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The Rayo Report: Rayo Vallecano 1-1 Sporting Gijón - Michael Santos, and a Sporting surrender (10th November, 2917)

Rayo Vallecano vs Sporting Gijón. Starting lineups.


Míchel made several changes to the rotated side that won 2-0 at Reus Deportiu, reverting to the lineup that won 1-0 against Almería the jornada before - the only change compared to that game was Sergio Akieme being replaced by regular left-back Álex Moreno. Paco Herrera made one change to the side that drew 1-1 against Huesca, with Michael Santos came on as the lone striker for Carlos Castro.

This was a frantic, hectic, evenly matched game - a 1-1 draw was a fair result - but it was also characterized by another Míchel experiment.

First half setups

Míchel's tactic was clear here - overload the left wing. Unai López, Adrián Embarba, Óscar Trejo, and Raúl de Tomás all played on the left side of the pitch, with Santi Comesaña asked to cover the entire right side.


This was puzzling for two reasons - firstly, because Sporting Gijón are an incredibly balanced side and putting out an imbalanced team was defensively compromising. Secondly, because it simply wasn't a risk worth taking - Sporting Gijón are defensively adept and would easily be able to keep shape. And thirdly, because Sporting are disciplined enough to keep shape.

To be fair, it meant that there was some nice interplay down the left flank between the players - in the 24th minute Álex Moreno was free as a result of it and his cross found Embarba, who couldn't direct his header. But Rayo were being destroyed down their right flank, and that became clear as early as the sixth minute...

A Sporting counter-attack started with Isma López running into space centrally and passing it to Rubén García, who ran down the wing unopposed and having his cross blocked by the backtracking Santi Comesaña. The ensuing corner was taken short, and eventually a Rubén García cross found the head of Michael Santos, who Dorado was supposed to be marking.

That was really the story of the night - Santi Comesaña ran tirelessly and worked incredibly hard. Full backs Isma López and Jordi Calavera were just as tireless too. And Dorado was very poor once again.

Oh, and Rayo's right-wing was exposed time and time again, something that culminated in the 28th minute, when a one-two between Isma López and Rubén García left Isma López completely free to overlap and cross the ball with no opposition. Immediately, Embarba switched to the right flank to balance out the team.

Rayo Vallecano vs Sporting Gijón. 28th minute.

It's worth talking about Sporting Gijón's set up here, especially the midfield duo. Sergio Álvarez played deeper and dictated the play, but made incredible runs forward with and without the ball. In contrast, while Álex Bergantiños pushed forward when Rayo were playing out the back, and dropped deeper when the ball was in Sporting's half. This was incredibly hard work, and crucial to keeping Rayo's midfield and attack disjoint.

The embodiment of a Spanish side's mostly-defensive performance was an Uruguayan striker. Michael Santos pressed Rayo's defense and led the front four in that regard, simultaneously dropped deep, brought his teammates into play - and that's not even counting the goal he scored. And there are numerous examples - in the 30th minute his one-two with Sergio Álvarez allowed the midfielder to run through Rayo's left side unopposed.

He could've scored another - in the 32nd minute Fran Beltrán was successfully pressed by Moi Gómez, who laid the ball for him - his shot was inches wide. And speaking of Moi Gómez, the roles were reversed in the 60th minute, when Dorado slipped on the ball and in the process passed it to Michael Santos, who threaded the ball to Moi Gómez - his one-on-one was expertly dealt with by Alberto García.

Michael Santos' only bad moment of the night was a booking for a 47th minute foul on Fran Beltrán. And speaking of bookings, that was the first of the match. The second was the 50th minute, when Álex Pérez hacked down Raúl de Tomás who was trying to control a pass and conceded a free kick in a dangerous area just outside the box.

Álex Pérez generally had a terrible night, whether it was marking Embarba or Raúl de Tomás, and played a part in Rayo's 43rd minute goal. Baiano passed the ball to Santi who flicked it on for Embarba - his cross met Raúl de Tomás who overpowered Álex Pérez in the air.

Despite Sporting's front four pressing Rayo's defense relentlessly, it was Rayo's insistence to play out the back that led to some nervy moments. At one point, in the 25th minute Álex Moreno was passed the ball by Alberto García and his first touch was flicking the ball over Carlos Cormona because he had no other option. And Dorado's poor night was summed up in the 52nd minute; showing a fatal lack of concentration, he failed to control a simple pass from Alberto.

The substitutions back-and-forth

In the 61st minute, at 1-1, Paco Herrera took off Moi Gómez and put on Xandão. This was a surrender essentially - clearly the Asturian side were happy defending a point. Not only did it allow Xandão help Álex Pérez to keep Raúl de Tomás at bay, but Álex Bergantiños could now keep an eye on Fran Beltrán. Immediately, Trejo became a false nine of sorts.


Rayo Vallecano vs Sporting Gijón. 61st minute.


The natural consequence was for Rayo to try stretching the play. In the 67th minute Diego Aguirre came on for Unai López, and in the 69th Carlos Castro came on for Carlos Carmona (Michael Santos shifted to the right flank).

Rayo Vallecano vs Sporting Gijón. 69th minute.


But nothing really happened until the final Sporting Gijón substitution. It is the substitution that makes both total and no sense in the context of the game, and it was the 77th minute substitution of Michael Santos for Borja Viguera.

This opened up the game for both teams - Borja Viguera got into good positions and had a half-chance to score. But it created a 6 vs 5 situation in the Sporting defense, and Óscar Trejo, the unmarked Rayo attacker, had two amazing chances to give Rayo the win. His 80th minute shot just outside the box was close, and in the final seconds of the game, in the 93rd minute, Trejo made an unmarked run into the box, and missed Embarba's cross by a hair's breadth.


Rayo Vallecano vs Sporting Gijón. 79th minute (Manucho came on for Raúl de Tomás in the 79th minute)


Conclusion

It's hard to see what Míchel was trying to do by overloading the left flank - and perhaps that is a one-off. The larger concern for Rayo is individual defensive performances. It's so hard to fathom that 23-year-old Emiliano Velázquez, who in the eight minute had a brilliant header from a free kick on the right wing parried away, is partnering a 35-year-old defender whose passing is suspect at best.

As for Sporting, they were very hardworking and largely disciplined - the concern, and disappointment, was seeing Paco Herrera give up the game with almost half-an-hour to go. Nevertheless, this was a frantic and exciting game to watch for the neutral, and both sides deserved, and will be happy, with the point.

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