdoulaye Ba came in for Baiano, with Emiliano Velázquez shifting over to the right side. Enrique Martín made several rotations in his 3-4-2-1 formation compared to the 0-0 draw against Huesca. At left wing-back, Mariano Bíttolo was replaced by David Morillas. In central midfield César de la Hoz was replaced by Rafa Gálvez. And in attack Fabián Espíndola and Roman Zozulya were replaced by Dani Rodríguez and Jérémie Bela respectively.
Albacete ceded possession this game as they have all season, clocking just 29%. Rayo had more chances but Albacete certainly had the better chances.
First half setups
It was clear that Míchel's change to a back three was an attempt to neutralize Albacete's front three. In practice, however, Velázquez's role also included covering for Abdoulaye Ba who routinely stepped out of the back three to cut out passes or apply pressure on players. In the first half, Albacete's front three didn't create much - it was no surprise that Albacete's three substitutions were all used on those three players.
A similar neutralization existed in midfield too - Rafa Gálvez and Jon Erice worked incredibly hard to push Rayo's midfield back, and forced Fran Beltrán to work extremely hard - which he did. But it also forced Unai López and Santi Comesaña to drop deep and run back and forth between attack and defense. And it meant that if Rayo had to shuttle the ball between midfield and attack it required risky passes between the lines.
Similar battles cancelled each other across the pitch, with David Morillas keeping tight on Embarba and Jon Erice keeping tight on Óscar Trejo. Moreover, Chus Herrero largely had a torrid time marking Raúl de Tomás - only less visible due to the lack of service for the Rayo striker. As early as the 8th minute, Herrero fouled de Tomás and conceded a dangerous free kick just outside the box.
This meant that the main, and really only, battle in the first half was between right back Álvaro Arroyo and Rayo left-back Álex Moreno. In the 9th minute Arroyo was booked for pulling Moreno back. In the 16th minute Moreno evaded Arroyo, cut in on his right foot and saw his shot towards the far post crawl inches wide off the target. In the 30th minute, Arroyo adeptly cut in on his left, leaving Moreno for dead, and had a shot on target. And in the 36th minute, Moreno missed a point-blank shot which came as a result of Santi making a run from deep and holding the ball up in the attacking third almost like a number nine - a shot that came as a result of Arroyo failing to track Moreno's run.
The other main talking point of the first half was Néstor Susaeta, whose sole responsibilities seemed to be free-kicks. Those free-kicks, however, were Albacete's best chances in the first half. His third minute free kick on the right flank met the onrushing Rafa Gálvez, whose header crashed against the post. And his free-kick in a central area at the stroke of half time, as a result of Velázquez's foul on Dani Rodríguez, dangerously dipped over the Rayo wall and was marginally tipped onto the post by Alberto García.
Second half risk taking
Míchel's substitution of Velázquez for Baiano was interesting. It was clearly an attempt to overload the right flank and counteract the energy of Morillas, who was both tight on Embarba and overlapping forward. And the reasoning behind taking the risk made sense on paper, given Néstor Susaeta's lack of attacking responsibilities in the first half.
|Rayo Vallecano vs Albacete. Second half lineups|
However, Néstor Susaeta made up for the increase in available space by becoming crucial to Albacete's attack, holding up the ball in central areas and forcing Dorado to make mistakes, drawing him out of the back line as well as forcing Dorado to make hurried, wayward passes. This was most evident in the 50th minute; it was Susaeta's hold up play that allowed Arroyo to run down the wing, call for the ball and whip in a dangerous first time cross - Dani Rodríguez's first time shot was too high.
Albacete's 58th minute goal, while unexpected, was a confluence of many of the factors previously described, as well as the initial nerves created by the 54th minute substitution of Unai López for Alejandro Domínguez. The substitution was clearly necessary to drag Albacete's midfield back as well as exploit the space behind the midfield. And it did - but failed to address Rayo's defensive issues.
The goal started on Rayo's right wing, with Dani Rodríguez on the ball and Santi on him, while Héctor Hernández (who had come on for Bela a minute earlier) standing in space between Baiano and Abdoulaye Ba. A one-two with Héctor left Dani Rodríguez in a more central position, with Santi still tracking him. However, everything went wrong from there. Abdoulaye Ba inexplicably ran towards Dani instead of tracking Héctor's run into the box. Dorado was watching Susaeta who was yards away. And Arroyo got the better of Moreno, called for the ball, made a run into the box and squared the ball for the unmarked Héctor who slotted into an empty net.
|Rayo Vallecano vs Albacete. 57th minute|
The setback, however, did not deter Rayo, who kept possession extremely well and a 69th minute shot by Fran Beltrán from the edge of the box forced a superb save from Tomeu Nadal. The 70th minute substitution of Fran Beltrán for Aguirre helped Rayo stretch the Albacete defense, and Rayo's 79th minute goal was simply Chori Domínguez chipping the ball into the box from just outside the penalty area and Raúl de Tomás overpowering Herrero in the air with a simple header.
|Rayo Vallecano vs Albacete. 70th minute. (Quim Araújo came on for Dani Rodríguez in the 80th minute)|
Míchel made three attacking gambles in the second half and they paid off in the end. However, the first gamble, replacing Baiano for Velázquez, left two liable defenders, Dorado and Ba, all by themselves - and their mistakes were why Albacete scored in the first place. Albacete were actually quite poor going forward when Rayo's defense got their act together.
Albacete can be proud for nicking a point, and for their first half performance. As for Rayo, they really need to sort out their defensive woes if they want to see themselves in contention for the promotion playoffs.